SXSW Panel Picker “Playing Indian and Other Racist Nonsense”

Ali Watson and Johnnie Jae have submitted a SXSW Panel Picker proposal for the 2019 SXSW conference. The topic is “Playing Indian and Other Racist Nonsense“.

With this panel, we propose to address the harm of trends such as Pretendian-ism, or the act of pretending to be Indigenous, such as claiming to be Cherokee or Apache, and how this erases the voices of actual Natives trying to address important topics that affect our communities. It will also address other elements, such as the tired tradition of non-Natives wearing headdresses on the absurd claim that this offensive act somehow ‘honors’ our culture, or treating it as little more than a costume. If selected, we will have a one hour panel to discuss our topics, which is why it’s focused on music and entertainment at the moment. These are the largest culprits of cultural appropriation and lack of representation.

There are currently over 5,000 SXSW Panel Picker proposals for the 2019 SXSW conference. Just as Indigenous peoples have small visibility in the U.S. and Canada, we accept the challenge of visibility for our proposal in being chosen for the 2019 lineup.

How you can help:

  • You must create an account at in order to vote for the Panel Picker proposal.
  • Once you have signed in and voted, consider sharing the news throughout your social media!
  • If you can, take a few extra moments to leave a comment on why you think this is or isn’t important.
  • RT when @NtvTwt, @aliwatson117 or @JohnnieJae tweet about it. Include #SXSW if you @ us with your own tweet.
  • The proposal may be reviewed through this link:

About Ali Watson:

Ali Watson is Oglala Lakota and Choctaw, Oklahoma. She has been on Twitter since 2009. Originally, she used it for promoting Japanese rock and Visual Kei music. The majority of her social media time outside Twitter was devoted to However, catching moments of cultural appropriation or trying to educate about it now and then was something of a lonely endeavor until discovering #NativeTwitter. For the last year, Ali has followed issues that arise and felt that a website to consolidate information specifically for Twitter might be beneficial. It could make finding past topics easier and provide an archive in a way that can’t be achieved in Twitter alone. While still promoting Japanese rock music, Ali plans on continuous development of both.

About Johnnie Jae:

Known as the Brown Ball of Fury, Johnnie Jae is a profoundly driven and unstoppable Indigenerd from the Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw tribes of Oklahoma. She is a writer, speaker, technologist, advocate, community builder and entrepreneur that loves empowering others to follow their passions and create for healing and positive change in the world. Currently, she is the founder and CEO of A Tribe Called Geek, an emerging multimedia company that is dedicated to showcasing and encouraging Indigenous contributions to geek & pop culture as well as STEM fields. Jae has also contributed her skills Native Max Magazine, Native News Online, Complex, Good Men Project and the Success Native Style Radio Network.



SXSW is one of the largest music, entertainment, trend setting and pop culture conference in the country. Its origins as a music conference remain one of its strongest points, reaching consumers, business professionals for labels, management and artists, promoters, journalists and influencers. Among them will be people close to or at the source of decision making when it comes to  signing off on a concept, art, costume or image that make their way into the mainstream. These are among the people that need the education about the harms that could come from a choice that they make.

Why cultural appropriation and Pretendians?

The panel is only for an hour. In that limited time, it was best to focus on two factors affecting Indigenous peoples in two of the places we see it the most – music and entertainment. There are plenty of other areas, such as fashion, where appropriation is rampant, and topics like representation in movie roles that are equally important. Perhaps these can be addressed in other venues similar to SXSW.

What is a Pretendian?

Pretendian is a slang term coined by Indigenous people in reference to the practice of non-Natives claiming to be Native American or First Nations. Two prominent examples of this currently would be Senator Elizabeth Warren and a minor celebrity Kaya Jones. Neither has verifiable Native ancestry, yet one relies on stories of family lore, while the other believes a faulty DNA test makes her “Native”. For other Pretendians, their impact is minimal. For high visibility people, this can lead to dangerous trends that we will expound upon during our panel.


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