Spring's least-wanted fashion trend: The co-opting of Aboriginal dress

How did Michelle Williams end up on the cover of a magazine in redface?

May 13, 2013
Kelly Anderson

idle-no-more-002.jpgThey added that the concept for the shoot was to have Williams dressed as “imaginary characters.” To quote American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch in the Canadian documentary Reel Injun, “That is a genocide that occurred, and the [American] culture wanted to perpetrate the idea that these people are now mythologic, you know, they don’t even really exist, they’re like dinosaurs.”

Adrienne Keene, whose popular blog NativeAppropriations.com brings many cases of stereotyping and appropriations to light, tackled the issue of present-day invisibility in a letter she wrote to Paul Frank after his Fashion Night Out bash last September. (The designer held a “Dream Catchin’ Pow Wow” party that featured neon tomahawks, feather headbands, bows and arrows, and signs at the bar that read “Pow wow and have a drink now!”) “When society only sees us as the images you presented, it means that our modern issues of poverty don’t exist; nor do our modern efforts like schooling and economic development through sovereignty and nation building,” explained Keene. “We have sophisticated tribal governments and communities, but how will we be able to be seen as modern, successful people if we are continually represented through plastic tomahawks and feathers?”

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Her blog and others, like Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe’s Beyond Buckskin, as well as Facebook and Twitter, have given the mic to Aboriginal voices who are understandably critical of these distorted cultural representations. The #IdleNoMore hashtag—the most promising social-media development to unify and mobilize Aboriginals across the country—was created to protest a number of Canadian bills that undermine environmental protection and indigenous sovereignty. Using social media, people are able to gather in city centres, malls and more. While everyone may not agree with the protests, it certainly makes it harder to forget that we coexist in cities and on reservations, that we have a modern, vibrant culture. It gives me hope that, soon, these anemic after-the-fact apologies won’t be necessary because everyone will understand that we’re not extinct and we’re not folkloric characters. We’re people.

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