For me, it was a shock and sheer disappointment when I saw the extent of VAMPS’s cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of Native Americans. VAMPS has great music. They’ve collaborated with Apocalyptica and opened with them for the SIXX A.M. tour in the U.S. I’ve been able to shoot concert photos for VAMPS. I even interviewed VAMPS at their headlining show in NYC on May 2015.
For Beast Party 2016, VAMPS chose to do “Native themed” merchandise. Their Facebook Page states, “Based on native patterns with colorful designs to match the atmosphere of the show”. This explanation is confusing and brings questions to mind. How does “native patterns” match the atmosphere of the show? In what context do the two equate? It makes no sense. On top of that, there is really no such thing as “Native patterns”. We are not a homogeneous group of people. We do not have generic patterns or designs that represent all of us.
We, as Native Americans, are over 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States alone. We all have different customs, aesthetics, ways of dress and regalia. What people tend to assume as “Native designs” are often appropriated as a mash up of geometric shapes. There’s a wingdings type font that has a bunch of geometric shapes that are often considered “Native”. They are not.
Native Americans have endured cultural and actual genocide. To date, we make up somewhere between 2-4% of the population in the U.S., which makes our numbers pretty small. But, we are still here. We’re still surviving and we shouldn’t be exploited or disrespected.
Here is an image of some of the merch that VAMPS had available at their show.
Probably one of the most curious aspects of the design, besides the appropriation, is that the skull in a headdress is their logo. A headdress is something that is earned and is not even part of every Native American culture. Northern Plains, such as my tribe the Lakota, have headdresses as part of our culture. How is a skull in a headdress ‘matching the atmosphere’?
Because a headdress is earned, a headdress is associated with the person who earned it. The skull in a headdress does not represent any one person of any one tribe, therefore it is simply a depiction of one dead person’s head in a headdress. It is not respectful of any Native American tribe. Using this design misrepresents our people as well as enforces stereotypical views that we are all somehow the same. Or that we are extinct because the Indian in the design is dead? Such imagery has been considered pro-genocide or at least a fetish for dead Native people.
What is cultural appropriation?
There is one thing in this particular, very excellent article, that I’d like to highlight:
“Cultural appropriation occurs when the dominant culture takes or exploits elements of a minority culture without permission and has very little understanding about what it is that they are appropriating. Thus, cultural appropriations are often very problematic as they can promote misrepresentations and (typically negative) stereotypes about the minority culture.”
Do all these items really need a dead Indian on them?
One of the things VAMPS chose to sell is a bikini. Perhaps they are unaware that a Native American woman is three times more likely to be sexually assaulted in her life. Hypersexualizing Native women, even in stereotypical designs, only encourages stereotypical and negative views about Native American women. Sexual assault against Native women are committed the most by non-Natives.
That hat, when propped up, doubles as a mock headdress! Note the mock homemade feathered headbands/headdresses, too.
“Now can you see why my heart breaks and I feel sick every time I see an image of a naked or scantily clad woman in a headdress? This is not just about cultural appropriation. This is about a serious, scary, and continuing legacy of violence against women in Indian Country. “
Here’s just a few items in the news about cultural appropriation:
Why does it matter if it’s happening in Japan?
It’s not the first time that cultural appropriation of Native Americans has occurred in a VAMPS event. The following images were for the VAMPS Halloween Party 2014. HYDE (vocalist of VAMPS) is Maleficent. The following is from: http://p.twipple.jp/user/AnisCasawie (see folder 10/2014). Anis is wearing the mockery Native American costume:
The biggest problem here is that we are not a costume to be worn. Headdresses are earned in very specific situations and only in certain tribes and aren’t a fashion trend or costume. Wearing this kind of costume is disrespectful and, again, promoting stereotypes and negative imagery of Native Americans.
Gacha HYDE in a pirate/headdress mashup
VAMPS just announced their Halloween Party 2016. Will there be others disrespecting my culture at their event? I certainly hope not. (writers note: insofar as I could tell, there was not). As an influential artist, it would have been better for HYDE and VAMPS to be on the respectful side of addressing Native American culture.
Granted, they are not the first to appropriate and profit off this type of appropriation, but as leaders in their music industry, it is in their position to be a positive influence to others and respect our culture rather than spitting on it, by ignorance or otherwise.
Of course, there are people and companies that choose to promote ignorance and stereotypes. One has only to Google, “Native Headdress” and be met with dozens of images of mock headdresses and scantily clad women in headdresses. However, just because other people readily mock or exploit our culture, it is not an excuse to also do it.
As a side note, I did reach out to VAMPS recently, as well as Anis in 2014 to no response. Hence my post.
To VAMPS: I implore you to address this matter. There are larger issues that Native America faces today to devote larger numbers to pointing this out to you. I implore you to cease selling these items completely. Consider working with Native artists if you desire Native designs to do so in a respectful manner. I doubt that you did this with the intention of disrespecting Native American culture, but your merchandise does just that. Please consider an apology for it.
https://store.vamprose.com/ –items still being sold from Beast Party 2016. As of 2018, items for BEAST Party 2016 are still available in their store).