A picture says a thousand words.
Christina Fallin, the Governor's daughter has created a buzz by posting a photo of herself posing in a Warbonnet (a Native headdress that is often used by Whites as a stereotypical representation of Native people). This warbonnet is not a stereotypical representation for some tribal members, these are worn by men and are something to honor.
The Color Guard for the Sovereignty Symposium at the OU School of Law on February 27, 2014
I can make a guess that we've all been to an athletic event where the mascot of the opposing team or of our own team was a reference to Native people. Whether it is The Hoxie Indians or The Rush Spring Redskins. We don't think about it, because that's the way it has always been. We accept that Native American references are so common in our culture that we have The Washington Redskins football team that we just allow it to pass us by without meaning.
Dear Christina Fallin, the Man pictured above is rightfully wearing the beautiful headdress. Chief Gordon Yellowman of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe at the OU Tribal Sovereignty symposium.
When polled, often far too many Americans do not have a problem with the use of Native symbolism as mascots. Yet, we don't consider that the Native population is a fraction of the populace 1% according to the last Census. So 1% of the Nation makes up a marginalized group of people consisting of 500 Nations. How can such a small population have their voices heard and validated? Another question we might ask is why is the Native population so small? At contact in 1490s it is estimated that there were millions of people living in North America. It wasn't an empty continent so to speak, it was a world that had been occupied and tamed for thousands of years by Indigenous people. But, disease ravaged the population and the land hungry settlers continually encroached pushing and pushing Natives further and further west. Eventually we have what evolved into our plains culture which developed the contemporary stereotype that we have been inundated with our entire lives through film and television. We accept what the media and culture tells us without thought.
Ancient pot-sherds in Colorado (2010).
But once we begin thinking we can see issues from a new perspective. Once we begin reading and studying about the culture of these 500 Nations we will see people with a diverse heritage. Not a "nomadic" people who didn't "own" lands. This is far from the truth, ancient cultures existed which had culture and monuments which were as great as those that we study in Europe. Chaco Canyon for example, Mesa Verde, people living in earth lodges and fortified towns with hundreds or thousands of community members. Yet this image of the Plains is what we see in our media.
But a thousand years ago this was a bustling city of 10,000 people near the Arkansas River, the mound that you see in front of you was looted for it's ancient treasures, the dead desecrated. These people didn't wear a warbonnet, they navigated our river systems from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of the Missisissippi. These Sipokni people the ancestors for many of our contemporary tribes.
After the relocations were made many Native children were forcibly removed to boarding schools, my Grandfather attended a boarding school. We are Choctaws who were raised without a Native culture except for the knowledge of that is what we were. We were Choctaw. Many people who hold Native heritage were raised without culture- and this is not their faults! There are many members of tribes, whose culture was lost to their grandparents or great-grandparents at the hands of assimilation. There are people who denied their culture to avoid discrimination. Those of us who were left without our culture have had to educate ourselves to understand that it is okay not to know. Knowledge is empowering. We need to know about our ancient people, our heritage or we will lose it.
Doaksville Indian Territory in January of 2013. Nearby is the Cemetery where my Great-Grandfather is buried in an unmarked grave.
Native Americans were not recognized as dual citizens until 1924, their religion wasn't protected until 1978. It took the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978 to acknowledge that Native's religion deserved the same protection under law that everyone else has had since the Bill of Rights. I was already one year old at the time a group of American Citizens had their religion protected under federal law.
Inside a Kiva at Mesa Verde (2010)
Mary Fallin's daughter releasted a statement Fallin's Statement Regarding Headdress- "A woman in a headdress is a beautiful thing." But, despite the beauty of the photograph -which I would argue is largely due to skilled editing and color. If Miss Fallin were wearing a red beret or a cowboy hat the photo would be as beautiful. But "Why Can't a Hipster Wear a Headdress?" Please read more on this topic in this article: Dear Christina Fallin
Here is a photo of Chahta ohoyo Myself and my friend Summer we are Native women dressed for ceremony. Academic regalia, that is the one ceremony that embraces thousands of years of my English ancestors, the institution of academia in which we sought indigenous knowledge.
I firmly believe that being Native is about respect. Respecting your elders, respecting other tribal members, respecting ourselves. I feel if that overriding sense of respect filled our contemporary American culture that this would not be an issue. When my daughter was seven she was a first grader in the Pueblo of Zuni and I remember as we left to move to Kansas she asked me "What do I call the elders?" That has resonated with me that a year in an elementary school on the reservation taught her that the elderly were to be respected and honored.
Image: Corey Still hugging Dr. Barbara Hobson (one of my favorite photos that I've ever taken)
I appreciate the fact that people are drawn to the beauty of Native traditional dress and jewelry. I am no different. I find attending a powwow an event that overwhelms my senses with the sensual aspects of the drum, dance and colors. Native people are beautiful. But we must consider that there is meaning behind traditional Native dress, there is a meaning behind an eagle feather in a headdress. There is a millenia of tradition, tradition that we, in our mainstream secular culture may not understand. Native tradition and religion differs substantially from Christianity. Native tradition is deeply rooted in a sense of place and the use of traditional dress takes on different meanings and the stories behind the regalia.
Fancy Dancers at the OU Powwow Spring 2012
Appreciate the beauty of the headdress, appreciate the dance. Buy Native made arts and jewelry. I appreciate all beautiful things. I do not disagree that the photo is not beautiful, as a photographer I cannot fault the compositon. But as a human who understands and respects sacred traditions, let this be a lesson.
If you want to appreciate the beauty of Native art, buy Native. Support Native artists. Yakoke
Photo at the Choctaw Labor Day Festival 2011. I am not a pow wow dancer, I'm not a white girl dancer. I'm not a dancer. Like the warbonnet I do not wear the dress, I appreciate it. I am still a Chahta Oyoho, I'm Ishki to my Son who is learning Choctaw. I am still for the most part a "white girl" who appreciates the beauty of Native culture, but I respect it. Like Christina Fallin I adorn myself with beautiful things, but always remember where I came from.