THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Alison Owings Headshot

Happy Insult Native Americans Month!

Posted: Updated:
Print

This is the last week of Native American Awareness Month and among my fellow nons, there hasn't seemed to be much awareness going on.

But there has been a lot of ripping, following a lot of ripping off.

Highlights, aka lowlights, include the group No Doubt, fronted by singer Gwen Stefani, releasing a video called "Looking Hot." According to a description and stills from it, the video itself being pulled shortly after release, Stefani is supposedly an Indian maiden, one clad in bizarre Indianesque outfits, like a strappy bra top and headband with feather, and later a clingy red outfit set off by beaded jewelry. In one scene she writhes sexily (according to given descriptions) in a teepee. Apparently she's also chased by "bloodthirsty" Indian savages.

No Doubt apologized; it meant No Offense. "Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history." The kicker, italics mine: "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."

Say what?

Having spent years interviewing Native people about contemporary life, and in the process having met a number of Native American studies experts at the University of California and elsewhere, I cannot fathom a single one being anything but appalled.

Then came reports about the video's cancelation. ABC News' website wrote Stefani "is dressed in traditional Native American attire." A California reporter referred to her "Native American clothing." OK, I've not seen every example of traditional female Native American attire, but I hereby swear Stefani's is unknown in any Native community past or present. How can reporters (my own tribe!) perpetuate the idea she was wearing anything remotely authentic? Whether she should is a whole other question.

But that was not the end of the episode. Then came online comments. The vitriol against Native people was so nasty, so ignorant, so extreme, it was shocking. That is, I was shocked. The gist of the comments: "We're all Americans, get a grip, stop whining, all you want is handouts, when you have all these casinos anyway." One commenter argued that No Doubt includes an Indian, but another pointed out, um, actually, that guy is Indian as in having parents from India. Oops.

The goof reminded me that some Native people joke, "Dot on the forehead Indians or feather in the hair Indians?" A more recent version, "Computer Indians or casinos Indians?"

It may come as a surprise to non-Natives, but Native people do joke, and often about themselves. Sherman Alexie is second to none among Indian jokers, but enough is enough. He summed up the Stefani/No Doubt insult in a tweet. "No Doubt turns 500 years of colonialism into a silly dance song and fashion show. Fuck them."

But wait! The insults keep on coming!

A few days after No Doubt's now-you-see-it-now-you-don't video, Victoria's Secret's fashion show featured model Karli Kloss in a bikini, much turquoise jewelry and, oh boy, a floor length feather headdress. That kind of headdress is worn only ... well, who cares about cultural context, right? One blogger, clearly more aware of the implications than was Victoria's Secret, included a poll as to whether the outfit was "OFFENSIVE! What were they thinking?" Or "JUST FINE. People shouldn't be so sensitive."

Guess which choice was winning handily, when I last checked?

After a day some call Thankstaking (can non-Natives take a joke, too?), a Native blogger summed up the month's insults, including Stefani and Kloss, in a cogent and rational essay about "cultural gaffes."

She was so pilloried in response, perhaps by 90 percent of the respondents, mostly in the mode of I-can't-stand-political-correctness and cowboys-aren't-insulted-when-people-dress-up-like-them and maybe-royalty-should-be-insulted-when-little-girls-dress-as-princesses, and on and on. I finally sent a post in her defense. It did not have the moxie of Alexie, more of a ecumenical plea. "Can't we as Americans at least treat descendants of the first Americans with respect?"

A one word response from Kane. "Nope."

A comment from Turdpuppet was deleted.

A third-generation German-American wondered if he should protest when he hears Nazi jokes.

And so it went, and so it goes.

I'm not only saddened, but stumped. Where does this hatred come from?

Perhaps all will be revealed by Nov. 30, the last day of Native American Awareness Month. On that day in 1952, Pfc. Charles George, a 20-year-old Cherokee from North Carolina, serving with the U.S. Army in Korea, jumped on a thrown grenade to save his fellow soldiers' lives. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously.