Cultural Appropriation: are you guilty?
Last year, a little birdy at SXSW told me that the panel submission of “Playing Indian & Other Racist Nonsense” was too niche of a topic. That thought has echoed with me to this day.
Too niche for an immense society with the population of Native Americans amounting only to roughly 2% of that total?
The problem is that it’s not too niche of a topic for us. Nor is it really a niche topic for that ‘immense society’ when every aspect of what affects us in cultural appropriation and racism is present in their everyday lives as well. Perhaps you haven’t noticed it. It’s a subtle thing because we’re presented as mascots in mockery cartoons or the name of a football team containing an actual slur, culturally wrong icons on your packages of butter and the sides of trucking company semi trucks, props of ancient and long dead “savages” wearing a headdress paired with festivals to down some “fire water”, tattoos of skulls in headdresses, that dreamcatcher thing hanging from your rear view mirror, and every day speech such as “Indian giver”, “off the reservation” and “on the warpath”.
If any of the above references were immediately familiar to you – congratulations! You’ve taken the first step to recognizing an instance of cultural appropriation. It can only get better from here and we can help.
Your panelists for the 2020 SXSW conference are:
Summer Tiger Beach and Adam Beach. Actors, activists.
Statement: “When Native Americans appear on film, we are lazily written as tropes and stereotypes, killed off, raped, and sacrificed for a white character’s story arc. Adam and I are committed to writing and directing our own content, in an effort to shift the representation of Natives in film away from white writers’ outdated fantasies. We (Natives) exist in modern times, we love, we have careers, we learn our languages, we even pay taxes(!), yet by Hollywood’s portrayal we are either drunk or dead. The truth is we have a multitude of stories that can only be told from our unique perspective. We are committed to getting those stories to the screen, with the ultimate goal of inspiring other Native creators to tell their stories as well.”
Adam bio: Adam is living proof that Aboriginal youth can achieve their dreams and change the world. He has appeared in over 60 films and television programs. One of his more memorable performances was as Ira Hayes, a Pima Native American, in the Academy Award-nominated Clint Eastwood directed Flags of Our Fathers (2006). Adam, like many Native Americans living today, knows the challenges we face as the first peoples of this continent, but he is committed to sharing his dreams and vision of a better future through film and storytelling for our youth.
Summer bio: Summer Tiger is a screenwriter, actor, and enrolled member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Much of Summer’s knowledge and passion for Indigenous rights come from her experiences as a child when her grandfather was the chief of the Miccousukee Tribe of Florida.
Debra Krol. Jolon Indian Media, Journalist.
Statement: “Media has long been challenged to report on communities of color without resorting to tired old tropes. In the case of Indian Country, that factor can be multiplied by at least a factor of 10. If readers have only mainstream coverage to build a picture of Native America, they would come away with a culture rife with poverty, substance abuse, gaudy casinos rising above the prairie and colorful dancing. The reality is far different from that picture – it’s more complex and layered. But the majority of journalists fail to grasp even the basics. Our panel will show the beginnings of solutions, which involve both retraining mainstream journalists about the intricacies of Indian Country and the importance of actively recruiting and retaining Indigenous journalists who can serve as expert sources withing newsrooms. In fact, I recently offered tips on the first subject to an audience of science writers; that article was well-received and is likely pinned to cork boards in newsrooms (link:https://www.theopennotebook.com/author/debra-utacia-krol/) So, we’d like to offer myself and other panelists in a journey to the world behind the Indian casino.”
Bio: Indigenous storyteller Debra Utacia Krol is an award-winning journalist with an emphasis on Native issues, environmental and science issues, and travel who’s fond of averring that “My beat is Indians.” She is an enrolled member of the Xolon (also known as Jolon) Salinan Tribe from the Central California coastal ranges. Krol’s forceful and deeply reported stories about peoples, places and issues have won nearly a dozen awards. Krol seeks to leverage her extensive journalism experience in Native America and in the mainstream to tell the real story of Indian Country.
Alexandra (Ali) Watson. Social media, Japanese music industry, Indigenous issues.
Statement: “As a kid, one of the first representations that I saw of Natives was in a cartoon called the Paw Paw Bears. They were bears dressed in stereotypical garb and had a magic totem that came to life when called upon. As an adult, that kind of appropriation wouldn’t stand. This country is the origin of all the stereotypical and racist attitudes that can be found around the world toward Native Americans here. Appropriation is so commonplace that it’s practically normalized. That way of thinking needs to change here at home before it can be adequately tackled on a global scale. K-pop and Japanese artists have worn headdresses, dressed in stereotypical garb and dressed as “Indians” for Halloween. Music artists and entertainers have worn offensive garb including, but not limited to, Gwen Stefani, Cher, Alyssa Milano, and Pharrell. Way too many people claim to be Native and aren’t, such as Elizabeth Warren, Kaya Jones, Otep and Dana Loesch. The source of these problems is in the United States and it needs to be addressed. We are still living and breathing our cultures. Let us help you respect us appropriately.”
Bio: Alexandra is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Since moving back to Denver, she has spent the last ten years promoting Japanese rock and Visual Kei music online with JRockRevolution.com, an endeavor she’s well known for today. She has also worked on connecting opportunities with artists, such as with inclusion of one Japanese band being included in a major music video game, Rock Band 3, and the same band in a movie soundtrack, SAW 3D. In the last year, Alexandra has also dedicated time to Indigenous issues primarily in Twitter and opened a site to share issues affecting Indigenous peoples on the Internet and around the country, where her passion currently remains.
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