We are all one

We are all one
Jennifer Varenchik

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Does it Matter that Los Angeles County is the Nation's Capital for City Indians?

I guess not.  Not with the recent Paul Frank-gate incident. 

The latest data from the 2010 Census says that Los Angeles County has the largest urban Indian population in the country. 

Even with all of us here in L.A., we still got served up as characters to be imitated at the Paul Frank "Dream Catchin' Pow wow Celebrating Fashion's Night Out" on September 6th.  The event was complete with stereotypical mock tomahawks, war paint and head dresses.  And really crappy ones at that.  The electric pink, made in another country kind, ug. 

Many at first, including myself, were in shock that in 2012 a company could think it's ok to dress up in mock versions of whatever they think is "Indian".  Especially a company that is supposed to be "hip", and one that obviously didn't learn from the "Navajo" panty incident at Urban Outfitters.

Later we found out that the company apologized and wants to work with Native artists to create designs, and donate profits to Native causes.  That's pretty cool.  This could be someone's bigger break  to see their work on a national platform. 

Additionally, the Paul Frank president, along with 2 Native bloggers will also address the International Licensing Merchandisers Association (LIMA) conference about the use of Native imagery in fashion.  I truly hope that helps detour other companies to use their version of "Native" imagery in their merchandise. 

But really, this incident highlights one major issue for me: Native people are just not seen out there in the mainstream.  In the one location that has the highest Native population IN THE COUNTRY, not one voice in the Paul Frank company spoke up warning against the possible implications of mocking Native Americans.  In all the months and weeks it took to plan their event, no one ever thought, "Hey, do you think anyone will get upset that we're gonna have war paint, bows and arrows and tomahawks?"  And then, to add to that, all the party goers jumped on the bandwagon and happily posed for pictures, keeping the ignorance going. 

I'm inclined to say it's because they didn't know.  Too many people don't know anything when it comes to Native Americans, other than tee pees, tomahawks and dream catchers.  With over 565 tribes, it can be difficult for non-Natives to grasp that each tribe has it's own language, it's own creation stories and it's own system of government.  At least once a week, I am dropping some sort of factual tidbit to my non-Native friends.  I wear my Indian-ness on my sleeve and I'm always asked random questions about my culture, which I'm happy to explain.  I WANT people to know, to understand, to learn- all so they can they can then have a greater respect for my community. 

I don't have any answers or solutions.  I do have some ideas: can we finally teach how this country was really founded?  Can each state spend time on not only the Nation's history with Native Americans, but learn about the tribes in their state and in their local community?  Can we do away with making headbands and paperbag vests in November?

And the biggest one for me: can we encourage people to learn their own cultural heritage?  By learning where your people are from, how they got here (USA), and family histories, people then tend to then have a greater respect for other cultures. 

Why do you think we are so offended by the misuse of war paint and headdresses?  Because we Native Americans, we treasure our heritage.  Those posing in the pictures, I wonder how much they know about theirs.  It wasn't too long ago that we were thought of as a "problem" that needed to wiped out, and then later told to assimilate.  Not many know WHY Los Angeles and other cities have Native American populations in the first place, it was called relocation, but I'm not sure if that's standard information in history books today... 

I was taught that you learn who you are in the stories of your people.  When you know what your family had to go through to get here, the customs and traditional ways of your people and why they were practiced, a sense of respect grows.   And the more one respects their heritage and culture, it seems to naturally follow that one would then begin to respect other's heritage and culture.

Here's to hoping that's true.


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