Friday, October 17, 2014

Cultural Appropriation and the Indigenous Woman: No More Pocahotties

When I think of Indigenous Women I think of my grandmothers.

My grandmothers are the strongest people I know.  Both in their mid 70's.  Both mothers of many children.  Both have worked long hours at factories, offices, houses, society, and life.  One of the greatest joys in my life is seeing them living these "golden years" in good health and even better spirits.  They are brilliant in a way that goes beyond wisdom from life experience.  They have taken those experiences and gleaned every possible lesson and positive takeaway and selflessly shared them with those that care enough to listen.  My grandmothers have given me such gifts in my 30 years. From my Native regalia carefully and lovingly handmade, to the unconditional love and support in my dark times, to the praise when I have succeeded, and of course being called "young lady" when my sassy brown ass really needed to hear it.  Their love has come in all forms.  Christmas Eve traditions, drumming with my cousins at family reunions, chocolate covered raisins, jokes (so many jokes, my grandmothers are both right up there with the funniest people I know), and those hugs that only grandmothers can give.  I love them both so much and they have shown me that Native women are the backbone of not only our families but our people.  We have survived because of women with the same iron will and pure ferocious faith that my Grammies have.

When I think of Indigenous Women I think of my mother.

My mother is barely five feet tall but her presence can fill a room.  She gave birth without medical intervention or pain medication four times.  She has made meals out of pennies.  She has a Dartmouth education and can think and drink as good as any man.  She loves God, her grandbabies, her teaching in the community, George Clooney, coffee with cream, and telling it like it is.  She taught me that I am always enough, that physical beauty doesn't mean anything if your soul is ugly, and that faith is more than a word.

When I think of Indigenous women I also think of my daughters.

Five year old Layla. She is the smallest and strongest hurricane I've ever known.  She is brilliant and fierce.  She has the instincts of a wise old soul that has seen years of lessons learned, bridges built then burned, and the many facets of the human experience.  Her wild brown hair frames a deceptively adorable face with tiny features and sharp expressions. In the dark early morning hours on the day she was born the heavens were full of storm clouds and flashes of vibrant lightening.  Not one clap of thunder was heard though.  This is how her life is now.  Full of power that is felt, not heard.  That is taken in by your senses, not shoved in your face.  My silent thunder.  My girl of lightening.

Seven year old Carmella. Most human have about 12 emotions.  Carmella has at least 400.  She has a heart the size of my whole universe and in it she keeps mine beating.  Her piercing eyes that change colors with her mood and the shape of the sun that day.  Her constant and colorful musings on life and love for everyone she meets.  Her trusting and kind nature that is reminiscent of a time that this world has long forgot.  She is love.  Pure and genuine love that is never selfish or conditional.  She has saved my sanity and my life simply by being her.  By being born to me exactly when I needed a north star in this world. Keep shining my love.

When I think about Indigenous Women I think of Me.

I've never wanted to be anything else.  In the steam of the sweat lodge, in the face of a white high school peer calling me a squaw, in the bounce of my dancing feet, in the ever changing length of my braid, in the smudge I send up when the nightmares happen, in the tears that drop for those we have lost, in the confusion of youth, in the heaven of age, in the times I know the spirits have protected me from myself, in the words of our language that live in my head and are afraid of my mouth, in the songs that travel on my air, in the knowledge that I am no one's mascot, in the strong body I have been blessed with to birth babies and run for my people, in the prayers for the lost, in the joy for those found, I am an Indigenous Woman.

All Indigenous people on this continent have fought an uphill battle for the same rights and liberties that white Americans have taken for granted for centuries. Indigenous women have had an especially arduous task of being visible, safe, respected, and healthy throughout times and places that don't see them as people.  I think back to my grandmothers. I think of my mother. I think of my daughters. I think of me.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 extended citizenship for all Native Americans who were born in the United States.  In the State of Maine Natives didn't have the right to vote until the 1950's. Think about that for a minute.  The people who's civilizations had existed on this land for centuries before those ill prepared pilgrims needed saving,

before the valor and drama of the Revolutionary War, before the writing of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence (for the 1/12th of the population that those documents pertained to at the time), before the Founding Fathers, before Abraham Lincoln wore that silly hat, before all of it.

Native Americans lived in tribes, communities, and nations across this great and beautiful place. There were societies, philosophies, and schools.  There was art, science, and architecture.  The reckless savage, sexual squaw, bloodthirsty warrior, and stupid primitive caveman are all facades set to the music of guilt and denial by the conquering culture of this country that has time and time again either candy coated or blatantly lied about the true history to sweep under the rug the shame of the acts of their heroes.  I will not suffer to save anyone's identity.  Idle no more.

I stand here today because those that came before me endured such atrocities as: smallpox blankets, bounties on scalps, residential schools, forced relocation, being stripped of all resources then given food not fit for dogs, sex crimes, murder, involuntary sterilizations, kidnapping, and slavery.  How absolutely amazing it is that we survived a systemic and carefully planned and executed genocide attempt on our people in our homeland.  We are not only still here but we have been able to maintain our oral history, languages , songs, customs, art, and ways of life.  I take so much strength from my Indigenous roots and I owe it to those people who sacrificed so much for me to water those roots and bloom for everyone who was unable to.

What I don't think about when I think about Indigenous Women are Pocahottie Halloween Costumes,

With all this being said.  Here are 10 Reasons Not to Be a Sexy Indian for Halloween this Year.

1.) You are engaging in something that dehumanizes a strong and proud group of people and takes our power away.  You are basically reducing our rich heritage to a cheap and silly strip of plastic that you can grab for 12.99 at Walmart.

2.) You are being blasphemous and mocking religious symbols. The dresses, feathers, paint, moccasins, and headdresses all have meaning in our ceremonies.  They are things to be earned and respected. Not worn to get guys to buy you drinks or to cover up your ever fading self esteem.

Preview of my next blog.

3.) You are perpetuating violence against Indigenous Women.  We are often seen as sexual beings, (which of course we are! we're humans with blood in our veins and hormones just like you!) but the stereotype of the over-sexualized squaw that is made to meet your needs and fantasies is not only ridiculous but dangerous.  If we are seen as nothing more than sex dolls wearing feathers we once again lose our humanity. This greatly encourages the cycle of rape, murder, abduction, and abuse to continue because we are not seen as whole beings worthy of love and giving consent to sexual acts.

4.) You look stupid. Also you are appropriating someone else's culture.  That means stealing.  That also means you get to dress up and play Indian without living as one your whole life.  Although there are many great things about it you will not have to deal with the not so great things like racism, violence, discrimination, and being invisible in a country built on the blood of your ancestors.  You get to put it on. I can't take it off.

5.) You make my daughters upset. Both of my daughters saw a commercial on tv for "Party City" Halloween store and it featured a typical "Pocahottie" costume.  My older daughter said, "Mumma, that't not what we look like.  They think we're stupid and they're making fun of our culture." She looked down and it broke my heart.  If you can't put these costumes away for any other reason, think about what you would say if she was your daughter.

Teach them better than this. For all of our sake.

6.) You are missing out on a chance to do something good.  In this day and age every chance we have to make a difference we should.  By not contributing to this trend you can make it less and less popular and maybe one day we'll look back at those costumes like the modern day minstrel shows they are.

7.) You are being racist.  And now you can't claim ignorance because I just told you that you are.

8.) You could play up your sexiness by being about a million other things for Halloween.  In my search for a costume this year I have seen everything from sexy jellyfish to sexy crayon.  Don't feel like Pocahottie is giving you freedom to break away from the naughty nurse/hot cop trap because there are so many other choices.  Sex it up. But keep my culture out of it.

9.) If I see you I will call you out on your outfit. You don't want that. Trust me.

I chopped up what was left of my dignity with my sexy axe.

10.) My grandmothers and all those that came before them protect so much of who we are so that you could offend and disrespect them by looking like an extra in an x-rated Dances With Wolves spin off. Respect them.  But more importantly, respect yourself.


  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing your amazing essay about your foremothers and your daughters and yourself. Thank you for sharing this wisdom. I am following your blog and looking forward to your next post. I am glad my neighbor Barry Dana shared this post on facebook so I got to read it.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Maulian... hope we can meet some day.