Politics of Breath: Pandemic to Protest

This special section emerged amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It began as a project to document the creativity and innovation that emerged as the world confronted fear, anxiety, and loss, as well as resilience and hope. However, this section took on new meaning after the death of George Floyd. The video of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer that pressed his knee on George Floyds neck for eight minutes, brought to the fore the systemic and institutional racism embedded into the foundation of America.

The right to breathe, the most basic of human rights, became a symbolic thread as COVID- 19 hinders the ability to breathe and racism took the breath of Floyd. In a short period of time COVID-19 stirred both fear and heroism, while the death of Floyd reignited an international movement insisting that Black Lives Matter.

The Black Lives Matter protests that are sweeping the globe remind us of our history of colonialism, police brutality, and the inequity of our society. The problems of systemic racism, White supremacy, and settler colonialism are complex and require unique approaches if we are to begin to eradicate them. Interdisciplinarity is about solving big problems, wicked, complex problems. Problems that require researchers, artists, and activists to collaborate and challenge the status quo. 2020 has brought the world an extraordinary amount of change; we are learning how to live differently with ourselves and with each other.

Each of the artists whose work is included in this special section has uniquely and powerfully connected us visually to the pandemics of racism and COVID-19 that continue to steal breath and life on a daily basis. Tamara Whites mixed media panel No Breath is a startling and coherent reminder of the injustice of inequality in America. The metaphor of the mask takes on multiple meanings and forces us to grapple with the reality of racism, the reality of the pandemic, and the reality that when one of us cant breathe we all suffer. Raúl Manzano illustrates both fear we feel and the fearlessness needed to rise above the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to every aspect of our lives. His painting reminds us that liberty is more than a symbol. It is an active stance that we must take if we are to survive the pandemics of racism and COVID-19.

Saint Paul photographer Heather M. Swansons trio of photos depicts the local aftermath of the death of George Floyd and reminds us of the rioting and destruction that reached far beyond Minneapolis. These images are silent but loud representations of the need for activism and solidarity. Terae Soumahs mixed media piece You are not alone. was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and is a call to action for a global movement to address human rights issues that are deeply rooted in racial inequality. The piece asks us to work together as an international community to begin to solve disparities in healthcare, economic, educational, and housing security due to racial prejudice and discrimination.

Sarah Sutros paintings are about new, curious connections and confrontations between cultures, at a time when globalized living has scrambled assumptions about closeness and separation and COVID-19 has forced us to grapple with our own assumptions about closeness and separation. The artist says, the drawn ink marks represent energies and forces of the human and natural worlds. They reflect states of mind and being, in one case, being able to survive chaos, and in another, facing dark uncertainty(Sutro). This dichotomy is evocative of the uncertainty and need for survival that is an ever present part of our current reality in the face of racial injustice and COVID-19.

We have seen that radical action and bold steps can make the world a more equitable place – whether that is in addressing systemic racism or community health. We can see clear steps to making amends and taking accountability for a history that denies our Black brothers and sisters the right to breathe; a history that privileges some, not all. How we relate to our family, our friends, and our own histories are all interrogated in this journal. The next step must be to embrace and acknowledge interdisciplinary ways of knowing as a pathway to creating new futurity. Whether we are looking at our healthcare futures or our political futures, the need for interdisciplinary work and connection as a tool for our liberation must be at the forefront. The only way forward is through, together.

Fashion as Protest: Conversant Imagery in Jared Yazzie’s Protest Fashion Line

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Protest fashion presents an external visualization of an interior life that should lead to a meaningful dialogue that leads to tolerance and understanding if not affirmation and agreement.  Sarah Maisy noted that “the outfits we choose- or refuse- to wear becomes the front we offer the world…what we wear tells everyone who we are” (Maisy).   However, issues facing contemporary protest fashion seem to grow from the idea that protest creates commodification of dissent, exemplified by the proliferation of goods that bear various protest images and slogans of revolutionaries such as Che Guevara.  The production of these goods allows individuals to purchase designer labels signifying a transgressive expression that becomes, as Thomas Franks recognizes, a:

Capitalist orthodoxy, its hunger for transgression upon transgression now perfectly suited to an economic-cultural regime that runs on an ever-faster cycling of the new; its taste for self-fulfillment and its intolerance for the confines of tradition now permitting vast latitude in consuming practices and lifestyle experimentation. (34)

Promoting lifestyle experimentation capitalism constructs a corporate story for consumers designing them as reactionary suggesting protest fashion is a one-sided conversation.  Unfortunately, when this one-sided conversation becomes a trend, the corporation, through the individual, homogenize cultures.

Homogenization has been a constant issue for Native American communities, in particular where fashion provides a cultural context for protest.  Non-Native designers appropriating Native culture to produce protest fashion inevitably divorce the style from the issues further denigrating Native Americans.  Connie Wang, quoting Adrienne Keene, suggests that:

The public needs to shift their thinking and realize that knowing the story behind a piece- the community it comes from, the meaning behind it- is far cooler than buying a cheap knockoff that will disintegrate after a few washes.  Respect is letting Native peoples represent themselves in fashion, rather than having outsiders represent us. (Wang)

Knowing the story behind a fashion piece suggests that meaningful conversation must take place stylizing fashion protest as a dialogue.

One such contemporary pioneer of protest fashion as dialogue is Jared Yazzie (Dine).  Beginning his fashion line while attending the University of Arizona in 2009, Yazzie began designing cultural misrepresentation experienced by indigenous peoples, filled it with irony and wordplay, and “spits it back out onto a tee shirt” (Bais-Bille).  Yazzie’s fashion line bridges the chasm between Native American culture and mainstream American culture at the benefit of the indigenous designers (Bais-Bille).  Yazzie uses OxDx (overdose) to describe the state of modern society, “Sometimes we need to pull back and remember our culture, tradition, and those who have sacrificed for us” (Yazzie).

Considering Yazzie’s protest fashion as dialogic, this paper examines how a deaf and blind Western-controlled narrative has dictated Native American voice for the last five hundred years through considerations of counter-history.[1]  Secondly, Yazzie’s work raises a voice for Native women and the abuses that they have and continue to suffer at the hands of a racist judicial system.  Finally, Yazzie’s unique protest fashion provides a voice for the greater Native American community by opposing the fetishizing of Native cultures through mascots.  Overall, Yazzie’s fashion protest confronts historical discourse intentionally revealing the reality of the present by unveiling a counter-history in the past.  However, before considering Yazzie’s unique conversational protest, a brief discussion of underlying philosophies of Native American fashion appropriation must first be considered.

Appropriation through Photographic Projection

Perhaps one of the hardest projections to overcome is the romanticized view of Native Americans through photography.  Photography of Native Americans promoted a sentimentalist fallacy that romanticized the “noble savage” from a realist point of view.  Consider, for example, John Riis photography of the destitute in New York City at the end of the nineteenth century.  Riis framed the “realistic” vision of poverty that became a voyeuristic window for the middle class and the wealthy to safely view what was socially problematic without endangering themselves.  While Riis may have, eventually, moved some toward action, the majority of viewers seemed to have been emotionally moved to superficially consider the injustice of the situation without acting superficially.  Protest without action represents, as Christopher Voparil suggests, “the lack of connection between ideas and action” (104).

Just as Riis contributed an awareness of poverty leading people toward sentimentality rather than action, photography captured the idea of Native American identity.  However, photography negatively preserved and projected that identity.  One photographer that excelled at Native American photography at the turn of the twentieth century was Gertrude Käsebier who was known for her softly allegorical images of women and children (Carr 207).

The Red Man, Figure 1, taken in 1900, captures a contrary vision of Native Americans.  It captures a gentle warmness as there are no feathers, no war paint, and no jewelry of animal bones, merely a relaxed human wrapped in a blanket (Carr 208).  Käsebier imagery evokes healthy skin with rough folds of the blanket.  The Red Man inhabits a maternally gentle sphere.  What Käsebier, captures, however, can also be considered a separation of the Indian from humanity projecting an “innocent child” in need of maternal compassion (Carr 208).  Thus, the romanticizing of Native Americans takes the shape of a photograph contextualized by a vision of romantic simplicity characterizing “the noble savage.”

Another eminent photographer who sought to capture and preserve American Indians as traditionally as possible was the Seattle based photographer, Edward S. Curtis.  Curtis desired to help protect traditional aspects of Native American life that he believed was vanishing due to boarding schools and Indian removal policies (Makepeace).  N. Scott Momaday said of Curtis:

Taken as a whole, the work of Edward S. Curtis is a singular achievement.  Never before have we seen the Indians so close to the origins of their humanity…Curtis’ photographs comprehend indispensable images of every human being at every time and every place. (Curtis and Cardozo 21)

Many Native Americans were excited at the prospect of a Curtis revival as he captured aspects of their heritage in ways they believed were lost (Makepeace).

However, Curtis also reinforced the identity of the “noble savage” by staging romanticized and sentimentalized scenes that deflected the attention from the real plight of Native Americans and their loss of human rights.  Curtis removed all Western trappings, parasols, suspenders, wagons, and houses that many tribes had been forced to adopt to be considered civilized.  In Ogalala War Party, Figure 2, Curtiss photographed ten Ogalala men wearing formal feathered headdresses and riding down-hill on horseback with the caption, “a group of Sioux warriors as they appeared in the days of inter-tribal warfare, carefully making their way down a hillside in the vicinity of the enemy’s camp.”

While there is no denying Curtis’ talent, and  that he had a deep respect for those he photographed, the portrayal of the war party is wholly constructed.  Head-dresses may have been worn into battle, but usually they were reserved for ceremonial purposes.  Whether head-dresses were worn or not, the men would not be, “carefully making their way to the enemy camp” in broad daylight where they would be easily seen and, most likely, intercepted before they made it down the hill.  The photograph projects an imagined identity.

Curtis, despite his benevolent designs to capture authentic Indians, projects a modernist construction of cultural dominance.  In “Edward Curtis:  Pictorialist and Ethnographic Adventurist,” Gerald Vizenor suggests that:

The modernist constructions of culture, with natives outside of rational, cosmopolitan consciousness, are realities by separation, a sense of native absence over presence in history.  The absence of natives was represented by images of traditions, simulations of the other in the past; the presence of natives was tragic, the notions of savagism and the motive images of a vanishing race.  The modernist images of native absence and presence, by creative or representational faculties, are the rational binary structures of other, an aesthetic, ideological disanalogy. (180-181)

Modernistic conceptions of “Indian” tended toward romantic images projecting what Vizenor suggests in Crossbloods, “We were caught in camera time, extinct in photographs, and now in search of our past and common memories we walk right back into these photographs” (90).  For Vizenor, camera time meant walking back into a word, “Indian,” that was a simulation of constructed and projected identity that imposed, “the simulation of the indian that is the absence of the native” (Fugitive Poses 152).  These images and an attempt to remember and define an end, “imperialist nostalgia [that] uses a pose of ‘innocent yearning’ to both capture people’s imaginations and to conceal its complicity with the often brutal domination” (Rosaldo 70).

Using photography to capture the authentic Native American is to hunt for a “true Indian.”  Louis Owens suggests that any concept of a “true Indian” is an artificial construct and Euro-American invention: The Indian in today’s world consciousness is a product of literature, history, art, and a product that, as an invention, often bears little resemblance to actual, living Native American people. (4)

Photography suggests definition, capture, and possession through photographic simulation projected upon the Native American community.

Holding the same philosophy as photography fashion appropriates Native Americans through an “honor” and “respect” justification of cultural preservation.  Adrienne Keene suggests in her blog “Native Appropriations:”

Most often people who engage in cultural appropriation use the ‘respect’ and ‘honor’ argument to justify their actions- ‘But I think Native culture is so beautiful!’ or ‘I’m honoring Native Americans!’ To me, there is no respect in taking designs or cultural markers from community, divorcing them from their meaning and context, and selling them for monetary gain.  (par. 10)

Further, Native American fashion becomes appropriated by those who seek to “play” Indian without all the negative Western stereotypes attached to the term (Delroia ).  Karen Kramer, defining appropriation in fashion in Native Fashion Now, describes how these designers:

Appropriate Indian style for their own purposes…often [using] it to assert a kind of ‘true’ Americanness, or to stand for reductionist concepts like ‘freedom’ or ‘authenticity.’ Their garments may be handsomely executed; they may raise the profile or prestige of Native Aesthetics.  But when symbols of Native culture are deployed by people who don’t understand their meaning, it’s like a game of ‘telephone,’ where the message comes garbled.  After all, the ‘America’ these designs now represent is the same one that has oppressed indigenous people for so long. (19)

Through fashion as a “telephone game,” Native American culture becomes misunderstood, absented, and replaced with a simulation of what Indian fashion is imagined to be separated from any cultural significance while consumers misapprehend what their “costume” means.  Where there is no discernable context regarding the clothing, there can be no respect, and if there is no respect, there can be no appropriate action leaving current trends of Native American fashion appropriation locked in a sentimentalist fallacy.  Autonomously “feeling” that wearing misunderstood designs supports Native American communities reveals parasitic lifestyle experimentation.

However, there are ways that non-Natives can respect Native tradition while still supporting Native causes through fashion protest.  Again, Adrienne Keene suggests:

The way to truly respect Native communities in the fashion world is to support and buy directly from Native designers- these designers know the boundaries of their own cultures, know what elements are appropriate to incorporate in their work and sell to non-Natives, are building generations of culture and design, and very importantly, the sales are benefiting members of the community the designs come from, not large corporation or non-Native designers. (par. 8)

Generally, despite Native designs representing a particular community, it would seem that Native American designers produce artifacts that can be appropriately worn by anybody.  On the other hand, Native American fashion, even though it may find marketability towards general audiences, still requires a balanced education to intelligently speak about the issues that the clothing presents or there is the risk of falling into a protest based on sentimentalism and “lifestyle experimentation” (Franks 34).  In short, we are asked to provide an answer when confronted about our fashion that transcends individualism making the person wearing the clothing a viable conversationalist able to address deeper issues honestly.  Jared Yazzie’s fashion provides just such an example combining the Western historical narrative with a rich Native American counter-history.

Giving Native Voices to Honest Views of History

Seeking to open transparent and honest conversation, Yazzie subverts “bastardized symbols of Native culture,” by founding a tradition of deconstructing clothing, while also personalizing, the untold side of American history (Blais-Billie).  Yazzie’s fashion creativity seems to be influenced by his mother and how she made mundane government issued school clothing unique:

There’s government-issued tribal clothing that our parents used to get as Navajo kids on the first day of school.  My mom would fashion it into different stuff- it was super unique.  We weren’t the richest people, but she would make it a little different so everybody would think she bought all her clothes. (Wang)

Small alterations, adornment, and illumination can take inconsequential clothing and transmute them into a fashion statement that reflects community and social concerns.  In many ways, clothing becomes a ceremony exemplifying both the individual and community in which they live.

Yazzie’s brand, OxDx, carries a mission statement that seeks, “To preserve culture by passing on stories through art, fashion, and creative content.  To be socially conscious, constantly connected to our community, and ambitious as hell” (Yazzie).  Here, clothing becomes more than a fashion accessory.  Fashion connects to a social conscience raising awareness and participation in communities allowing fashion to tell stories in the way we dress, what adorns our clothing, and how we are constructing ourselves creatively by wearing that clothing.  Yazzie gives a voice to the voiceless by drawing attention to the messages that illuminate his t-shirt designs.[2]

Figure 3 presents Yazzie’s most popular design, and it is also the shirt that formally launched him into the world of fashion.  Baring the message “Native Americans Discovered Columbus,” the shirt itself is quite understated, and that seems to be part of Yazzie’s goal making it an everyday protest through ordinary fashion.  Even though “OxDx is about resistance, anti-conformity, and a departure from the toxic traps of society” the statement itself is visually arresting drawing the eye to the text imprinted on the t-shirt (Blaise-Billie).  Rather than an aggressive protest action, the shirt takes a historical “fact,” Columbus coming to the New World, and turns it around.  Discovery becomes double-sided rather than historically one-sided.  The simplicity of the statement allows the design to be considered and questioned turning the realization of the shirt into a teaching moment reversing the Western historical narrative to accuse Columbus of genocide in the New World openly.

Since Yazzie’s design promotes conversation, an honest and balanced view of Columbus’ genocide must be explored as it is not accurately taught in Western education.  In this case, Columbus’ own words condemn his actions as he recorded in his journal, “They [Native Americans] would make fine servants…with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” (Zinn).  Slavery of the indigenous population become necessary to cater to Columbus’ greed.  His obsessive mantra became, “Where is the gold?” (Zinn).

So contagious was Western greed that in 1508, historian and social reformer Bartolome de las Casas reported that Spaniards, “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades” (60).  Native Americans were enslaved and separated from their families.  Violent and dehumanizing, the Native American population began to die from torture, starvation, exhaustion, and depression (las Casas 66).  Estimations of the death toll between 1494 and 1508 declared over three million Native Americans were killed in Columbus’ search for gold (Zinn).

Columbus’ violence against Native Americans eventually became the hallmark of the American Empire.  Yazzie’s work embodies both sides of this historical event.  Factually, Columbus came to the Americas.  However, when Columbus came to the New World, the indigenous population did discover him.  However, they also unmasked the West and a crueler way of life void of hospitality, humanity, and compassion that Native Americans had initially extended to these visitors.  They discovered that they were the slaves of an imagined empire that violently absented their voices through conquest.  As long as the person wearing the shirt is willing to engage honestly in this incredibly difficult conversation about this imbalance of historical information, then, perhaps, they can wear the shirt appropriately.

Giving Voice to Native American Women

A second important goal in Yazzie’s fashion provides a voice to indigenous women.  Stemming from biological determinism, as Edward Said suggests in Culture and Imperialism, scientific colonizing tactics are first made popular at home, and, so, to understand how Native women have been silenced, it becomes crucial to examine how the “civilized” world used a separate spheres dichotomy to divide their world while forcing this Enlightenment on the New World.

Separate spheres ideology rested on scientific definitions based on biological determinations of men and women.  Barbara Webster notes in “The Cult of True Womanhood,” that women were interpreted, phrenologically as inferior since a “woman is a constantly growing child, and, in the brain, as in so many other parts of her body, she conforms to her childish type” (4).  According to Kathryn Hughes article “Gender Roles in the 19th Century,” women were biologically determined to be physically, intellectually, emotionally, sexually, and constitutionally inferior to men, yet remained morally superior due to their mental and spiritual simplicity.  Because of this moral superiority, women segued men into a state of relaxation and moral balance when they came home as men could become tainted by the immorality of the public sphere.  American print culture promoted a reduction of women’s rights to piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity, as portrayed in Godey’s Ladies Book:

The right to love, whom others scorn,

The right to comfort and to mourn,

The right to shed new joy on earth,

The right to feel the soul’s high worth,

Such woman’s rights a God will bless

And crown their champions with success. (Hughes)

The childishness of the poem captures women in a sphere of domesticity that corresponds closely with ideals of women as only capable of being domestically familial, moral, and spiritual caregivers.

Eventually, these two spheres approach became a colonial tactic that assimilated “savage” cultures by seeking to restructure Indigenous values with the woman as the “light of the home” (Welter 152).  Sharon Harrow notes in Adventures of Domesticity that, “Domestic discourse was deployed as a colonizing tactic…cultures were called civilized or savage based on their domestic practices” (9).  Essentially, if the domestic environment in America did not mirror the “civilized” notion of domesticity, then it was savage.  Andrea Smith suggests that colonialism through missionary societies used the tactic to civilize North America. However, it led to widespread sexual abuse of ethnic women, prostitutes, and destitute women as they became equated with “dirty bodies” that were considered sexually violable (Smith 73).  Because the public sphere was not concerned with morality, the violation of a “dirty” body was not considered rape (Smith 73).

Within these conceptions, Native American women were considered “dirty” women perceived as childish sex slaves and work drudges in need of rescue (Barman 237-266).  On the other hand, Indian women were considered sexual to the point of unbridled appetites that demanded discipline and containment (Jacobs 118-199).  In many cases, every act of a Native American woman was perceived as an overtly sexual act due to the perception that they were wild, out of control, and full of debauchery (Barman 264).  Nowhere was this consideration of the sexual more apparent than in the nineteenth century “Prairie Pornography” of Will Soule who photographed Native women as half-naked, ignoble savages, whose bodies were twisted into erotic positions that left scientific discourse and entered into the pornographic (Ringlero 191-192).  Tragically, many Native women are still considered “dirty bodies” even today.

The consequences of colonial policies turning Native women into “dirty bodies” have continued to perpetuate this myth of Native women as nothing has reversed the narrative.[3]  According to the Indian Law Resource Center, four in every five American Indian and Alaskan Native women experience violence, and one in every two have experienced sexual violence (indianlaw.org).  More than half of all Native American women have been sexually assaulted, and over one third have been raped during their lifetime putting Native American women at nearly 2.5 times greater risk than white women (Bleir and Zolediowski).  Part of the issue stems from the fact that until recently, United States law had stripped Indian nations of all authority to prosecute non-Indians on sovereign land (indianlaw.org).  Sexual violations by non-Natives were reported at 96%, and the cases, even now, tend to go uninvestigated as the U.S. Attorney Offices have declined to prosecute two-thirds of the reported cases (indianlaw.org; Bleir and Zolediowski).

Sexual assault against Native women is not the only disconcerting statistic.  The Center for Public Integrity reported that, as of 2016, there were 5,712 cases of missing Native American women reported to the National Crime Information Center (Bleir and Zolediowski).  Annita Lucchesi, from the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, collected a database of 2,600 cases of missing and murdered Native women in Alberta (Bleir and Zoledowski).  The numbers here become more startling considering that Native American tribal nations did not gain access to FBI databases until 2015 rendering all these numbers an undercount (voanews.com).  At the end of 2017, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database had only 633 open missing-persons cases involving Native women (voanews.com).  Sarah Deer from the University of Kansas has suggested that violence and the rate of missing Native women are due to a broken legal system that is not providing justice on behalf of Native women (Deer).

Considering the human status of Native American women, Yazzie’s design, Figure 4, provides a fuller picture of injustices against women protesting the current legal culture with the simple design of a woman wearing traditional Native American clothing sitting on a stack of books while typing on a laptop contemplatively, and probably unconsciously, embodying two cultures.  The words, “The Future is Indigenous” illuminate the young woman.  The shirt suggests that it is time to consider the intelligent humanness of Native women while also building a healthy respect for their culture and traditions, which include respect and honor of woman as an essential part of living in a stable society.  As human beings, women are not just domestic slaves nor are they sexually deviant people. Instead, Yazzie’s shirt proclaims the self-determination of Native women as they seek to live educated, vibrant, and beautiful lives embodying both their traditional heritage while also pursuing higher education.

Giving Voice to the Tribal Nations

Finally, Yazzie’s work magnifies the collective voice of Native Americans as a Nation by standing against the use of American Indians as mascots for sports teams.  Historically, using American Indians as mascots would not have been considered insensitive since Native Americans were not scientifically considered human.  Again, biological determinism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries separated what was considered civilized and savage.  Students learned the ethnographic/biological species of human division as having three primary races and three secondary races: white, which included European, North Africa, through India; yellow, China, Japan, and the Middle East; and, Black, Africa, West Indies, Central America, and South America (Warren 17; Merrill 16-17; Guyot 9; Atwerp 16; Colton 16).  As primary races, they were characterized by their ability to build civilizations with recognizable social hierarchies. Caucasian races were considered superior able:

To actively engage in agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, and other pursuits. They make laws for the protection of life and property, possess an (established) literature, establish schools, and devote much time to intellectual improvement.  (Atwerp 16; Houston 128; Guyot 9)

Not only did Caucasians establish civilized order, but thinkers also considered the white races as the most intelligent, scientific, and moral having the only true religion, Christianity (Merrill 17-18; Hurst 38-41).

Native Americans were a secondary race identified as the “Red race,” a human subspecies defined as:

Savages (Indians) are the lowest and most degraded class.  They have no political divisions or towns, few and rude occupations, cruel or weak government, degrading religion, and no education.  Very few savages cultivate the soil.  The greater part subsists on roots and wild fruit, or by hunting and fishing.  Some tribes are ignorant of the use of fire, and eat their food raw.  The American Indians, some Negro tribes in Africa, and all the native tribes of Australia are savages. (Warren 17).

Within this narrow consideration, Native Americans were no more than simple children, at best, or ferocious animals, at worst.  From these definitions, it should not be shocking that Native Americans would become mascots that are projections of predatory animals or pejorative caricatures that have been projected onto Native Americans.

In 1999 the Society of Indian Psychologists, standing against the use of Native Americans as mascots, argued:

Stereotypical and historically inaccurate images of Indians in general interfere with learning about them by creating, supporting and maintaining oversimplified and inaccurate views of indigenous peoples and their cultures.  When stereotypical representations are taken as factual information, they contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices, (clearly a contradiction to the educational mission of the University).  In the same vein, we believe that continuation of the use as Indians as symbols and mascots is incongruous with the philosophy espoused by many Americans as promoting inclusivity and diversity. (Gray et al.)

Nowhere does pejorative representation become more apparent than in sports.  Currently, the number of professional sports teams using Native Americans as mascots has been reduced to five: one baseball team, the Atlanta Braves; two football teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins; and two hockey teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Eskimos.[4]

Linguistically, a mascot is, “a person or thing, animate or inanimate, that acts as a charm or talisman, whose presence is designed, or believed, to bring good luck or good fortune to the possessor” (“Mascot” 197-198).  “Mascot” can be traced to Medieval Latin, Musca, meaning mask, specter, or nightmare, explaining why a particular mascot may be chosen to represent a sports team (Sciolist).  Linguistically, it is possible that the word developed from the Latin to the Old Provencal word masca, witch, to the Provencal word mascot, sorcerer’s charm or fetish, that aided in casting an enchantment (“Mascot” 197; Sciolist).  Sports franchises inappropriately project pejorative concepts of identity by fetishizing Native Americans.

Yazzie’s fashion recognizes the mascot from Cleveland Indians who had one of the most recognizable mascots in baseball. Figure 5 mashes the Indians mascot “Chief Wahoo” with the Misfit skull. Yazzie draws inspiration from the lyrics of “Skull:”

The corpses all hang headless and limp
Bodies with no surprises
And the blood drains down like devil’s rain
We’ll bathe tonight

(Chorus):

I want your skulls
I need your skulls
I want your skulls
I need your skulls

Demon I am and face I peel
To see your skin turned inside out, ’cause
Gotta have you on my wall
Gotta have you on my wall, ’cause

(Chorus)

(Misfits, “Skull”)

The mashup fits well with the idea that “Chief Wahoo” is a fetish hung on the wall of a genocidal conquistador that feels violently compelled to “hack the heads” off the colonized. The song and the symbol become reminiscent of the Indian Wars where scalps, and other body parts, were taken and sold for a profit.  Chief Wahoo represents a trophy, bodiless, his smiling head taxidermied and displayed representing a violent testament to American empire.

Conclusion

         While much more could be said for Yazzie’s fashion, he does prove that protest can be generally marketed to a broader audience.  However, protest does not come without context.  Finding context, doing the research, having conversations, and understanding why and how protest should happen is necessary to pursue meaningful protest that leads to change.  Yazzie’s work becomes powerful as his fashion allows for positive dialogue “that can bring about change, for what is said can come into actuality” (Peat, 225).  Conversations centered on history/counter history remain painfully contentious, yet to begin healing hearts must be examined through meaningful dialogue.  Yazzie’s fashion line pursues healing that can only happen through constructive and honest conversation.  His fashion line represents a human story that transcends lifestyle experimentation setting protest toward lasting change.

 

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Works Cited

Atwerp, Van. Complete Geography: The New Eclectic Series. 1883. Osher Map Library, University of Southern Maine Glickman Library, Portland. Manuscript.

Blaise-Billie, Braudie. “5 Emerging Indigenous Designers to Know.” Paper, 2 Sept. 2018, www.papermag.com/5-emerging-indigenous-designers-to-know-0-1995253346.html. Accessed 17 Nov. 2018.

Bleir, Garet, and Anya Zolediowski. “Murdered and missing Native American women challenge police and courts.” The Center for Public Integrity, 27 Aug. 2018, www.publicintegrity.org/2018/08/27/22177/murdered-missing-native-american-women. Accessed 13 Nov. 2018.

Carr, Helen. Inventing the American Primitive: Politics, Gender and the Representation of Native American Literary Traditions, 1789-1936. New York, New York UP, 1996.

“Cleveland Indians to drop controversial Chief Wahoo logo from uniforms in 2019.” CBS News, CBS Interactive Inc., 29 Jan. 2018, www.cbsnews.com/news/cleveland-indians-chief-wahoo-logo-removed-from-uniforms-2019/. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

Colton, J.H. Colton’s Common School Geography. 1878. Osher Map Library, University of Southern Maine Glickman Library, Portland. Manuscript.

Coming to Light: the Edward S. Curtis Story. Directed by Anne Makepeace, Sundance, 2001.

Curtis, Edward S. Ogalala War Party. 1907. Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b46977/. Accessed 17 May 2018.

Curtis, Edward S., and Chistopher Cardozo. Sacred Legacy: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Deloria, Philip Joseph. Playing Indian. New Haven, Yale UP, 1998.

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[1] “Counter-history” draws on Foucault’s conception of “subjugated knowledges” that have been buried by formal systemization, and that have been disqualified as “inferior ways of knowing” due to their lack of civilized scientific foundations (7-8).

[2] Yazzie’s cprotest fashion has been featured in the Native Fashion Now exhibit which toured the nation in 2017, and he also received a commission from the Smithsonian in the same year during the exhibition (White).

[3] “Dirty bodies” concepts have also been termed the “Pocahontas Perplex,” Rayana Green (1975), a myth that continues to endure due to the Disney animated movie, and the “Celluloid Maiden,” explored by M. Elise Marubbio’s Killing the Indian Maiden:  Images of Native American Women in Film (2006), who sacrifices herself for a white man.  In both cases the Native women may not be directly “dirty,” but they are sexualized as exotic Princesses who is purely sexual and sexualized.

[4] The Cleveland Indians, while not changing their name, have agreed to drop the Chief Wahoo logo beginning in the 2019 season (“Cleveland Indians”).