Crossposted at Jezebel.

Adrienne at Native Appropriations has collected an impressive amount of evidence of the trend (still going strong) of wearing clothes and accessories that reference American Indians.

Let’s start with Outkast’s performance of Hey Ya at the 2004 Grammy Awards. The performance is a particularly striking example of treating “Indian”-ness as ridiculous.  Oh yes, you want to watch this.  No really.  You really really want to watch this.  You’re going to be stunned.  And, then, at 2:42, you’re going to ask yourself, “what just happened?”:

Other bands (inspired by Outkast?) have adopted the look as well.  Juliette Lewis and her band, the Licks:

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Bat for Lashes, too:

And Ke$ha went with a headdress just recently on American Idol:

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Here’s the performance (she throws on the headdress, inexplicably, at about 2:15):

Adrienne, at Native Appropriations, writes:

The song is about picking up a guy at a bar, or something, and has such deep and fantastically well written lyrics as:

“I dont really care where you live at just turn around boy and let me hit that.
Dont be a little b***h with your chit chat just show me where your d**k’s at.”

So beautiful, right? The asthetic of the performance was more futuristic/technological, with dancing TV screens, silver, black, electrical chords, the like. Her dress is even metallic silver. So where does a headdress even come into play here?

Now “high” fashion is getting in on the “Indian” trend.  This month’s French Glamour has a fashion spread, “Eté Indien“:

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It’s showing up as a “global” trend in Lucky magazine:

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Adrienne says it nicely:

I love how Native American trends are “global”–um, you can’t get more American than the styles of the original peoples in the US.

Nicole Richie’s fashion line, House of Harlow, now sells $225 moccasins (for babies! but that’s another post):

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You can buy “Native Inspiration” items at Spool:

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And Etsy:

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And, it has filtered down to the most basic of “fashion”; this is a Billabong t-shirt at TJ Maxx:

You can even dress up your dog:

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All of these cases romanticize Indianness, blur separate traditions (as well as the real and the fake), and some disregard Indian spirituality.  They all happily forget that, before white America decided that American Indians were cool, some whites did their absolute best to kill and sequester them.  And the U.S. government is still involved in oppressing these groups today.

So, no, it’s not cute to wear a feather in your hair or carry an Indian rug clutch, it’s thoughtless and insensitive.

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(Cartoon by Jen Mussari.)

That said, some of these appropriations are worse than others.  For me, the dog costumes and the Outkast clip come in on the oh-hell-no end of the spectrum.   Are any of these okay?  How might the “mainstream” culture borrow from American Indians?  Can it be done respectfully?

NEW! (May ’10): Adrienne also sent in this photo of a grenadine-flavored Orangina drink called “Indien,” with the orange wearing a feathered headdress. Why? Because grenadine = red, Native Americans = red, so obviously…stick a headdress on there:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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