Tag Archives: cultural appropriation

Native American Designs

While I was at Renegade SF, I noticed an abundance in the trend of using Native American, and Navajo in particular, patterns. I’ve also noticed this trending big time on Etsy. Something that makers should be aware of is that recently Urban Outfitters was sued for using the word Navajo in connection to their designs, because they were in violation of trademarks (the Navajo Nation has 10) and the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, “which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way to falsely suggest they’re made by American Indians when they’re not.” (Huffington Post)

The issue that I’ve been having with this trend is that a lot of the people using these patterns in their crafts have no real ties to the cultures that they are appropriating from. There is a blog post on Native Appropriations about the many issues behind this, but the part that I want to express here is this idea of crafts being about an honesty in processes, and a connection with the makers. Just as folks in the handmade movement are pushing for people to buy local and handmade, I would like to push the idea that Adrienne puts forth in her blog – “If you choose to wear something Native, buy it from a Native.”

As Adrienne goes on to say, “There are federal laws that protect Native artists and craftspeople who make genuine jewelry, art, etc. (see info here about The Indian Arts and Crafts Act). Anything you buy should have a label that says “Indian made” or “Native made”. Talk to the artist. find out where they’re from. Be diligent. Don’t go out in a full “costume”. It’s ok to have on some beaded earrings or a turquoise ring, but don’t march down the street wearing a feather, with loaded on jewelry, and a ribbon shirt.”

I’m not saying that anyone who isn’t Native should not wear or own anything with Native designs. What I am saying is that just like we talk about when we say “buy handmade” so that we can support the maker directly, when you buy Native, support a Native artisan directly.