Indigenous women are leading the way in more ways than one. From making history as an Oscar-nominated actress or crossing the marathon line in full indigenous clothing, there’s truly nothing they can’t do and they deserve every ounce of respect. A small community of indigenous people is showing that respectfulness to a woman and making history by doing so.
The Maka people that live in a small village in Paraguay have chosen a woman to be their representative.
When their leader Andrés Chemei died early this year, their tradition is to pass the throne onto their son. However, Chemei didn’t have a son and so the people chose his widow, the Associated Press reports.
Sixty-eight-year-old Tsiweyenki (also known as Gloria Elizeche) has gladly accepted her new leadership role.
Tsiweyenki is not the first indigenous leader but she’s definitely one of two. The most recent indigenous leader was, according to the AP, Margarita Mywangi, who served the Ache community between 1992 to 2014.
According to anthropologist, indigenous people have a general respect for women so this change in command is very much accepted.
While women weren’t allowed to vote in Paraguay since 1961, Marilin Rehnfeld, director of the Department of Anthropology at the Catholic University of Asuncion, told the AP that indigenous people respect women because of their tactful ways.
“Generally speaking, all indigenous people have a great deal of respect for women because they are decision-makers,” Rehnfeld said. “They organize the community, educate the children and deal with all important matters. The title of chief was invented by our society, not the tribes.”
Fashion brand Louis Vuitton is under scrutiny from the Mexican government after allegedly using indigenous designs on the cover of a chair that’s being sold for over $18,000. The Mexican government called them out for cultural appropriation and for taking the designs from an indigenous community.
This comes only a couple weeks after the Mexican government called out fashion designer Carolina Herrera for appropriation as well.
According to the Daily Mail, “Culture Minister Alejandra Fausto sent a letter dated July 5 questioning Louis Vuitton’s use of a traditional Mexican pattern in the design of a chair that retails for $18,200.” Fausto states in the letter than the artistic pattern belong to the indigenous community of Tenango de Doria.
“Each piece is unique and unrepeatable,” Fausto writes in the letter. “And at the same time, it is a result of the continuity of the work of many generations who transmit knowledge, skills, and creativity.
On its website, however, Louis Vuitton writes, “LV partnered with award-winning designer duo Raw Edges, Yael Mer and Shay Alkalay, to create this Dolls limited-edition chair. Sculptural in design, this avant-garde piece marries a deep green base and seat with a contrasting tropical-print shell.”
Tropical print? Sounds suspect.
“The designers took their inspiration from traditional crafts from all over the globe and the House’s rich travel heritage,” the statement on their website goes on to say.
Days after receiving the letter from Fausto, El Universal reported that Louis Vuitton insists the brand was actually collaborating with Mexican artisans––despite that piece of information not being explicit on their website. The brand tells El Universal that they’re “currently in a relationship with artisans of Tenango de Doria in the state of Hidalgo, with the perspective of collaborating together to produce this collection.” They did not provide any further details.
Although Louis Vuitton hasn’t yet addressed the letter, they did remove the chair in question from the website. All the other products from the partnership with Raw Edges are still available for purchase.
The chair in question is still on the Raw Edges Instagram account. A quick scroll through the comments and one will find many users calling them out for stealing these designs from indigenous communities from Mexico.
Earlier in June, Mexico News Daily reported that Fausto reached out Carolina Herrera accusing the fashion designer of using designs of indigenous communities in three states.
Fausto accused Carolina Herrera of liberally copying several articles of clothing that were featured in Herrera’s 2020 collection–not giving credit where it was due.
“This pattern comes from the community of Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo. Contained in these patterns is the very history of the community, and each element has special personal, familial, and communal significance,” wrote Fausto in the letter sent to Herrera.
Reuters also reported that “Mexico’s ruling leftist National Regeneration Movement has been planning legislation to protect indigenous communities from plagiarism and having their work used by others without receiving fair compensation.”
According to a new report from the Centre for International Governance Innovation, “Traditional cultural expressions ‘are undeniably’ forms of intellectual property but are largely excluded from existing protections offered by the World Intellectual Property Organization.”
This is all part of a larger movement from organizations working toward tougher intellectual property laws in order to protect indigenous communities from cultural appropriation. During a time when fast fashion is so prevalent in the fashion industry and when high profile designers have the means to appropriate from other cultures without facing repercussions, it’s important to protect indigenous communities and artists from having their work stolen, repurposed, and sold for more money without seeing any of that profit.
According to Mexico News Daily, Susan Harp who heads the Culture Commission in Congress, said, “These communities are asking for respect, they’re not [necessarily] asking for money. They want designers to come to them and ask for their permission.”
The letter that Fausto sent to Louis Vuitton read, “We feel obliged to ask, in a respectful manner, if for the elaboration of the chair you mentioned you sought and, in this case, worked together with the community and its artists.”
This isn’t the first time that major designers, fashion designers, and clothing lines have been found copying and appropriating indigenous Mexican designs.
For example, Zara, Mango, Etoile, Michael Kors, and Isabel Marant have all been criticized for this in the past.
While high profile fashion designers have a history of appropriating and incorporating indigenous patterns and designs into their collections and products, it’s important and necessary that cultural institutions from other counties are calling these brands out in efforts to stop this from happening again.
In the United States, violence against Indigenous women has climbed at a staggeringly higher rate than the ones acted out on women who are non-Indigenous. According to reports, 84% of Indigenous women will report having experienced some act of violence within their lifetime. Within this number, 56% of women will experience sexual violence and 55% will be violated by a romantic or sexual partner. In 2016, the National Crime Information Center revealed 5,712 reports of Native American women who had gone missing.And yet, according to advocates, tracking the number of missing indigenous women cases is nearly impossible. Primarily because many of the databases keep track of these women are outdated.
In other words, thousands of Indigenous women go missing and forgotten each year due to a lack of diligence and training by law enforcement. Last year, Cissy Strong Reyes’s sister Rosenda Strong went missing. Her fight to ensure her sister did not become a part of these statistics ended this week when the body of Rosenda was found in a freezer.
Rosenda Strong, a 31-year-old, went missing in October of last year.
The mother of four went missing in October of 2018 in Toppenish, WA after last being seen leaving the Legends Casino in the area. Strong, who is a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a descendant of the Yakama Nation, had been declared missing ever since.
Last Friday, after nearly a year-long fight to find her sister and bring her home, Rosenda’s sister Cissy learned of her sister’s brutal murder
“My baby sister Rosenda Strong’s remains found in a freezer. Yes, it has been confirmed to me this morning from the FBI agent working on my sister’s case,” she posted to Facebook. “We have her back, not the way we wanted, but we can after 275 days of looking, wondering, our baby sister, mother, aunt, cousin, friend is coming home to our mother….Now we can finally lay my sister to rest.”
Rosenda’s death has been ruled as a homicide, with the cause of death still under investigation.
According to reports, the Yakima County Coroner’s Office identified Rosenda’s remains which were found in a freezer in the Toppenish area on July 4. The Seattle Times reported that two homeless men found Rosenda’s remains in an unplugged freezer. Yakama Nation tribal police and the FBI responded to the discovery of the body because the remains were found in the Yakama Nation.
According to the local KIMA-TV station, Rosenda’s family and friends gathered with her community for a candlelight vigil in her memory on Sunday evening.
According to KIMA-TV, many used the vigil as an opportunity to honor Rosenda and raise awareness of missing native women. During the vigil, Rosenda’s sister Cissy recalled “She’d always make me look in her eyes and she said, ‘I love you. I’ll be back, okay?’ And I said okay, love you. And she walked out the door. That was my last memory of her.”
Should you have any information on the Rosenda Strong case, please call the Yakama Nation Police Department at 509-865-2933 or the FBI at 509-990-0857, citing case number 18-010803.
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