I’d like to preface this letter by saying that we do not need another piece attacking or degrading those who display ignorance and a lack of respect for Native cultures. Even more importantly, we do not need another piece that promotes negative perceptions of Native peoples. That’s been done. As such, I do not want the focus of this to be about personal attacks made within the comments section of previous posts, and I do not want this to be about the girl you see in the above photograph [I left her name out intentionally. It’s no longer relevant to the conversation]. I have suggested to her that she make reparations with the Yurok Tribe for her desecration of Sumeg village. If and when she does, I extend my respects to her for that.
I don’t want to have conversations that are divisive. Once the situation has been deconstructed, it becomes very clear that none of this is about her, just as none of this is about me [I have included a brief recap of these posts and my commentary on a separate page within this site]. The visceral and emotionally charged reactions we have all witnessed are indicative of much larger and more deeply entrenched issues than can be easily understood, and I am hoping that the following analysis will allow that message to resonate.
As troubling as some of these reactions have been, they cannot and should not be reduced to “overreaction” or “oversensitivity”. I actually saw one comment which started out a rant [the thesis of which was unclear and misguided] with “maybe you guys should try to be less offended?”
I do not appreciate assertions made to suggest that our collective anger here is unwarranted. I was hurt by the flagrant disrespect that was shown for our cultures through this girl’s post, as were hundreds of others who reacted. We are right to be. The challenge for us as Natives today is to let that anger fuel more productive conversations about our issues.
I was also hurt by her initial response to Qosos Hostler, the woman who had originally pointed out her mistake in a stern, but very reasonable way [the excuse was a typical “I’m native, and I’m not disrespected by it.” No. For so many reasons, no]. This was thoughtless and dismissive, which is why I chose to call her out so publicly. She did follow up with an apology to Qosos via Instagram messenger after my post began to escalate, but that apology was hollow and devoid of any real understanding or willingness to learn, which did not help the situation.
It was also incredibly painful to see the hate being thrown around in the ensuing chaos by both sides, and to recognize the deeply rooted trauma that these incidents bring up.
If you’ve followed the posts and their comments, you will see that a pattern emerges from these reactions. While damaging in some respects, these messages are undeniably powerful, and they exemplify the much more dynamic realities of growth, pain, and human spirit. I hope to illustrate that with some justice in the following paragraphs.
Our collective, visceral reaction was one of shock and anger, which led to lashing out [I’m including myself in this. I could not control the comments, but I can and should control how I uphold myself]. You may have noticed that once the initial reaction had passed, sadness began to settle in. I saw this expressed by many, and I had to make real efforts to decompress in the chaos. It was depressing to me that this entire situation had even come up.
This stage passed, thankfully, and by the time I had drafted a follow-up, our communities had come back with some beautifully worded and mindful responses. I wish I could have incorporated more of them, but the post was later removed for “not meeting Facebook Community Standards” [which I think is bullshit, for the record – the letter and her subsequent public apology are included in the “Recap” page within this site. I responded to it with all the compassion I could muster, and that compassion is genuine. It’s harsh to get called out].
We collected ourselves, organized thoughtful solutions, and began to develop strategies to heal and move forward. The ensuing dialogues touched on desecration of tribal land, entitlement, White privilege, protections for Native territories, Indian blood quantum, cultural appropriation, and many other oft-neglected issues impacting Indian Country. These are things we need to be talking about. I cannot emphasize that enough. The current climate of U.S. politics and movements just goes to show that we need to learn to have healthy conversations about racism, privilege, and entitlement. This shit is a nightmare. I digress.
The emotional trajectory of these conversations within the current situation brings up an interesting parallel. You might recognize these emotions as similar to the cycle of grief – that’s exactly right, because it is. We are plagued by historical trauma and we feel a sense of loss not only during times like these, but also when we see people strutting around in headdresses at Coachella, or wandering around in a “tribal print” tank top covered in designs that are appropriated from cultures that our people have been killed and raped and oppressed over for centuries. In addition, these things perpetuate the continued and holistic oppression of Native peoples [e.g. your “pocahottie” Halloween costume directly contributes to the exoticism and sexualization of Native women, who are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than any other ethnic group in this country, and around 80% of the time that act is committed by non-Native men]. But you weren’t thinking about that, were you? Cherokee scholar Dr. Adrienne Keene runs a really well done blog, Native Appropriations, if you feel like learning more about cultural appropriation and its effect on Indigenous peoples.
There is no real way to describe how triggering this is, but understand that Natives and their allies are rightfully offended, even more so when it’s not just some dumb tank top but is instead someone very publicly desecrating our tribal territories and villages.
To defend actions such as these under the premise of “foolishness” or obliviousness to cultural knowledge is negligent, and it’s a lazy response. Let me make this clearer.
We do not expect you to know anything about our cultures. Even I, as a Karuk and Yurok person who intends to spend her life in these communities, have little knowledge of our traditions and ceremonies compared to many of our community members, and though I continuously make efforts to learn, I will certainly not reach a point of holistic expertise and knowledge in my lifetime. Our cultures are at once fluid and rooted in tradition, and it would be arrogant to think that something as powerful and intensely meaningful and dynamic as this could ever be fully captured within the human mind.
Native communities across the country are reticent in opening up about the values and customs that are unique to each of our tribes, and for incredibly good reason [you can refer to my open letter for more concrete information regarding this. I can provide sources]. Do not think you need a quantifiable amount of knowledge regarding indigenous cultures to be conscientious, and do not think because you have some knowledge that you are exempt from this conversation.
The problem here is not a lack of information, but an unwillingness to recognize and care for the intrinsic value of Native communities and cultures even while you know virtually nothing about them. Note that I use the word “unwillingness” rather than “inability” here – the respect we are looking for as Native peoples are core aspects of human compassion, and I refuse to believe that as humans, you are incapable of receiving these messages and incorporating them into your actions.
Throughout this entire incident, I have been moved to tears by the immense solidarity our Native communities and allies have displayed through these conversations. The momentum of this incident has shown our communities coming together in a huge way, and I could not be more proud of that. Our tribes are beautiful and resilient. We just want to be respected as such and to be allowed the freedom to heal.
For those interested in learning more, I would be happy to send suggested readings your way [it might take some time for me to respond, but I will follow up]. Oh, and for those who got me blocked on Facebook yesterday, presumably thinking it would shut me up: