First off: I <3 Adrienne Keene. If you don't know, she's a blogger and she writes Native Appropriations, a blog that I use in my class, that I refer people to if they want more information and that I regularly check. One time she shared something I wrote on Facebook and I told people about it for days. I was like "Native Appropriations shared my blog on Facebook. I'm on Native Appropriations!" You should go to there.
Second off: I found this video because I was looking for videos about "appropriation" and "playing Indian" for my class that I'm teaching. In class that day we watched No Doubt's, well one can't call it a music video so much as a "WTF Was That?" video. If you don't know - you can read my blog about it here. This blog wasn't shared on Native Appropriations. :( Poor that blog entry. But, I used the WTF video as a jumping off point to discuss appropriation and portrayals of Indian women. We talked and read this poem and this poem about Indian Princesses and "Squaws." In finding this video (I've included it above) I was struck by what Adrienne (Ms. Keene? I don't know her, I don't call her at home. One time I liked a few things on her Facebook, but that's about it. If I was going all academic I would call her "Keene", except that feels a little like I'm a drill sergeant ordering her to drop and give me 20) was saying in the video. It's a short clip. I haven't watched the entire interview (apparently available somewhere). I haven't looked up if she's written anything more about it. In essence, I was simply inspired by one particular quote from the clip:
"So I feel like Native people sometimes feel in order to be recognized and be seen and to not be invisible you have to play in to these stereotypes and you have to give the people what they want. And whether that is in native roles and film, whether that is in the way that people dress, the way that they speak, it happens all the time. And I don't think it's something we really talk about as a community. And I know I even fall into the trap too. I wear my Indian jewelry. I got a Pendleton purse. These are like these markers that we associate with Indianess and so I feel the need to do it because then otherwise people wouldn't recognize me as Indian a lot of the time so it's a way for me to assert my identity but it's playing in to a lot of stereotypes of what an Indian person is." -From an Interview for Well Red 12/06/12
My interest was peeked by this idea - "why do I wear Indian jewelry?" I get the sentiment of what she is trying to say, so I'm going to offer my two cents, because I have two cents to offer, and because I think we need to have multiple people talking about the same issues because we want people to understand that "Indian" people aren't just one or two people who got interviewed for a movie, they are all different kinds of people from all different kinds of places. We want more than once voice, more than one view. The complexity of what it means to "be an Indian" is a far more interesting and important conversation then "what do all the Indians think about (insert random subject here)?"
I like to tell people "Well, at our last meeting of all the Indians we decided THIS is what we think about whatever issue or idea you are asking me about." Those meetings are pretty top secret. Often times I'll even localize it for people, when they are asking me "What do Hupa's think about...?" I'll say "Well, next week we're having another meeting of every single Hupa person and I can ask them what our official feeling is about that..."
I have always been taught in my family, and I notice a lot of people do it now, to say "I have been taught" or "I believe" or "What I know" or "What I heard." This is an oral history thing to me, a long tradition of "Tell me where you're coming from" and "understand that might be different for someone else." It's all about relativity, which Vine Deloria, Jr. wrote a lot about.
The problem is that people just aren't used to seeing Indians debating with each other if they like Battlestar Gallactica. They aren't used to seeing Indians debate how they feel about universal health care, or even all the different reasons why they wear Indian jewelry. They are used to Indians coming in to the movie, saying something Indian, smoking a peace pipe, and wandering off, or dying, or falling in love with a white girl.... and dying. Or teaching some white guy to know what all the Indians think or know, or would say, or would do so that white guy can go off and tell everyone what all Indians think.
The point is, it got me thinking. This is just one reason why, in this interview, at this time, that Adrienne had for wearing her Indian jewelry. I'm sure it's not the only reason. I'm sure it's not HER only reason. I'm sure the "reasons" change by the day, or the hour. I'm sure sometimes she's wearing Indian jewelry because... it matches the rest of her outfit, or it's what she needed to hold her hair back... etc. etc.
But I also think about how people respond to videos, or things that are written down. Suddenly that becomes the reason why all Indians wear jewelry. We wear jewelry so that people will recognize us as Indian. We wear jewelry, because we are "playing" Indian, or playing in to what it means to be Indian. And someone watches it, writes it down, and maybe puts it in a paper or book, or busts it out at some conference, or brings it up on the tee-vee.
That's when I started my list. Because I thought, what would I say? What's my list? Like to hear it-- here it go.
5 Reasons I Wear Indian Jewelry
#5: Because it's awesome.
Need I explain this more? Or will pictorial evidence suffice? I like Indian jewelry. It's nice looking. We had a long history before contact with colonizers and settlers and for that long history we not only made things, we made beautiful things. They were aesthetically pleasing, they were also engineered like nobody's business. We have been making awesome jewelry for a long time. I like to remind people of that a lot, how many of these ideas, these designs, they come from a very old, very sound, very advanced culture. We were not "pre-historic" peoples just sitting in America camping out, being surprised at fire and wishing someone would come a long and teach us how to take a shower, or build a big building, or make a wheel. We were civilizations of people who had developed a way of life that included the artistic expression of sheer awesomeness. Whether it be through our architecture, our ideas, our ways of life, our ceremonies or our jewelry.
Now-a-days, the handmade, handcrafted effort that goes in to a piece of jewelry is frigging amazing. It's also a gorgeous way of expressing how to use natural materials and make something, you guessed it, awesome. This is not just my Indian-girl opinion, by the way. I have had many non-Indian people tell me how awesome something is that I am wearing. "That is an awesome necklace." "That is an awesome hair clip." "That is an awesome bracelet." Yes, I know. I agree with you.
#4: Because that's what people give me.
If I'm lucky. Some of the greatest things I own are from people and they come with a story. Now some people (ahem, my brother) could probably give me more (ahem, my brother) because being somebody's ONLY sister should mean they are the first go to person for you know (ahem) putting new stuff out there in the world. But I digress.
I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by generous people who have given me jewelry. Jewelry they made. Jewelry they have. Jewelry that they just thought looked like me, so they bought it. To me it's sort of a beautiful expression of how this continuing culture has gotten so comfortable with the availability of these types of pieces that we are okay with just giving them away. We don't have to worry about "salvaging" what little we have and "preserving" it for the future because our "dying" or "vanishing" culture will mean that we won't be able to make any more, or have any more, or even know what it looks like. We are still here. We are still here making beautiful jewelry. We are giving it to you (or to me).
For my college graduation from Stanford my Auntie gave me a dentalium necklace with garnet beads. For my MFA graduation from San Diego my Dad made me a carved dentalium* necklace that matches the one he wears. For my anniversary my husband bought me a pair of elkhorn earrings that my brother made. I say bought, because we once again come full circle to the part where my brother makes stuff that is awesome (see reason 1) but doesn't give me enough of his awesome stuff for free.
*Dentalium shells are what the people from our area traditionally used as money. They are long, thin, mollusk shells that you can find in the ocean. We had many protocols around dentalium and money and types of dentalium and even color of dentalium. So there's another reason I may wear Indian jewelry, cause then I can be like *bling, bling-ing* for real.
*Bling Bling is an 00's hip hip-hop saying popularized by Juvenile, which is probably considered "what old people say to be cool" now. Apparently it was created by Lil' Wayne to represent the sound that is made by one bright, shiny, "blinging" diamond.
*Hupas been bling bling-ing since the year 1.
#3: Because I like to have something that I can show people to talk to them about contemporary Indian culture that they can see, touch, and that is still being worn to this day.
I made these earrings by the way. The light braided things, those are bear grass braids. The Hupa call bear grass "tl'oh-tehl." We gather it by picking pieces of the long, green grass from the bushes that grow, usually after the area has been burned. We then sort and dry them. Then we can weave them into braids.
This leads into a whole conversation sometimes about how California Indians (and many other Indians) used burning as a means to "tend" to the earth - that wilderness is a concept created by Western colonizers as a means to erase the presence of Indian people from their very own land. And in many cases this thought process was used as a way to justify the seizing of land from Indian people, who didn't know how to use it any way. It's all wilderness right?
In other cases, this leads to a discussion about where I learned to braid bear grass. I learned from my Auntie. I like to tell people about how she is a very particular weaver. She taught me about gathering in a way that forced me to think about the intent of what I do. What am I gathering for? What do I need to leave behind to make sure that the plant isn't harmed after I gather? She also taught me a lot about intent of the types of braids I would be making. She taught me to pick pieces that match from end to tip, so that my braids would be even. She taught me and now I teach other people. Sometimes I lead workshops for people. It's one way for people to feel the materials in their hands and it also sort of demystifies this whole weaving thing, because for a lot of people I have discovered it is mostly about them feeling like they aren't quite the Indian person they need to be to do it, or that it's such a far away Indian thing, or that it's sooo hard.
And in even other cases, it gives me something that I can hand to people and tell them to hold it, touch it and interact with it. I do this because I think it's important for them to see that this "material culture" is not just something you have to view behind glass. It's not just something that has to be "preserved." I like to let them "demystify" their own sort of belief which seems to teeter somewhere around "that's such a beautiful thing for a museum, shhh don't talk too loud, oh my god don't touch it, oh crap now they are arresting us for touching it because you don't touch stuff in a museum."
#2: Because it is a physical testament to and way to assert my Indian identity.
And this is where I'm going to have to agree with Adrienne, in a way. You see I understand the sentiment, that identity can be tied to the kind of jewelry we wear or the way we physically represent ourselves. And there are also certain expectations that come from "looking like an Indian." Wearing your hair in braids and putting on your Pendleton jacket -- people respond in certain ways. I have (shhh, don't tell) on occasion referred to my Indian jewelry as my Superman Costume. By day I am a type of nerdy, unclassifiable Clark Kent, but by night when I put on my basket hat, or wear my abalone earrings and my beaded bracelet I am, super Indian. I have come to your meeting to throw down my Indian knowledge. You will believe me, in fact you will probably let me speak for most Indians in the entire universe. You will think everything I say is something meaningful. My Indian garb will give me the strength to speak up (sometimes) and it will also remind people that "Hey, there is an Indian in the room." And it will also, in some cases, show other Indians that yes, I am an Indian too. Maybe I don't look like you, but I am one too. There are lots of different ways that my jewelry expresses, attracts and states (or over-states) my identity. And yes, sometimes I don't wear jewelry, on purpose, as a strategic move, because I want to be able to blend in to the crowd and see what people really think. Sometimes I want to make comments without people thinking "oh that's what the Indians think" or even blowing off what I have to say because "she's just talking like that cause she's a mystical/spiritual Indian." Identity politics are everywhere, and they are salient to my life because I am an Indian person. We were slapped with defining what it meant to be Indian as a way to categorize, quantify, and ultimately break us down or break us apart. We are still healing and moving on from these things.
I do not, however, think that I wear jewelry as a way of playing into stereotypes or "giving people what they want." I've thought about it though. I had this grand plan once that I would "dress up" like a militant Indian one day (red bandana, tshirt with the "Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism since 1492" picture on it) and then a poetic super-Indian (lots of turquoise, cowboy hat with beaded bandana, pendleton jacket) and all those sort of random stereotypes that people have about what an "Indian" walking into a room would look like just because I wondered what that would be like and how people would react to me. I haven't, yet - but maybe some day. I can blog about it. Five days as a super Indian...
#1: Because we should wear Indian jewelry.
I was listening (eaves dropping) on a conversation just the other day between my sister from another mister and my great Aunt about wearing hats. In Northwest California we wear basket hats. They are amazing and they can make even the most tired, up for 48 hours girl look cute that morning after the dance when it's early and everything is funny. For a long time it felt to me like not everyone could have a hat. Hats were expensive, they were hard to come by, they were hard to take care of, and not a lot of people were making them. They mostly came out for ceremony. They also became associated with ceremony. Seeing a person just wearing a hat at a reception, or for a family gathering, or walking around a farmers market, that wasn't going to happen. But I also feel like in my lifetime, people have started to reclaim and revitalize this kind of regalia and hat wearing. It's now more common for people to own a hat. It's now more common to see them when people are gathering together. It's a beautiful thing that we, a group of people who were supposed to be on our way out, are still here, we're still wearing hats, and they still look dang good on us.
Anyway, my eavesdropping conversation consisted of me listening to my great aunt and friend talk about wearing hats, and in some ways feeling like it's "showing off" or, trying to call attention to your Indianess or your super Hupa-ness. And my aunt said, "You should wear your hat. We all should wear our hats. It's important to wear them."
It made me think of this picture (<--------) for some reason. I took it this past summer at a women's coming of age ceremony. I was struck by the number of women there (all wearing Indian jewelry and hats). This ceremony was revitalized just a little over 10 years ago now, and when it first started there weren't as many women coming to stand and welcome the girl, or as many women singing or dancing. But now, this. This line of beautiful Indian women, who stayed up all night singing, laughing and dancing, came out and greeted this young girl to show her the community that stands with her.
All wearing hats. Maybe not their own hats, but some of them yes, their own hats. Some were also wearing Pendleton jackets. Some were wearing dentalium or abalone necklaces or earrings or bracelets. Some were wearing crocs or Nike sandals. All of them were proud, beautiful, amazing, tired, strong women.
We should wear our Indian jewelry. We should do it because we are proud of the way we survived, thrived, grew, revitalized, and remained. We should wear our Indian jewelry because it was made to be worn, to sing, to dance, to go to conferences, to be in meetings, to go to brunch...to bling - bling.
Bonus Reason: Because... it is awesome.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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