February 2, 2012

Etsy Is A Breeding Ground For....

Etsy is a breeding ground for Native American stereotypes, tackiness, and tastelessness. Yea I'm being crude, rude, and blunt. But it needs to be said (see the "Native Princess and Sky Quilted Vintage Purple Meditation Wrap Kimono Vest by MountainGirlClothing" to the left - hey, it's on sale too).

Ok, so, the deal on Etsy - Etsy is "the world's most vibrant handmade marketplace." In other words, people make stuff, find vintage stuff, and then sell it on Etsy in their cyber shops. In theory, it is a great way to launch small businesses. Think about it, you can operate a small business out of your home in rural Tinyville and reach millions of people throughout the world with just a few clicks. In theory, it is a fantastic resource for artists and 'crafters'.

And, in theory, Etsy can serve as a great resource for Native American artists and designers (note, I did not say 'crafters' - that's a different story).

So I hit up Etsy with full force last November. I searched for Native artists and small businesses to feature on Beyond Buckskin. And I found some really great ones (click here to see some legit work). I have a little Etsy jar where I set aside money to buy my favorite items (earrings) from Native-run Etsy shops. I'm excited.

BUT, there's a dark side to Etsy. Yes, and normally I consider the 'dark side' to be a good thing, but in this case, it's not, it's just tacky.

First, if you go on Etsy and search "Native American," good luck finding items that are actually "Native American" (and, just to be clear, I mean, 'made by Native Americans'), instead you will find items made by non-Natives, but inspired by Native cultures. And you probably know where this is going:

The Wolf Tee:

The Wooden Indian Head:

The Shaman Smudging Spray:

And the Shaman spray can doesn't even surprise me - there are a lot of Shamans on Etsy. Evidently, that's the place to be if you're a Shaman. There's even a Shaman named Many Feathers who will 'bless your purchases': "As a shaman, Many Feathers is able to bless your purchases in the tradition of his people before they are sent to you, which is especially powerful if they are meant to be a gift for someone you love." Thank you Many Feathers, but how about you do what a Medicine Person is supposed to do, and help your people?

Another guy, Trollblood, sells items labeled 'Native American,' yet says, "we take pride in creating beautiful, one-of-a-kind items with the New Age community in mind." LMAO! This one is beyond critique.

Many stores label their items "Native American," but it isn't until you read their profile that you discover this: "I am not an enrolled citizen of any federally recognized Native American Tribe. Any resemblance to an authentic Native American piece of artwork is not intentional and is by mistake" (by mistake!! this statement is from Doves Native Designs, who also created the bone choker to the right). In compliance with the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, you cannot "sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe." It's illegal.

One fellow good Etsyist, Noelle Shaw states, "It is offensive and illegally undermines authentic Native American art markets exponentially. It is blatant cultural theft for profit."

So, I gotta do something. I want to draft up a short letter that I can send to anyone using the label "Native American" to sell their stuff, and it is CLEAR that they are using the label as a marketing tactic (in the words of my friend, "Native Americans are so hot right now"). I'm thinking something like this:

Dear Etsy Shop Owner,

I am writing to let you know of a federal law that prohibits the misrepresentation in marketing of Native American arts and crafts products within the United States.

It is called the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. More information can be found here: http://www.iacb.doi.gov/act.html

It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Native American produced, a Native American product, or the product of a particular Native American tribe. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both.

Please remove the label "Native American" from your items, or I will go forth with reporting a violation.

Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe
(Turtle Mountain Chippewa)

What do you think? Should I add anything? A drop kick? A hug? A curtsy?

I have an additional question - what do I do about 'descendants?' I love descendants, but there are a lot of individuals who claim ancestry, yet are not members of their communities, nor have any connections to the communities they are claiming. One example is this:

"A note about my Native American inspired works: I am not a registered Native American and don't claim that my art works are made by a Native American. My great grandmother was Cherokee, so it's in my bloodline and in my soul. I have always been drawn to Native American culture and love the legends, the traditions, the art, the animals, the people, the stories."

And then she creates works titled, "Tipi Wigwam Native American Painting." Teepees and wigwams are completely different dwellings, and Cherokees didn't live in either of them. From an academic perspective, these fools perpetuate the miseducation and romanticizing of Native American cultures, histories, and contemporary existence. Be a good descendant, and learn your heritage.

One Etsy owner wrote, "I would forrage into the woods and let the visions and inspirations of these sacred lands find expression in my art." And my cousin Jen responded, "Exin-na dis one!" Exin-na is right! They might see 'ancient Native American visions,' but we just hear our Grammas laughing at them.

At any rate. Etsy needs to be cleaned up. The Native American rubbish blowing around is getting out of hand. Etsy shop owners, I'm watchin you!

If you want to support Native artists doing their thing and creating awesome stuff, check in here at Beyond Buckskin, or go to my Etsy page and click on my favorite shops.

NOTE: For those of you newcomers who are here to defend the mis-use and mis-appropriation of Indigenous cultures and traditions by non-Natives on Etsy, please visit NATIVE APPROPRIATIONS for more information on why appropriating Native cultures isn't cool.

"Dr. Metcalfe. I sift through the crap, so you don't have to."