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Native Appropriations in Fashion, Culture Highlighted at de Witt Talk

November 02, 2015

You can find it in a trendy fashion-outlet version of a fake, Technicolor dream catcher, in a high school mascot (war paint included) or in many Halloween costumes. Cultural appropriations that stereotype Native peoples are evident in fashion, pop culture, film and many other areas, according to Dr. Adrienne Keene.

Keene, author of the blog Native Appropriations, a member of Cherokee Nation and a post doc at Brown University, gave her thoughts and perspective on this phenomenon on October 27, educating the Lasell community about how stereotypes are perpetuated through these appropriations.

The talk, given at de Witt Hall, was sponsored by the Donahue Institute, Social Sciences, Fashion and Humanities departments, the Honors Program and Academic Affairs.

"There are 567 federally recognized tribes - all different nations with different cultures and languages - that are erased by stereotypical images," said Keene.

Keene told the audience that she became acutely aware of how little people understood about Native American cultures when she began graduate study at Harvard University. She noticed the complete lack of reference to Native American peoples in her education history classes, combined with the dismissal of true Native American culture in fashion, and was motivated to start a blog to discuss what she saw.

"Invisibility is the biggest issue. Either we are not represented at all or we are misrepresented totally," Keene said.

She noted that most Education history texts completely ignore the physical and cultural genocide of Native American peoples during the Colonial era -- when boarding houses were created to educate Native American children who were removed from their parents and their homes.

"The saying was, ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man,'" Keene said.

The historical inaccuracies perpetuated in American education around Columbus Day and Colonialism, and lack of discussion around what happened to Native American peoples across the country in the late 1700s and 1800s, has created a knowledge deficit for most.

This dearth of knowledge perpetuates stereotypes in society.

Her blog, Native Appropriations, gets at those stereotypical references in pop culture, film, television and fashion and often asks those in authority to improve their efforts.

One recent blog entry highlighted a misrepresentation in the description of the Disney film Pocahontas. Each year she spends ample time pointing out offensive costumes prior to Halloween and why they are so.

"Intent doesn't matter. It doesn't erase the pain [people feel]," Keene said.

And it's not only Native American cultures that feel the stereotypes, Keene added. She answers questions regularly on her blog about why blackface at Halloween or a sexy Muslim girl costume is offensive. She adds that these insults - if not checked - perpetuate the pain that marginalized groups feel and have felt for centuries or decades.

Keene's blog can be found at: