N(X) Native American Heritage Month Interview Series: Dr. Jessica Metcalfe

I sat down with Turtle Mountain Chippewa Fashion Blogger, Jessica Metcalfe to talk about Native American Heritage Month. The interview touches on the meaning of Heritage Month, working with the media industry, misappropriating Native Culture through fashion, and building her fashion blog empire. Each week during the month of November, you can read these interviews on the NATIVE(X) blog. (Part two of a six part series.)

Mac: What does Native American Heritage Month mean to you?

Jessica: Well, I’m Native American, and so every month is ‘Native American Heritage Month’ to me. I didn’t really know that it existed – as an official ‘month’ – until I went to graduate school. We didn’t see November as a special month to educate people about Native American Heritage.  It’s like a year round deal for most Native people. Then, when I went to graduate school we were like “hey, it’s Native American Month. Here’s our opportunity to educate people and reach broader audiences.”

The rest of society just decided like “Okay. Now, we learn about black people in February, and we learn about Indians in November.” It’s a weird concept to me. I mean it’s cool and it’s great, but it’s a weird concept.

And it’s proving to have no real impact, since mainstream media continues to perpetuate stereotypes about Native people (think of No Doubt’s recent video or Victoria’s Secret headdress faux pas) and disregard education.

karlie kloss

We just have a huge problem with how Native people are represented in mainstream media.

 Mac: What topics would you want the media to focus on for Native American Heritage Month?

Jessica: I think a main problem has to do with the fact that people just don’t know how to talk about Native American people or Native American history, oftentimes because it brings up historical events that were absolutely horrible. So people don’t know, Should we talk about how beautiful Native cultures are? Should we talk about the massacres? Should we talk about contemporary life?

 Mac: If you could take over the homepage of CNN or the New York Time for a day during the month, what would you feature?

Jessica: I would highlight art. Because when you talk about art, you have to talk about education. You have to talk about religion and spirituality, the environment and ecology, and trade and economies. You also have to talk about history and pre-history. You have to talk about all of this stuff because people don’t know – but they want to know. You have to talk about and celebrate the diversity of the cultures.

Mac: So one of your main goals is educating people about the different tribes or different regions?

Jessica: Yeah, and the diversity of experience. The historical experiences were all different.  I mean it’s such an amazing story. Whenever I teach classes the students are always there and always awake. I know that if students don’t find a class interesting they’ll skip it or sleep through it. So, I know that people are genuinely interested in learning about Native American Heritage. It’s just not provided for them in any in-depth kind of way. It’s not given to them in grade school or high school. For most students, it’s only offered in college, and if you sign up for those classes.

Dr. Jessica Metcalfe

Mac: So how do you balance teaching about the historical injustices versus moving forward in present day life? For example, this year on Columbus Day Adrienne K of Native Appropriations celebrated the resilience of Native people instead of writing how horrible Columbus was.

Jessica: When you read Adrienne’s post, she wants to switch the narrative from just talking about how horrible Columbus was to how persevering our people are. However, we do still need to talk about how horrible Columbus was. We have to because if we all of a sudden exclude that information and just celebrate Native people, then there is this process of whitewashing history and looking at it through rose-colored glasses. And this is the case for so many of the massacres.  They aren’t called a massacre in the history books. They call them battles. It’s not a battle when you murder women, children, and elderly, that’s not a battle. You’re massacring people. So, I think that we have to be very careful about how we talk about history and making sure that it isn’t just a white version, the whitewash version. But I agree with Adrienne, we should be talking about the fact that we’re still here. The fact that we’re still here is a form of resistance.

Mac: Switching things up here. How do you define patriotism?

Jessica: It’s like dual citizenship. I am member of Turtle Mountain Chippewa, but I am also a US citizen. I vote in the United States Election because I know that the outcome of those elections affect me as well.

One interesting thing about ‘patriotism’ is the fact that we have so many warriors who sign up for the services. We have the highest percentage of service members out of all ethnic groups because, at the end of the day, this is our land. This is our place. This is us.  I still walk outside barefoot because you have to have that connection to the land, the grass. You still had to have that connection and you have to fight for it. It’s a source of pride for all of us. It’s not about fighting for the United States, or fighting for Obama or whatever. It is fighting for us, so that we can remain here which is all that we want.

Mac: What are you trying to accomplish with Beyond Buckskin?

Jessica: Well, a lot! There are two prongs. The first is to put Native American artists and designers at the center. The fashion industry is one of the hardest industries to break into regardless of your background.

Beyond Buckskin is about creating a platform for emerging or established designers to take their careers to the next level. It’s about spotlighting them, encouraging them, and providing economic opportunities for them. Eventually, I want to set up a mechanism where they can get grant money through Beyond Buckskin for whatever project they’re working on. That’s my dream- to be able to create an entity that is all about pushing Native fashion forward.

So, the boutique plays an essential role in that–a stage where we can sell and people can buy Native-made fashion. We’ve sold over 850 items so far through the boutique.

Mac: Congratulations!

Jessica: It blows my mind. That means there are 850 more items out there in the world made by creative Native designers.

That’s one prong. The other prong has to do with educating about Native American Clothing Traditions, Contemporary Native American Fashion, but also representation of Native American culture in the fashion industry. The whole second aspect has to do with not only education, but making sure that we can connect these designers and artists with as many resources as possible so that the rest of the world can have access to these designers and see that our cultures are thriving.

I also love writing historical posts because Native American people were so fashionable in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. I also critique mainstream representations of Native people. Somebody needs to critique this stuff. We [as Native people] critique Hollywood’s representation of the Native American, but we’re not doing it in fashion. Why not? It is the same thing. It’s the same stereotype and they’re both very damaging. That’s where I step in to make sure that the fashion industry isn’t being racist and this is where we get stuff like the Paul Frank episode.

Mac: The social boycott against Paul Frank (the apparel company, no longer affiliated with Paul Frank himself) you mobilized was pretty impressive. What has happened since the infamous “Dreamcatching Powwow”?

Jessica: The Paul Frank response has been amazing, absolutely amazing. They are going above and beyond. I have so much respect for that. They reached out to Adrienne and I. They have a whole program so they are going to collaborate with at least one Native American designer to create a small collection that will launch in a year. I sent them a list of potential names of who I think that would work great with them – they might not select anyone from this list, but this is exactly what I wanted to do—create opportunities for Native designers.

Adrienne and I will also be putting together a panel with the president of Paul Frank Industries to hopefully present during the MAGIC Trade Show in Las Vegas this February. We’re going to be talking about these issues and then also talking about the collaboration.

Mac: Where is Beyond Buckskin in 10 years? An international fashion brand? A non-profit?

Jessica: Absolutely, I want to create this mechanism where I can provide funding, grant money not loans, for Native people. I think we need a huge influx of money if we’re going to be able to compete in the fashion business.

And we don’t have access to that. Even if we had only $1,000 grants – that would be such a huge surge to small businesses that would just really set it off in the right direction.

We also want to do workshops, similar to what you are doing so that the young ones can be the next leaders in the fashion industry. That’s really important. We need to set it up so it’s easier for them to take the reigns as the next generation.

A little further out, I want to create a platform for Native designers internationally. I have all these lists of the things I want to accomplish in the next five to ten years, and it is big.

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N(X) Native American Heritage Month Interview Series: Shaun Peterson

I sat down with Puyallup artist, Shaun Peterson to talk about Native American Heritage Month. The interview focuses on the potential of Heritage Month, educating about Native culture, and developing the next generation of Native influencers. Each week during the month of November, you can read these interviews on the NATIVE(X) blog. (Part one of a six part series.)

Mac: What does Native American Heritage month mean to you and do you do anything differently during the month?

Shaun Peterson: I don’t really try to do anything.  I think I have a lot of things going on on a pretty regular basis.  It would have to be something really involved, like event wise, if I were to.

Mac: I’m curious why there aren’t more events celebrating this month?

Shaun Peterson: It’s really hard to unify as many different cultures as there are for Native America. When you look at other cultured groups, a month celebrating their history might lend more to them.

I remember somebody asked me, ‘what’s your heritage?’ and I told him I was Native, but I have Irish and Japanese in my family, and he said “well you can’t be a third of anything” and I said “well I didn’t say I was a third anything” because Native American isn’t just one thing. Saying you are Native is like saying you are European. People tend to overlook that.  It would be interesting to include those stories in your blog post. I’ve got a career full of interactions like that. People have broad generalizations, they aren’t being racist, it’s just a matter of exposure and education for the most part.

Mac: How would you educate people on Native culture? Is there even an interest in exposure?

Shaun Peterson: Well I think in supporting my friends like Matika who is doing a project called 562.  It’s on Kickstarter, but she’s going to travel as a photographer, as a Native person, to document the reservations and contemporary life. Currently there’s a skewed perspective out there. It’s the Edward Curtis photographs that people have to live up to, and that’s the type of photography that pushed people into the ‘oh, Indians are part of the past’.

On a side note, I just got back from Chicago where I was doing some research at the Field Museum and the most recent videos they had looked like they were from the 70’s. I’ve been doing a lot more video documentary stuff.

I’m putting some videos together for a few grants and the goal is to revisit those 70’s videos and tell our story in a current fashion rather than being observed through an antiquated perspective. The condemning part of those videos from the 70’s is well intended, but the videos are old and people buy into that concept that Indians aren’t part of the global infrastructure anymore and that they’re all wiped out. These old videos don’t help educate on current life. I want to put together the contemporary videos of our traditions.

Chief Seattle with the Space Needle in the background

People question showing the contemporary method, but it is beneficial because we’ll see the real life aspect. The question I most frequently get as a sculptor is “your ancestors didn’t have steel, why are you using it?” I remind them “well it’s the art-form that was based off a cultural context, we didn’t have taxes and deadlines before, and in order to make a living, I’m not playing Indian for anybody out here. When people say traditional, it makes broad generalizations to the culture without looking at the purpose rather than the means by which something is accomplished. For example in woodworking there was a time before steel was readily available, so stone tools were used, but the adoption came because of the need to be efficient.  That’s more of a European concept of woodworking a lot of times (traditions regulated as time period practices). The purity aspect of how craftsmanship has to be done a certain kind of way.

Mac: Do you think Native artists or the Native community want more exposure or a platform to share their story and art?

Shaun Peterson: Yeah there’s definitely division in there.  When I talk to my friends about my approach to education, I usually share a video.  I saw an art21 of James Carrie Marshall, he’s an African American Artist and he made a statement that really resonated with me about their community. He said that there are artists in the African American community who considered black romantic a great thing and the other half who ran away from it because they think it’s a stereotypical depiction of black culture. He was asking himself as an artist, “well if it lacks something to people who think deeper about it, then what is black?” He is trying to do paintings that add to the traditional black romantic concept of jazz musicians or kids jump roping on the street kind of thing. These are identifiable themes and images. For Native Americans, we have this thing of our iconography and recognizable Indians on horses with feathers, people in canoes, and that type of thing. There’s an idea of more than that, and there are groups of artists who try to push away from it, and show that they are somebody else, not just this pre-defined thing. So like when you ask, how do you think the Native community feels?  There is a divide.  Some of us feel art needs to be this way and some people feel like we need to portray who we were once before, but that’s really impossible, pretending that there’s no change around us.

Mac: Would you say that there is a desire from the Native community for more cultural awareness, in the broadest sense?

Shaun Peterson: Well I think there’s still a lot of need and desire to reconnect cultural things that were broken, literally. You know from the two generations before, government involvement, assimilation, boarding schools, and things of that nature.  Some of those traditions that were a central part of keeping our community defined are absent now and so we have to rebuild and get back on our feet.

I think in the mean time a lot of people jump into participating in things like powwows, which is okay. We have a powwow every year, even though it has no long standing tradition with our people. It’s sort of like a placeholder for Native people to come together and be Indian and just socialize more than anything. However, for the deeper parts of who we are with our ceremonies, language and cultural practices, it’s just kind of coming back together.

I’m excited about the youth center that’s being built over by my family property Tacoma, WA.  We’ll have a place for our canoes. I’ll be able to teach some of the younger guys how to carve them too. These are the things deeply connected with our older culture and once we revitalize those things, we can share this contemporary aspect with people because it’s returning through a balance.

We’re really fortunate in this part of the world [the Northwest] to be so adamant about diplomacy and building an infrastructure. Not everybody has had that. I realize that when I travel.

There are other tribes with casinos and natural resource revenues, that sort of a double edge sword. People criticize the assimilation aspect of those enterprises, but at the same time it is a means to provide an infrastructure and help revitalize lost traditions and culture.  We could do these things without assimilation, but at the same time we are rebuilding ourselves into an economy on our terms.  We’re a global community, almost like a country within a country when you look at all of our nations. If we build our community from the ground up, determine how we can contribute, and at the same time redefine or revisit who we were and who we are now, that’s a big deal.

Mac: How does understanding the past alter someone’s perspective on the current?

Shaun Peterson: My perspective has changed as I’ve gotten older. I’m a Dad now and when I was younger, I was angry, feeling judged by people. I see that with younger men in our community who have to come up against that type of thing–“You’re an Indian why don’t you know about your culture?” And it’s really nobody’s fault, but there’s a lot of judging that goes on in general. It’s not their fault that they grew up without that knowledge because of things that came before them.

Now I’m more patient about talking to people and trying to help out with sharing where I have come from. I’ve had older male figures earlier in my life tell me the same thing, “hey, you’re angry about stuff and people don’t understand but that’s how some things are and at some point it won’t be like that forever.  You’ve got to be part of helping make that difference.” With this attitude, I know that my son will grow up with our culture and not feel that same hesitation or judgment.

Mac: How do you see the younger generation participating in the cultural revitalization and overcoming the frustration with historical injustices?

Shaun Peterson: I think a lot has to do with revisiting our tradition for what they were and understand that they are going to go through some changes.  One of the things that I was moved by was when our cultural leaders in Tulalip, where my grandmother grew up, started recreating the Salmon Ceremony. In the spring they bring the first salmon up to the long house and give thanks for the salmon run itself and this first salmon is caught and shared with the elders. The people come together and they more or less host the salmon itself as a spirit that goes back to the water to tell the rest of the salmon people that we are doing our part to appreciate the cycle that happens.

When the leaders said “we’re revisiting this tradition and it’s going to take a few years to get back to normal”, they were pointing out that people will say “this isn’t how it was done before”, but it’s not about how it was done before, it’s the spirit in which we view things that matter. That perspective is something that I’ve always tried to have in my work and when I speak to people. There are traditions that all people have, but it’s the intention behind those traditions that’s the purity of them.

Mac: What are your thoughts on overcoming challenges for you as an established artist and then also the challenges that younger less known artists encounter?

Shaun Peterson: Challenges, we all create them for ourselves.  Some people are comfortable creating within certain mediums and not expanding out.  I try to keep myself interested and challenged in general. I do things that I’m not entirely comfortable with but interested in learning about.  Like in the past few years, it’s been about documenting process, what I’m willing to share, and then in what way I am. Video is so accessible now one can tell their own story and give first hand perspective rather than trust someone to convey even simple ideas which even in recent years was a big deal to instill that kind if trust to someone.  So I’ve been working on that video and editing. Video is a key way to communicate with people on a much larger level.  I created a design element video a few years ago and it received a lot of attention from educators in Washington and I ended up securing a two-year national endowment grant.

As far as younger artist starting out, I’ve always told people to find mentors, people that you find inspiration from. It’s because I was seeking out mentors and really wanted to learn so much as I did, that I was able to get in to the art world. Now I’m really in a different place from where I started out. I thought I would always just be a sculptor working with wood, but I’m print making and branching out into other mediums. Everything around has changed so much

I’m looking at putting together a digital show with some younger guys to show that “tradition” can transcend mediums. I think that ties together both my challenges and what younger guys are facing, but also seeing myself not necessarily just as a  mentor but trying to make more things possible with my experience and influence. Communicating ideas long distances is so rapid now and with files being easy to transfer I’ve helped people look at their work as it develops using photoshop or adobe illustrator, whereas when I started out I had to drive to someone’s house to figure that out with them. Someone might say “it’s not traditional to teach someone who doesn’t come to you, but it’s a different time. Perhaps someone would have frowned on me driving my car to be mentored instead of going by a canoe, but it didn’t stop me from getting to where I was headed and those who criticize the methods by which we create will be just that. For where there are creators, there will be critics.

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November is Native American Heritage Month

During the month of February, the media does a respectable job programming content for African-American History Month. However, during November, Native American Heritage month doesn’t receive its fair share of attention. Until a year ago, I didn’t even know it existed!

As I speak with members of the Native community, the excitement and hope is evident as they revitalize their culture and overcome the adversity presented by historical injustices. The next generation’s well-being is at the heart of most revitalization initiatives, whether it’s land preservation, healthy living, language revitalization, or artistic development. Here at NATIVE(X), we’re honored to be a part of this movement with our sponsored art classes. However, the community still struggles with being stereotyped. November gives the Native community more of an opportunity to educate and tell their story. To assist with these efforts, I interviewed five influencers from the design, artist, and blogger communities. As respected (and opinionated) members in their field, each interviewee will give their thoughts on the potential of Heritage Month, raising awareness around Native culture, and developing the next generation of Native influencers. I will be posting these interviews each week during the month of November. Stay tuned and subscribe to our blog (email signup in the right column –>) for access to the interviews.


Week 1: Shaun Peterson-Puyallup Artist and owner of Qwalsius Studios


Week 2: Jessica Metcalfe-Turtle Mountain Chippewa Fashion Blogger and owner of Beyond Buckskin Boutique

Week 3: Victor Pascual-Navajo Graphic Designer and owner of Digital Navajo

Week 4: Making moves in their 20s. Dustin Martin-Navajo Artist and Co-Founder of S.O.L.O,  Whitney Minthorn-Umatilla, Walla Walla, Cayuse, & Nez Perce Photographer and owner of  Minthorn Photograhy

Sincerely,

Mac

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National Magazine Features N(X) in Holiday Gift Guide

Turquoise iPad Sleeve-$48

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Huffington Post Impact Blog

NATIVE(X) article in Huffington Post’s Impact Blog:

At first glance, No Doubt’s music video for their new single, “Looking Hot,” looks like a glossy piece of pop-rock — Gwen Stefani & Co. find themselves playing cowboys-and-Indians, with the lead singer rocking feathered headdresses, beaded necklaces and native prints galore. The band runs around a Wild West set, rides some horses, and even partakes in a tribal dance around a fire. Set to a blazing soundtrack, it’s all meant to be a colorful good time.

But within 48 hours of releasing the video last week, No Doubt pulled it off of YouTube and issued this apology:

“As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people.”

While I find it hard to believe that No Doubt didn’t anticipate this controversy, I can relate to their naïveté and well-meaning apology.

I started NATIVE(X) as a fashion brand inspired by the Chief Joseph wool print. With the story of the great Nez Perce leader in mind, I wanted to make clothes that started a conversation not just about the Native-inspired pattern, but also about Chief Joseph and his people. However, as the non-Native owner of NATIVE(X), I didn’t fully understand the historical implications of my idea when I started the business.

Just like No Doubt, I launched a product that didn’t sit well with the Native community. I intended to use fashion as a catalyst to promote cultural awareness, but overlooked the involvement of the very culture that I was attempting to create awareness around. In hindsight, this seems like an obvious component of the idea.

I received a complaint from Ojibwe tribe member Caleb Dunlap who saw my ad for the Native-inspired shorts. In a heated debate, Caleb turned to the NATIVE(X) Facebook page, venting his concerns about the exploitation of Native people, stereotyping Native America as one culture, and Native portrayal in fashion and film. After an hour, our conversation ended amicably with the thought that maybe NATIVE(X), with a few adjustments, could help do good and increase awareness. From here, there were two options; ignore Caleb and continue selling the popular shorts or rethink the NATIVE(X) concept altogether.

I look at NATIVE(X) today and more than anything, the conversations with members of the Native community have shaped what we do. I wasn’t told what to do, but instead, through these conversations I have a better understanding of the culture and why they take offense to videos like No Doubt’s. The majority of Native depictions, historical or contemporary, are a product of a non-native’s mind. The Native community wants to represent their true identity in pop-culture and history instead of being stereotyped as noble savages dawning a headdress and throwing spears. It’s not a matter of being overly sensitive as many people think.

At NATIVEX we work with Native artists to produce a collection of accessories. We help market their art and story to a larger audience while educating from a Native perspective. The authentic Native voice that I had originally excluded is now driving the brand.

Giving back to the community in a sustainable fashion permeates everything we do. The goal is twofold:

As part of our mission to build a platform for Natives to share their story, we spoke with five influencers in the design, art, and blogger community to build awareness around Native American Heritage Month. It gives us a chance to highlight the diverse culture and resilience of the first inhabitants of the land we now reside on. The interviews focus on the potential of Heritage Month, educating the greater public about Native culture, and developing the next generation of Native influencers. Each week during the month of November, you can read these interviews on theNATIVE(X) site.

Maybe next time they make a music video, No Doubt should work with the Native filmmaking community.

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Emails from N(X) fans

We love hearing from N(X) fans and occasionally share some of the  inspiring emails we receive. Being an entrepreneur is an emotional roller coaster and emails like these give us the courage and strength to go where others haven’t.  

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Hello,

My name is Lisa Casarez and I am an enrolled member from the Three Affiliated tribes in Western, ND.  I came across your website NATIVE(X) from the Huffington Post article on the No Doubt video. I think the [business] model you have for NATIVE(X) is extremely interesting.

I myself am a fine artist and I have done a couple of art workshops for children on my reservation, all at my own expense. I have been wanting to find a way to be able to combine my passion for art and my efforts to reach out to the youth on my reservations and reservations nearby. I was wondering how your model works? Are you a business? Or considered a non-profit?

I have taken a look at your website and I love it! Even if you are non-native, I am glad of all the work you are doing and honoring Native artists and native culture by working with them and creating something positive.

Thank you!

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Dear Mac at NATIVE(X)

I’m writing to say, thank you for the work that you’ve undertaken.

I would like to know who the artist is for the piece, “Chief Seattle with the space needle in the background”

I’m a psychotherapist and artist (out of the need to release what others teach me and what the process teaches me). I’m intensely conscious of the need to approach the topic of sexual abuse and incest in our families on the northwest coast of british columbia–throughout the nation and continent.  How to do that is the challenge.  Traditionally we used what is called the “arts” to communicate things of great importance, that way it seeps into the cells of our collective being.

Thank you for the healing work you’re doing in a clear, clean, artistic way.

Patricia Vickers

I’m Ts’msyen (also Tsimshian)  from the village of Gitxaala on my father’s mother’s side and Heiltsuk on my father’s father’s side.  My mother’s parents were from England.  My ph.d. was in ancestral law and my dissertation can be found on-line Ayaawx (Ts’msyen ancestral law): the power of transformation.

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Hypbeast Editorial

A recent editorial I wrote for Hypebeast editor, Eugene Kan: “The Meaning Behind Navajo: Fashion’s Misunderstanding

The fashion industry doesn’t care that it is creating the Native aesthetic without Native American input. That “Navajo”, “Native”, or “Indian” pattern you love and associate with Native design was created by a non-native who has had no interaction with the Native community. People are going to say “stop being so sensitive, it’s just a design,” but with these patterns being so recognizable as “Native”, they represent an inaccurate version of the Native aesthetic.

I’ve been working with Native American artists, designers, and bloggers for the past three years, and it’s an understatement to say that they are frustrated with the fashion industry’s lack of consideration and misappropriation of Native design. Although the practice of creating Native-inspired designs isn’t illegal or racist, companies continue to release offensive collections that become PR nightmares.

Take recent controversies where Victoria Secret, Paul Frank Industries, Gap, and Urban Outfitters unknowingly released designs teetering on the edge of racist. Two prominent Native fashion bloggers, Adrienne K of Native Appropriations and Jessica Metcalfe of Beyond Buckskin, took note and rallied online protests against the companies. Victoria Secret outfitted super model, Karlie Kloss in a body-length headdress for their annual fashion show. After received thousands of Facebook comments, VS issued the statement, “We sincerely apologize as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone.” Paul Frank Industries hosted a Dream Catchin’ Powow Fashion Week event themed with the stereotypical dream-catchers, headdresses, feathers, and Native drink specials. In restitution, Paul Frank apologized and agreed to collaborate with Native American designers in an upcoming collection. Gap released a tee shirt with MANIFEST DESTINY written across the chest. When asked to remove the shirt from stores and online, the iconic designer, Mark McNairy tweeted “SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST”, but soon thereafter apologized for his comment. Navajo Nation filed a trademark infringement lawsuit over Urban Outfitter’s “Navajo” branded flasks and panties. It’s clear that some of the biggest names in fashion lack cultural awareness and sensitivity to historical injustices committed against Native America.

However, examples of the fashion industry embracing authentic design do exist. In 2002, before the Native-inspired aesthetic became popular, Donna Karan partnered with Cochiti artist and designer, Virgil Ortiz to create fabrics inspired by his pottery. The successful runway line coupled Karan’s tailoring with Virgil’s black and white Cochiti design. You may be asking “what’s the big deal?” Why should my Native-inspired tee or hat be influenced by a Native artist? I like to wear garments designed with authenticity and thought knowing that the location of a pocket or rivet has purpose. I take the same approach when wearing a Native patterned design– I want an authentic connection with the people who originated the aesthetic.

As the non-Native owner of NATIVE(X), a brand that helps Native artists market their designs to a larger audience, I didn’t fully understand the complex historical implications when first starting the business. I intended to use fashion as a catalyst to promote cultural awareness, but overlooked the involvement of the very culture that I was attempting to create awareness around. When I first started working on the NATIVE(X) idea, a man from the Ojibwe tribe named Caleb Dunlap publicly questioned my intentions on Facebook. After a heated exchange of emails ranging from the exploitation of Native people to stereotyping Native America as one culture, we agreed that as a social business, NATIVE(X) could actually help educate and increase awareness. In hindsight, experiences like this have shaped the NATIVE(X) concept; it’s a synthesis of numerous conversations with members of the Native community.

Today we sell totes, iPad sleeves and art prints as part of a collaboration with Nathaniel Wilkerson, an artist from the Gitxsan Tribe. We received Nathaniel’s input on our initial design, and his artwork adorns each accessory’s leather label. Even with Nathaniel’s involvement, I recognize that this is not the perfect model to create Native designed fashion. However, while we work towards the goal of more Native involvement, we’re also helping develop the next generation of Native designers by sponsoring art classes on reservations. Three weeks ago we held our first class on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon, with 20 students learning the art of screen printing by designing their own image and printing it on a T shirt. Rather than simply labeling our own designs as “Native,” NATIVE(X) endeavors to build a sustainable model for artistic economic development in Native American communities.

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Love Letter to Kickstarter.com

Dear Kickstarter.com, No other website makes me feel the way you do. You are just too good. The end. Love, Mac

Earlier today I spoke with Matika Wilbur about her Kickstarter project, that at the time was just over 50% funded. She is a photographer from from the Swinomish Indian Reservation in Washington State with a goal to “unveil the true essence of contemporary Native issues, the beauty of Native culture, the magnitude of tradition, and expose her vitality.” I’ll let her explain more:

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NATIVE(X) Wearable Art Workshop

I’m all messed up after last night’s redeye back to NYC, but I’m way too excited to delay this blog post. N(X) sponsored a three day art class hosted at Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, a non-profit aimed at providing opportunities for Native Americans through artistic development. Each art class participant experienced the entire process of screen-printing, starting with designing an image and ending with applying ink to tees. Participants completed the  “Wearable Art Workshop” (all the details) on Saturday afternoon leaving with their personalized tee and a supply of Christmas gifts for the family.

Our workshops teach. Yes, we give a physical product in the form of a tee-shirt,  but more importantly we teach a skill. Each N(X) workshop participant has the ability to create designs, burn screens, and ink tees on their own, without the need for future N(X) funding or instructing. That’s a sustainable model. We plan to sponsor more classes on the Umatilla Reservation and expand the concept to other reservations in 2013.

Thank you to Crow’s Shadow directors, Melissa Bob and Pat Walters for entertaining the concept and coordinating the class respectively! Rewind six months and that’s when we started discussing initial details. That’s over 150 days of planning that went into this class. We had no idea if community members would find the idea of screen printing appealing, but we ended up having to extend our 12 participant cap to 16 and start a wait list for next class.

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About that thing called Columbus Day…

Scroll down for more cartoons and memes

In the past I loved Columbus Day. It gave me a day off of school all thanks to a courageous explorer dude named Christopher. He seemed like a pretty cool guy back in history class, but I have since changed my view of this “holiday” and the man it was named after. I’ve been reading article all day and here are some of the best from a Native perspective below:

Many Native Nations (and even states) have already taken measures to change the name of the Columbus Day holiday. One example is South Dakota, where this day is referred to as Native American Day, and coincides with the large He Sapa Wacipi Powwow celebrations.

Jessica Metcalfe from Beyond Buckskin

“Every Native American is a survivor, an anomaly, a surprise on earth. We were all slated for extinction before the march of progress. But surprise, we are progress.”

Two years ago, I put together a series of posts about what is commonly known as “Columbus Day” here in the US. The posts can be found herehereherehere, and here, if you’re interested in the reasons why this “holiday” is so messed up. But this year, I decided to do something different. I just got back from an incredible weekend at my 5th year college reunion, and spent some time with just a handful of my amazing Native friends and colleagues from college. I want to share some brief snippets of what they are up to, because in these friends are counter-stories to the common conceptions about Native peoples. In sharing these stories, I’m hoping to switch narrative from just talking about how horrible Columbus was, to celebrating the resilience and excellence that abounds in the Indigenous communities of the Americas. So without further ado, some awesome Natives I have the pleasure of knowing:

Adrienne K from Native Appropriations

While the rest of the nation celebrates Columbus Day, South Dakota celebrates Native American Day. Some American Indians have mixed feelings about it.

“Not only did we survive horrific treatment, loss of land, culture, buffalo and sacred sites, but we are here contributing as citizens,” she said. “Our story is a story of positive change. It is a great thing what Gov. Mickelson did. He recognized the rich cultural resource that we are.”

Mitchell Republic

Some good memes and political cartoons:

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