Indigenous Appropriation and ‘Dead Indians’: An Open Letter to Raised by Wolves
November 12, 2013
I just came across your line through Hypebeast this morning and wanted to let you know that your 'skull and dreamcatcher' t-shirts and hoodies—whatever allusions you think you might be making to Romulus, Remus and Mowgli—are yet another instance of an insidious form of cultural appropriation that continues to be offensive to our people. It’s played out aesthetically, politically and, in case you need a reminder, it contributes to the false mythology that our people are dead and dying.
Unfortunately for your brand you now join a long list of other contemporary appropriators, from Paul Frank to Yeezy, that puts you in poor company. Our people are not dead skulls for you to drape your appropriated Indigenous iconography on—or a set of Pendleton-inflected patterns to be lifted to lend a ‘folkloric’ element to your aesthetic.
I’m saying: don’t be that guy. It’s tired, it’s disrespectful, and it’s not helping anyone but you. I ask that you remove the t-shirts from your line and discontinue their use.
And if you need some further reference, check the hard work that good people like my brother DJ NDN from A Tribe Called Red and sister Adrienne K. from the NativeAppropriations blog have been doing to fight the ongoing theft and misuse of our peoples’ cultures.
Frog Lake First Nation
Indigenous Nationhood Movement
I love Evie Shockley. Also check out the Douglas Kearney poem in here.
Our panel description reminds us that black poets are sometimes “accused of limiting the scope of [our] poems to race.”
1) AccusedWe could also accuse U.S. poets of limiting the scope of our poems to America, or accuse Polish poets of limiting the scope of their poems to Poland, or accuse well-educated and more-or-less financially comfortable poets of limiting the scope of their poems to the concerns and perspectives of the middle class. These accusations would be equally true, equally false and misleading. Indeed, to call them accusations in the first place suggests that there is something inherently wrong with a poet writing poems that reveal her imaginative engagement with the material of the cultural worlds in which she finds herself located, with which she is most intimately familiar or to which she is most inextricably bound.
Do you think that there is something particular about being a refugee that makes imagining home and being home very crucial? Does being a refugee call into question the idea of home?
I’m writing a bit of a crime novel right now. It’s a noir novel, right. The thing about noir fiction is that it’s usually about people who are always looking for something and knowing that they’re not going to find it. And to the degree that at some point they just are in that default mode, and obviously with noir fiction that’s like a dark worldview and a dark approach to living when you constantly feel like you are looking for something even though you don’t know what it is. I feel like in some ways being a refugee is kind of like that. Because home will never really be home. Because the home that you grew up in is not home in the sense that it is for everyone. Because you belong there only because you are physically there and you are raised there, but it really doesn’t belong to you in the same way it belongs to someone who white and American, and was born and raised there with white and American parents, right. And your other home, the home that you were taken from, will never be home to you in the real sense, either, because you didn’t grow up there. So it’s like, you know, when people say they are looking for something, if they’ve found it, then they have it—they possess it. But I think with us, as refugees, even if we find it, it’s not really ours in the same way as it is for other people. It’s not like finding a lost key—oh my god, I found my key, now I can open the door.
—Vu Tran, in conversation with Julie Thi Underhill
“The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.” —Marilynne Robinson.