Today I found an article on Sociological Images that criticizes fashion trends like feathers and moccasins for demeaning Native American Culture.
The basic argument is that tribal-inspired styles "romanticize Indianness, blur separate traditions (as well as the real and the fake), and some disregard Indian spirituality. They all happily forget that, before white America decided that American Indians were cool, some whites did their absolute best to kill and sequester them. And the U.S. government is still involved in oppressing these groups today. So, no, it’s not cute to wear a feather in your hair or carry an Indian rug clutch, it’s thoughtless and insensitive."
As hoop dancers, who share a name with traditional Native dancers, and who are often seen wearing feathers in our hair, I'm curious about your thoughts. Have you thought about this issue before? Do you think their's a line between borrowing/creating new styles and cultural appropriation? (Cultural appropriation is when a dominate culture steals, subverts, or trivializes another, usually less dominate culture.) Why do you wear feathers and what do they mean to you?
Are people wearing full-on Native American head-dresses these days for fashion? Okay, I think that's a bit too much appropriation, if so.
And then there is the classic punk hairstyle "the Mohawk" or "the Mohican" as they call it in the UK.
I had liked the look of the feathers in hair but now that I know more about how the feathers are obtained I can't imagine wanting to buy into it ( since I don't have an awesome pet bird to give me feathers :)). And while many cultural styles and fashions do indeed get absorbed and transformed over time, some may just be too close to the bone. I mean, I have fascinators and hair clips with fake feathers ( or humanely gathered feathers) but I hope that's not quite the same.
I guess we all have to figure out where our personal line between " eh, lighten up its fashion" and " I didn't mean to appropriate your culture" is. I feel OK passing on the feather extensions. Thanks for the info, Caroleena.
I'm with you on this one, shimarella. I can't in good conscience contribute to this situation, so I've found an alternative I can live with - fun fur yarn, the "eyelash" variety, is great for falls and fake extensions. It can be knit or crochetted onto a hair clip, or just tied onto one. It doesn't give the semi-permanent extension the feathers do, but it's a lot more humane.
Meanwhile, I want to say thanks for this discussion; it led me to write a poem on my poemflow blog that's been getting some good response. If you want to check it out, it's called Extensions.
This is a very important issue and I am glad you brought it up. I used to be overly conscious of this issue, but in the end, I think if what you do comes from a loving place, a place of sincerity, then it is an honorable thing to be inspired by other cultures if the reverence and respect is there.
For example, I was born and live on the west coast of Canada where the First Nations people here are known for their amazing art and carvings. If I (as a non-First Nations person) were to copy this style and sell it to tourists to make a quick buck, then I would consider that appropriation. But, if I wanted to learn in this style and study the history of the people, of each distinct nation, learn from local masters, just because I simply revered and loved it, for the joy of doing it, then that would be different. But I think it would be important for me to make that distinction--I am not a First Nation's person but I am truly inspired by this culture and their art. Even if I did come from this place of sincerity, I would never be a First Nations' artist. I would be an artist replicating a particular style. Does this make sense?
With feather earrings in particular, however, I never thought of that as purely coming from North American native culture. Feathers have been used in many cultures for many different things and to me symbolize what birds symbolize: freedom (as in flight). Plus, they are natural and unique to birds and simply gorgeous! That is what inspired me to wear feather earrings. The feathers I use include peacock, ones my son finds for me because he knows I like them, budgie feathers.... I don't even wear them all the time, I just collect them if I come across them because I think they are lovely!
With hooping, I think this phenom has had many influnences: from Wham-O to Rhythmic Gymnastics to Indigenous cultures. But the circle is a universal symbol and people have danced with hoops or in circles around the world for milenia.
The traditional hoop dancing of certain Native peoples in North America: yes, that is a distinct style of "multi-hooping" and that has definitely influenced many of us hoopers. We have been inspired, and we have borrowed: hopefully, we don't pass those particular moves off as our own dance but learn about where those moves come from and pay homage to that.