Without the Headdress, Without Ellie Goulding

I had a really hard time reading your piece about Ellie Goulding wearing a headdress. Even harder than Pharrell Williams, even harder than the usual headdress or Native American stereotyping pieces I come across on a daily basis.
11/13/2014 04:14 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2015

This piece is in response to a piece published on Breitbart entitled "Here's Why I'll Be Wearing a Native American Headdress Next Halloween" by Milo Yiannopoulos.

Dear Milo,

I had a really hard time reading your piece about Ellie Goulding wearing a headdress. Even harder than Pharrell Williams, even harder than the usual headdress or Native American stereotyping pieces I come across on a daily basis. In fact, it was one of the more difficult Internet article reads I've read as a young adult. Once again, Ellie Goulding, a celebrity who I care enough for to purchase albums and support her lifestyle has played the headdress game. I was, as you can imagine, offended. That Redskins poll is like 10 years old. Again, I am not here to touch on any of those things -- I am here to talk to you about the last paragraph in your piece. I'm not talking to Ellie today. I'm not even here to talk about headdresses.

"Of course, if she'd actually wanted to be offensive, she might have donned the more recognizable modern Native American costume of a fleece jacket, vodka breath, a betting slip and a pair of jeans from Big and Mighty straining under the effects of a Taco Bell paunch."

Hold on. Hold. On.

Let's have the unavoidable conversation about some of the standout demographics of modern day Indian Country. Not "Red Indian" (as you so lovingly referred to us as, three times) Country. Just Indian Country. Native Americans. Indigenous people of North America. According to the National Congress of the American Indian, there are 5.2 million of us existing on this continent today. That makes up for less than 1 percent of the American population. As of 2010, the number of Native Americans living in poverty within the United States was roughly 28%. The rate of deaths related to alcoholism for Native Americans is six times the national average. You already know all these statistics. According to you, this is the face of Native America. Ellie Goulding should have offended this horrendous group of people better. She didn't do a good enough job.

Let's take a second and step back at a quick snapshot over the pond, out here in Indian Country.

I am Oglala Lakota Sioux. I am a proud graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Last week, I went to visit with a group of Native American students at Stanford University about education and advocacy -- not alcoholism and Taco Bell, not cigarette stains and headdresses. Pride. What it means to advocate for our nations. My mother, with a PhD in American Indian Studies, was teaching at the head of the room. The students represented several nations; they were proud, excited, passionate, strong and beautiful. Most importantly, they had all been admitted to Stanford University: one of the most selective institutions on the planet. We talked about how important it is to communicate our perspectives to the broader world. We talked about pursuing our passions. We talked about Native advocates across the country that are taking on people like you. We have all faced op-ed writers and students in Halloween costumes and people exactly like you head on. You are not unknown to us, you are also not special in your opinion.

Guess what -- you're absolutely right in that we've all seen the man you described before -- where you're wrong is that this description is not limited to what it means to be a 21st century Native American. I've seen that man on every street corner in every neighborhood I've ever lived in. He's the business exec who can't overcome high stress. He's the dad trying to take care of his kids and make ends meet. He's Native American. He's British. He is not NATIVE AMERICA. I have known him. I have seen him. This is not who we are.

We don't spend enough time talking about what makes Native Americans amazing -- in your schooling, in your conversations, in your head space -- we're not having these conversations. Twenty thousand of us will graduate from undergrad and graduate programs this year. Hundreds of Native students across this country are learning their Indigenous languages to keep culture alive. We're currently gaining national attention on the fight against Washington's team and people are listening. There are Native students with mentors and support networks who are ending up at places like UPenn and Stanford. What you do not understand is that you made this conversation bigger than a headdress. You made this about me and that classroom and the Native people who have shaped our lives -- on reservations, in cities, on street corners -- without fleece jackets, without vodka breath, without a betting slip and a pair of jeans; without the headdresses, without an Ellie Goulding CD, with great joy and respect to be Native American. You have spoken; I have heard you and I don't care if you wear a headdress next Halloween -- just don't tell me who I am.

Sincerely,

A "nice, innocent, sweet and talented girl from Indian Country."