In Which I Write A Poem To Discuss What It Is Like To Be A Native Woman on Halloween or #NoPocaHotties2014
Stop Dressing Up Like a "Native American" on Halloween
It’s Halloween time,
so let’s all gather near.
For a story you’ve heard;
one we hear every year.
It is all hallows eve, you know what that means
candy, more candy
and sexy versions of things.
One year I (for reals) saw sexy Pepsi.
She was with sexy Coke,
what else have I seen?
How about sexy Cheerios and sexy Frosted Flakes?
I’ve even seen sexy toothbrush,
but not sexy toothpaste?
And every single year, doesn’t matter the day…
I’ll be out with my daughter
when some white girl heads our way.
She bought a fake headdress,
a tiny felt dress,
she looks a hot mess.
I don’t look her up and down;
just look her in the eye,
stare, don’t glare
then let out a big sigh.
I stand firm on the sidewalk,
wait for her to pass.
Maybe she notices.
Maybe she laughs.
“There is so much to say.
I know for a fact no Native would dress this way.
Second point, to be clear
is simple and true
just because racism is for sale
doesn’t mean it looks good on you.”
“Third point, to the point
a point for you to consider,
when you treat us like objects
nobody’s the winner.”
“And last, but not least
one more thing you should know
Now I guess you can go.”
And before I go on
one last thing that I'll say…
“You may be a sexy Indian now
but I’m a sexy Indian every day.”
Cutcha Risling Baldy is a Native American woman who has never dressed up like a "Native American" for Halloween because that would be redundant and also because "Native American" costumes are actually just costumes of Hollywood stereotypes that have nothing to do with Native people. If you'd like to know more you should read her blog, or this blog, or this blog, or take a Native American Studies class. Also #NotYourMascot and #NotYourTonto and #ChangeTheName and #StopTryingToJustifyRedFaceAndAppropriation #NoJustification and #FindAnotherCostume #ImQuitePartialToSexyZombie #FlirtsALittleAndThenEatsYourBrains
In Which We Find Out If I Live In A Teepee OR I Got 99 Questions and “How can I honor the treaties and support self-determination for Native peoples” ain’t one
I got a really great message from a college student just the other day. She was very gracious and asked me if I could offer her some feedback on certain issues that she has faced navigating her way through college as a Native American student. Because I’m deep into writing my dissertation, my blogging is few and far between as I try to finish something that resembles coherent thought in an academic way. (If only I could write a series of blogs and call it a dissertation! Someday!)
It is because of her letter that I am starting a three part series inspired by some things that she asked me in the hopes of providing her (and other Native peoples) with a response to what (IMHO) are some pretty salient and important issues that come up CONSTANTLY and just go to show that everyone, who has ever existed, anywhere, should take a Native American Studies class.
This entry is about the “99 questions.” That’s how she referred to it.
“…what advice would you give Native college students who endure the dreaded 99 questions of what it’s like being Indian (you know the stereotypical: “Do you live in a teepee? Can I touch our hair? Do you get free stuff? Why are you guys so lazy?” etc. etc.)”
As I was nodding away it got me to thinking, what are those 99 questions? How have they (or haven’t they) changed since, oh I don’t know, 1492, when this one guy jumped off a boat and went “So, this is India. Can I touch your hair?” (And take you prisoner and make you slaves and generally bring about massive destruction and genocide upon your people. #SuckItColumbus)
Because I am someone who is constantly reading all the heavy duty stuff that comes out of academics trying to put in to words the feelings we all have and make it theory (so for instance instead of saying “that dude is a butt head” they have to write “that individual person is affected by patriarchal standards of masculinity.”) my immediate instinct when someone asks me one of the “99 questions” is to over analyze why that is the question they are asking. What is the historical context for that question? What makes them think that is the proper question to ask? Where does that question come from? Why do the questions focus on certain stereotypes of Native people but don’t focus on modern issues of self-determination or sovereignty? What’s so great about my hair? (Answer: I bought this new kind of expensive celebrity endorsed conditioner which I have to hoard because both my husband and daughter are constantly trying to use it.)
In this first attempt at a real response to this young woman I offer the following lists in a blog entry I am calling:
I Got 99 Questions and “How can I honor the treaties and support self-determination for Native peoples” ain’t one.
Five "usual suspects" questions that I have been asked
Do you live in a tee pee?
No. One of my white hippie friends lived in a teepee when he was a kid. I did not.
Do you have an Indian name?
It’s Cutcha. No seriously. It means Blue Jay.
I think I’m part Indian too. Is there a test for that? Where can I get that test?
I should make that test and give it out to people. “Are you a real Indian Quiz.” It will be a multiple choice test. There will be no right answers. (Ba Dum Dum… wait… that’s kind of deep…)
I’m Native too. What am I entitled too? (Alternative question: you are Native? Don’t you get a lot of stuff from the Government?)
*Actual Answer that I just gave to someone the other day because I was asked this question*
You know a year ago the Supreme Court allowed for the legal kidnapping of a Native girl from her loving father. He is Cherokee, and she is Cherokee but she was adopted by a non-Native family who felt entitled to her. They sued to keep her after she was taken away from them so she could live with her father who had been fighting for her for years. It was because of the Indian Child Welfare Act that he was able to gain custody. You see, they had adopted her illegally and without following this federal law that protects Indian children by setting up a system that encourages these children to be cared for by an Indian parent, relative or tribal member. Why? Because for a number of years the foster system and adoption system was biased against Indian families. In fact you had instances in which there were more Indian children in foster care than other groups, even though Native people are often less than 1% of the population. This bias was engrained. It was a part of a system that was designed to break apart Indian families. It comes from a long historical record of trying to solve the “Indian problem” by assimilating children so they will be less “Native.” This causes years upon years of trauma. There are still tribal peoples who reel from the impacts of being taken from their families. There are communities, who are still re-learning what it means to feel safe enough that they can parent and not fear losing their children to a system set up against them. In the end, even though the law supported him being a father to his daughter, and the tribe supported him and basic human decency supported him, his daughter was seized from him by government agents because the Supreme Court had decided that this non-Native couple deserved this child. And it was heartbreaking. And to this day when I talk about this case, I have to pause… sometimes for a few long moments… to breathe… because the night they seized her even though I was miles and miles away from Oklahoma I felt it. I stood in the doorway of my daughter’s room and I watched her sleep and I thought “I would never let her go.”
All that is to say, as a Native, the things we “get” from the government, the things we are “entitled to” include getting our children taken away from us.
How come you can’t just get over it?
I answered this one before (check it out!). But I have to include it because… it happens. Also alternative question: The (insert other racial group here) people suffered too. They suffered more than Natives. How come they got over it? And you can’t?
This question came up a lot after I wrote the blog about the Walking Dead and why Natives can’t just “get over it.” And I started doing an exploration of this idea that Tony Platt called “competitive suffering.” He said something to me like “as if we want to enter in to competitive suffering.” And immediately I pictured an Olympic Games type situation with a “competitive suffering” tournament. You know who wins that tournament – Danny Snyder probably. He’s so good at suffering. (In South Park. The South Park version of him is a great competitive suffer-er.)
My answer to this question about “how come everybody else gets over it and you haven’t” is “read… more.” Your erasure of the ways that many of these peoples are still engaging with their own historical trauma is everywhere. The fact that you are erasing it because you want to see the world as devoid of the trauma of genocide, slavery, removal (of not just Indian people, but several groups who were removed in various situations) and confinement does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Also – why do you think you are over it? Because you don’t know about it? Because you think it doesn’t affect who you are today? You’re not “over it.” (Freud would say you’re in denial. Jung would say “Shut up Freud, you don’t know nothing about nothing.” Freud would jump up and say “stop being jealous of me! And your mom! You just love your mom!” Man, you can’t get nothing done once Freud starts talking about your mom.)
Also, what I’ve said before. “Actually, I am over it” which is why… it’s time to really talk about it.
P.S. These “usual suspects” questions come from very particular places but mostly they are about the continued erasure of Indian people from a modern discussion of the Indian experience. It is a testament and clear example of how much people don’t learn about the place they live (as in the United States, or Canada, or Mexico, or South America or any country really).
Three questions I have been asked in the past two weeks
Did you see the ("disgraced, soon-to-be former") Navajo President sitting in the box with the owner of the Washington (RACIAL SLUR *BEEEEP*) team?
Follow up question: What did you think?
Well. I thought it looked desperate and transparent. Does anybody really think that having a Native person sitting with you means that somehow using a racial slur as a team name is okay and we should all just go home?
No. Because I have a lot of non-Native Football fans who are my friends. Sometimes they sit next to me too (granted not in a stadium box, but on my futon). They think the team name is racist and being complacent to that racism because “it doesn’t affect me” or because you want to sell stuff at football stadiums is just contributing to a continued degradation of all of our society. WE ALL DESERVE BETTER than having a racial slur as a team name. Which is my way of saying that for every person you get to sit in your box with your merchandise I can find another person who KNOWS that the name has got to go.
Getting Indians on your side is not the issue any way. The team name is a *racial slur* -- There is #NoJustification for it.
I know you say a lot of stuff about appropriation and stuff. Is this shirt okay? (Is this bag okay? Are these earrings okay? I have a dream catcher in my room, is that okay?)
I wrote a blog about this too before, if you want to read it.
What did you think about that episode of South Park? (What did you think about the Daily Show? What did you think about this one episode of the Family Guy I saw once? What do you think about John Redcorn?)
Short answers: Liked it. Liked it. Depends on the episode. He’s cool.
Longer answer: Representation of Native People on TV is… still lacking in my opinion. I call it the “Native Cameo.” We don’t (yet) have a series that features a Native character as a major player. Native characters (mostly) get treated as cameos. Quick mentions, then they go away and we get back to our regular programming. I see what it means for people to be exposed to Native people in this way, whether it be young Native children who really do acknowledge and hold on to each and every portrayal, or non-Native people who might not ever have an experience of understanding that there are “modern” Native American people. Our TV watching experiences do shape us, even though they probably shouldn’t. We laugh at certain things, which tells us about who we are, we learn from certain things, which tells us about who we are, we hold on to certain ideas… which informs for us how the world should function. So the Native cameo… matters. How we see each other becomes important to how we treat each other.
When Native peoples are invisible, we are often treated as invisible. We are not invited to participate in government discussions, we are treated as less than “stakeholders,” we are told that the destruction of our sacred spaces is of little consequence to anything, we become invisible to the public who says “but wait, no Native Americans really care about this issue because…” So when people see us on TV and they hear what we have to say… it matters.
Actual Questions I was asked by a group of 6 year olds at a presentation:
I love going to present to kids mostly because they are pretty much the most attentive and awed audience you’re ever going to get. Everything I say they go “wow! Ooo! Awesome!” and the moment that I bring out some baskets that they can touch and hold their eyes light up. I have let some of them try on my hat, and they are the most respectful group of people. They ask millions of questions about the proper way to wear something. They are very gentle. And they look for clues from me as to what is okay or not okay, never assuming that they know better. I include their questions because they illustrate to me what happens when you are able to interact with Native people from a young age, where Native people become real and not exotic museum relics. To them I am “so and so’s Mom” or “so and so’s Auntie” or “so and so’s friend.” They start to see Native people as being real (which is a first step) and then as being authorities on who they are. Instead of thinking “you aren’t like what the books say or what the movies say” they take you at your word. So Native experiences and ideas and people can be varied, they are people first and foremost. The curiosity of children that I have presented to is never about “how do I challenge your authenticity while also making you and exotic specimen while also dehumanizing you while also re-establishing my beliefs about who you should be.” Instead, they want to learn.
This might be part of the problem with the 99 questions. I like to think that most people are asking these questions because they are genuinely trying to learn something about Native people that they don’t get in their classrooms, on their TVs, in their books, or on the You Tubes. They also don’t know how to access this information because it is not made readily available to them (not yet, there are many of us working on that). Native American Studies is not (yet) a requirement course for all people, but they want to know. They genuinely are still like those six year olds with rapt attentions. The problem is this can get tiring and exhausting and sometimes you just want to be an Indian at Whole Foods, or sometimes you just want to be an Indian in economics class who talks about the economics of development on Native reservations (pitfalls and benefits) but who doesn’t want to have explain that this does not in anyway involve hearing the wolf cry to the blue corn moon (or painting with all the colors of the wind).
My advice then becomes this. Answer as many questions to as many people as you can stand. And when you can’t stand it anymore, smile, take a deep breath and say “My Ask a Native office hours are over for today. You should really take a Native American Studies class.”
Addendum Question: Can I touch your hair? (Can I touch your hat? Can I touch your "costume?" Can I touch your necklace?)
In Which I Give You Your First Pop Quiz or POP QUIZ HOT SHOT True or False - The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is causing the downfall of museums and the end of the world as we know it...it's not... some people say it might be...
Before we begin today’s pop quiz (good thing you came to class today!) we have to start with some background information. Here is an article you can read if you want to know more about Indigenous Hawaiians protest against building the TMT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-scope) (OR Thirty Meter Telescope) on top of Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain to the Hawaiian people.
While certain agencies were ready to break ground on this telescope Indigenous Hawaiian people led a protest that “blocked access near the mountain’s summit” which led to the cancellation of the groundbreaking event. Indigenous Hawaiians note that there are several other telescopes already built, that this would only add to the already overdeveloped land, that it further desecrates one of their most sacred mountains, and that the TMT doesn’t HAVE to be built in this location. This is an ongoing issue.
Then today this guy writes an article for the New York Times called “Seeking Stars, Finding Creationism” and I laughed and laughed (I also guffawed and then rolled my eyes, snorted a little bit and went back to laughing). He somehow turns this protest against desecration of a sacred site into an indictment of the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act and argues that this federal law, which supports the repatriation of Indigenous remains and cultural objects to Indigenous peoples, somehow brings us back to the dark ages and is an attack on science.
He is not the first old science guy to make this argument. He for sure (sadly) will not be the last. But (and I do this a lot) there is an important opportunity here to see how certain ideologies continue to be perpetrated by “scholars” and “scientists” with very little understanding about how their ideologies are informed by settler colonialism meant to claim, conquer and erase Indigenous peoples (so as to claim, conquer and own the land by claiming, conquering and owning “intellectualism” and “civilization” and “science.”) As if Native people can either be “creationists” or “scientists” but never both at the same time. As if “spirituality” must be separated from the scientific. As if Indigenous people fighting for the rights to protect their land is somehow “anti-science” simply because scientists feel entitled to use this land for what they want to do with it.
As if “astronomy” is a science that begins with Galileo and only belongs to western scholars. As if having to re-think and re-tool and re-configure this one telescope will set back astronomy to the DARK AGES. As if Indian people want to go back to dark ages.
We weren’t even IN the dark ages. That’s a western thing. When Rome fell, Native people went “#ByeFelicia” and then went back to their complex egalitarian societies. (I am being flippant. Native people may or may not have cared about Rome falling. Maybe they heard about it. We are still learning the extent to which they exchanged information with other parts of the world. Maybe they went “that’s too bad for Rome. If only they had let women also be a contributing part of their political society. And why they gotta do Caesar like that?” or maybe they didn’t care cause it’s just Rome. Rome was not the entire world. The world is quite large. The dark ages happened but… (They didn’t happen here).
What’s the point? The point is that today is a quiz day! Bust out your papers and write down your answer. This quiz is worth 1 billion points in my class where everyone gets an A.
First read the dude’s article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/science/seeking-stars-finding-creationism.html?_r=0
FYI: The numbers after each answer selection reference your teacher's (mine) study notes included below!
Quiz Question #1: What is the most infuriating (disappointing yet hilarious) assertion in this article?
A. That the author refers to the TMTelescope as "a triumph in astronomy’s quest to understand the origin of everything." and then refers to the Native Hawaiians protests against building that telescope on their sacred land as "the latest insult to their gods." (1)
B. That he calls criticism of the development of this area for a telescope by both environmentalists and Indigenous people a "marriage of convenience" that "might undermine the credibility of what may be perfectly sound scientific arguments about the effects of a mammoth construction project on vulnerable mountain terrain." And then states that the "state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources agreed with astronomers that the trade-off is worthwhile, and plans are proceeding." (2)
C. That he compares Indigenous protesters to "biblical creationists opposing the teaching of evolution." (3)
D. That he then says "American Indian tribes have succeeded in using their own religious beliefs and a federal law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to *empty* archaeological museums of ancestral bones." *Emphasis Mine*(4)
E. That he then goes on to point out that these bones (which have been EMPTIED from the poor museums) include "ones so ancient that they have no demonstrable connection to the tribe demanding their reburial." (5)
F. He then compares the repatriation of Indigenous human remains to tribal peoples as a "turn back toward the dark ages" because "it's not just skeletal remains that are being surrendered." (6)
G. AND THEN he decides that this repatriation of remains and cultural objects (that didn't belong to the museum in the first place) is just a toleration of "Indian creationism" and "guilt over past wrong doings." (7)
H. The fact that this article is published on the NEW YORK TIMES website while my (super duper) blog is NOT part of the New York Times?! http://cutchabaldy.weebly.com/blog (8)
I. All of the above.
Turn in your papers (or don’t, everyone gets an A) and enjoy your day.
Study Notes (for your amusement)
(1) Stop insulting our Gods. They hate that. Why do you think the Cubs never win the World Series?! HOO-AH!
(2) And as we all know state agencies have NEVER made a bad decision when it comes to environmental impacts and that they NEVER err on the side of development over environmental degradation. (See Lyng V. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association)
(3) So I read this and then thought of this story -- Vine Deloria, Jr. used to say that whenever he started talking about Indigenous issues and Indigenous world views where we didn't separate spirituality from the rest of our lives and that science is, in itself, its own religion… that people would yell at him “you’re just a creationist!” And he would say “okay…and?” There is a much longer conversation about what it means to ask *scientists* to be responsible to things other than their *science*or to think about how their *science* is informed by cultural positioning. Or, as Sandra Harding once said at a presentation I went to (I paraphrase) “how science is really just a white Protestant science of the world”…sooo… also informed by a religion even if they don’t want to acknowledge or understand this fact.
(4) Ha ha ha! The poor desolate museums are *empty.* Now when we go to museums we just have to stare at tiny cards that say “well, we would be able to teach you something but now we can’t because the American Indians took all of our stuff. So now you will learn NOTHING. Today you came to this museum and you learned NOTHING. Thank an American Indian.” #You’reWelcome
BTDubbs. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is a federal law passed in 1990. It was as a result of several years of negotiation between Native peoples and other agencies. Basically, it says that museums which are federally funded should make every effort to return Indigenous remains back to their ancestral homelands. This is because there are thousands upon thousands of remains in museums, most of them are not studied for anything, and most of those in museums that are not studied for anything are Native American. Since 1990 there have been approximately 40,000 remains repatriated. There still remain (reported) 179,000 remains in museum collections. (This does not include those which are not reported). Don’t worry museums, you are still the majority share holder even though there is a LAW that says you shouldn’t be.
(5) Oh man is this something scientists seem to hate. They seem to hate giving “too ancient” remains back to “modern” Native peoples. There is so much going on in this statement I could write a book (some people have. Check it out.) Part of this comes from the belief that modern Native people are not the same people who were Native people thousands of years ago. This belief is perpetuated (by science, and their red-headed step child anthropology and anthropology’s cousin history) as a cultural mythology that the last “real” Native American person died in 1491 (or if you’re in California 1848, unless you are a Southern California Native then it’s more like 1768). It always has to be the year BEFORE contact with western settlers because the moment that a Native person meets a white person they stop being Native and start being “colonized” which means their Nativeness disintegrates and finally disappears. The reason this happens… science. (I kid. I kid.) This happens because according to western scholars as Native people become more assimilated they give up their Nativeness- or they can’t be Native in a modern world. (Not true) If there were “real” Native Americans they would still look like, act like, speak like, think like, and be like the Native peoples from 1491 (1848, 1768). The assumption is that Native people had always been the same from Year 1 to 1491. They were more like animals or what some scientists call Primitive, Hunter-Gatherer, Pre-historic, Nomadic. Once they were introduced to “civilization” and “culture” they lost their Indianness and were no longer Primitive, Hunter-Gatherer, Pre-Historic, Nomadic.
I teach 10 week long classes on this stuff so to put it in to a few sentences is difficult for me. But here goes. We existed, here, in this space, at bare minimum (if you are going by anthropological/archaeological studies) 10,000 years. If you ask Native people, it is much longer (since the beginning of time). But at only 10,000 years that’s a lot of years to remain exactly the same and never change or adapt or try new stuff or change our minds. And that probably wasn’t the case. People change. Cultures adapt. Things happen. We all know this. Consider how our cultures have changed in very short amounts of time. 10 years ago none of us were posting pictures of our appetizers on Instagram. 20 years ago we were calling people to check and make sure they got our emails. 25 years ago we were paging people. That’s just what we’ve done in a quarter of a century.
We tend to be different than our ancestors. Nobody would say “you’re not English because you don’t speak old English and you don’t wear tights and wigs and have wooden teeth and say ‘alo govna.’”
All beside my real point which is, sorry Felicia, we are related to those ancient ancestors. I can give you all the reasons why but instead I will just suggest you take my class. Or invite me to come and give you a class. #PayMeMoney
(6) Not true.
(7) I kind of like how the guy he interviews in the piece says something like “we should feel bad and maybe this is what we have to deal with.” But that’s beside the point. It’s not that people “feel bad” or as this guy says “guilt” it’s because many of these rights to remains are extended to people from the same periods of time while for Indian people they are fought against like it will bring about *the end of thought* or *the end of education.* For instance, when someone finds remains that are not Indigenous their first thought is not “can I study these for my research” but “who do these belong to?” You can get a grant to study the bones of Indigenous peoples, but not a grant to study the bones of non-Indigenous white settlers and pioneers from the same time period. Natives don’t argue creationism, they talk about responsibility. Others talk about fundamental human rights. Others talk about how the possession of human bones is counterintuitive, how do you own a human? Are their bones just objects? And even if your answer is “yes” does that mean they feel the same way?
The way in which Indigenous people’s buried and then cared for their dead is evidence that they had already had these conversations and their conclusion was “we are responsible for these remains, we will care for them, and they will return to the earth.” Your differing worldview does not negate their worldview and the answer isn’t about who is “right” and who is “wrong” but instead is about “what can we learn from these Indigenous viewpoints and how will that give us a better, more informed, deeper understanding of our world?” What if building the telescope in a different place actually proves to be more fruitful? What if in consideration of Indigenous rights to land it opens up possibilities to work with land in other areas? What if your science actually worked with people instead of against them? What if you gave back all the bones? What really happens when you start to have these conversations? WHAT IF ALL THAT LEADS TO SOMETHING GREATER?
(8) The answer is H of course.
(9) Okay, I guess it can be “all of the above.”
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...
(5) Top Posts
On telling Native people to just "get over it" or why I teach about the Walking Dead in my Native Studies classes... *Spoiler Alert!*
Hokay -- In which I lead a presentation on what happens when you Google "Native American Women" and critically analyze the images or "Hupas be like dang where'd you get that dentalium cape girl? Showing off all your money! PS: Suck it Victorias Secret"
In which we establish that there was a genocide against Native Americans, yes there was, it was genocide, yes or this is why I teach Native Studies part 3 million
5 Reasons I Wear "Indian" Jewelry or Hupas...we been bling-blingin' since Year 1
Pope Francis decides to make Father Junipero Serra a saint or In Which I Tell Pope Francis he needs to take a Native Studies class like stat
I need to read more Native blogs!
A few that I read...