The intersection of fashion and culture has been a problem of late. First, Urban Outfitters appropriated Native American culture for profit. Now comes designer Paul Frank, who had a Native American-themed party, complete with tomahawk props.
After I read about Urban Outfitters’ problem late last year, I made a point of not buying anything I thought had been stolen from someone else. It’s not hard to do. If I want authentic Native American fabrics, clothing, or art, I can find them at a nearby museum and store. If it doesn’t have what I need, there are similar venues across the country. In other words, there is no reason to purchase such wares from a mainstream company.
Companies that use culture for profit are being rude, arrogant, and insensitive in the name of money. All they have to do is research the matter, and they’d think twice about what they’re doing it and why they are doing it. Ignorance is not a defense. If anyone at the camps of Urban Outfitters or Paul Frank had even chatted casually with someone who is Native American, they would have known it wasn’t right.
Many Native Americans guard their culture from others for this very reason. The media hasn’t helped with its erroneous depictions of Native Americans who make sounds with their mouths just before they attack. The bottom line: If it isn’t yours, if you don’t know its meaning, if you’ve never heard the the story behind it, if you don’t know what point it serves, if you don’t know its rich tradition, then leave it alone.