February 8, 2012

Your Elder’s Name is Google

So, it's been 5 days since I wrote about the 'Native scene' on Etsy, where I essentially make a few brash statements that can be summed up as follows:
  1. If you go on Etsy and search 'Native American,' it is difficult to find 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:
    • 23,474 items come up when you search 'native american'
    • 7,765 items for 'american Indian'
    • 3,326 items for 'Navajo'
  2. Non-Natives continue to use the 'Native American' label as a marketing tactic to sell their work and make money, sometimes it is even in violation of IACA. As Noelle Shaw pointed out "It is blatant cultural theft for profit" and "It is offensive and illegally undermines authentic Native American art markets exponentially."
  3. Non-Natives (and some Natives) continue to think that it is ok to sell Native American spirituality, and there's a high number of 'shaman' items being sold on Etsy (3,331 items to be exact).
This post was a first stab at understanding the mess on Etsy, and is by no means a conclusive study in any regard. In addition, I selected the examples on my post based on my initial search results. However, after this post went live, I was asked to apologize and/or retract my statements made about one of the stores that I randomly singled out in the post.

Evidently, the shop owner is a real nice lady. In addition, I was told that she is an elder in her clan. On an emotional level, I immediately felt terrible for devastating a nice person and clan elder. She couldn't even approach me herself, but two of her friends jumped to her defense.

I wondered if I had made a mistake.

So I looked into it and found some interesting facts:
  1. She is not Native American, but she was adopted by a group called the 'Broken Arrow Clan,' and she now serves as 'Council Elder.' This is a Rainbow Tribe, which is a group of people who have no connections to Native communities, yet pretend to be Native American. They make up a name for their tribe, and they act out and perpetuate stereotypes of Native people. I love Rainbow Tribes (or whatever), but she uses this affiliation to position herself as a person of authority, and her friends are using this faux 'Elder' status as a mechanism to try to silence me.
  2. She tells Native American oral tradition stories like they're hers to tell (she has recently told an Ojibwe story during some online story hour – which I personally find offensive since I am Chippewa).
  3. She sells items with the tag 'Native' to make money for herself, and she states that she "will ceremonially cleanse" your purchases before shipping them.
  4. In the description of one of her pieces, she writes, "I asked one of the Elders from my Clan why our People of the First Nation wore Chokers..." and then she took the information from this site. Just to reiterate, her clan is the 'Broken Arrow Clan,' which is not connected to any First Nation.
  5. She has a picture of herself on Etsy wearing 'buck skin regalia' that she made for herself a couple years ago.
She's a classic Indian hobbyest. She plays Indian. She thinks she has the right to profit off of Native cultures, and she thinks she has a right to (mis)represent our cultures, and her feelings got hurt when I called her on it.

(If you're confused as to why I'm bothered by this, go over to Native Appropriations blog where these topics are covered over and over again. Also, before you jump the gun and say something like "She's just showing appreciation for that culture," please read the Cultural Appropriation Bingo card.)

So, no, I will not apologize and I will not retract my statements. In fact, I think she owes the Lakota and Ojibwe People a couple of apologies for her actions and her attempted theft and hi-jacking of our cultures.

Note:  Pimp post title, "Your Elder's Name is Google," by Nicholas Galanin © 2012.