According to popular blogging site tumblr, winter clearly calls for tribal printed sweaters, moccasins, and Native American headdresses like the hipsters wear. While I’ll be the first to admit that moccasins are extremely comfortable and those sweaters are quite the fashion statement, we don’t understand that the clothing we wear sends greater messages about our culture and those that we unknowingly represent.
Ranging from the multitude of indigenous peoples in the greater America’s, to the plains of Africa, and mountains of Asia, first nation’s people have been victims of violence, disease, and countless other violations of basic human rights.
Nowhere is this shameful history more present than in the United States. Beginning with Christopher Colombus, and lasting to the present day, Native’s have sought to protect their heritage and ideals in any way possible.
As more people began to see injustices throughout our world via telethons, and “text to donate” programs, Americans increasingly began to see problems with indigenous cultures as someone else’s––something that America certainly wasn’t dealing with. Unfortunately, this presumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
First Nations people in the United States are twice as likely to drop out of high school, have more health care problems, greater rates of substance abuse, crippling unemployment rates, and a standard of living like that of poverty.
But it’s probably unclear about what all of this has to do with a few people posting pictures on tumblr. When Europeans came to America in the 15th century, they impressed their own culture upon the native people–– forcing them to learn their native language, convert to their religion, and countless other actions, stripping Native Peoples of their culture, history, and identity.
By adopting First Nation’s clothing, such as moccasins or headdresses as ours to wear, we are sending an underlying message thats significance is not often understood. This action conveys a message that European, white Americans have the rights to these cultural statements, harking back memories of forced cultural suppression. It says that white Americans have the right to take away and bring back these cultural identities when it’s convenient for them, not when it’s to be celebrated or admired. Wearing these artifacts of cultural oppression is not something that Americans have earned the right to do––these are not our symbols to appropriate.
Unfortunately cultural appropriation doesn’t just occur in fashion. In a more obviously offensive manner, many high school, college, and professional sports teams have used the likeness and language of First Nation’s people in a highly stereotypical and degrading form as their mascot. Whether it’s the “Fighting Sioux” of North Dakota, or the “Redskins” of Washington D.C., there’s certainly no lack of examples where Native cultural heritage is being exploited.
With names like “Redskin” othering First Nation’s people for their stereotyped skin tone, and negative violent images hailed by names like “Fighting Sioux” it’s easy to see how blatant racism infiltrates our supposed highly diverse and developed society. Even more disheartening, our nation’s capital city has not only one, but two professional sports teams using these stereotypical images. It’s now wonder we can’t rid the entire nation of these harmful images, when even our center of government can’t dispel racism.
The tumblr images and popular stores that offer appropriated Native patterns are not what’s ruining Native people’s lives, but it’s a part of a greater systematic racism that is guilty. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to wear your great new moccasins, or that shirt with a beautiful pattern, but it does mean that as a society we need to take a greater look at where those images of beauty came from, and why it may not be ours to take, making a fairer and more representative country for all our citizens.
Americans cannot reverse the tides of historical oppression that our nation was founded on. We cannot repay the thousands dead, displaced, and impacted by previous systematic actions. But Americans can take responsibility––recognize these mistakes, work to reconcile the harm done––and honor, not appropriate the images of the people who walked this great land far before the European settlers afterwards.