By Jan DeVry
I was worried when Kate asked me to join this nascent blogging project, I really was. I haven’t done feminist activism since college, I suck at arguing with people on the internet, and I have boatloads of privilege. What if I don’t have anything new or interesting to say? But by chance, we launched the week of Valentine’s Day, and Kate asked if anyone wanted to respond to the holiday, or the V-Day movement. And it was like, “Oh hey, I have opinions about that!” The post was downright easy to write. It pissed some people off, but I decided I could live with that. Of course my first foray back into laying down feminist positions is going to be a little problematic.
But then I was back to having no ideas. Until Kate, bless her, decided to keep the whole anniversary/holiday trend going, and sent an email with some interesting Wikipedia tidbits. Today is the anniversary of the day the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the creation of the Girl Scouts, which Kate will so eloquently riff on. But the confluence of those things knocked loose another piece of the Feminist Opinions part of my brain.
In the late 90’s, my dad and I participated in a YMCA scout knockoff program for dads and daughters called Indian Princesses.
Photo of typical dad and daughter pairing in headdresses and vests with patches, symbolizing events they attended with the program.
We went camping with other members of our local “tribe,” took really stereotypical Indian names (Star Pony, Wind Dancer… being of a more historical bent, I went by Sacajawea), wore headdresses, fringe, and plastic bearclaws, and war whooped around the campfire. I was an only child, so I really took to the presence of other girls my own age. Also, we did skits! I loved skits! My dad remembers it differently; he later told me that he felt like it was a constant struggle to get the dads to put down their whiskey and poker long enough to pay attention to their daughters. I do feel like my dad’s and my time in Indian Princesses cemented our relationship, and piqued my interest in indigenous North American cultures. However, I now realize that it was atrociously stereotypical. You could say we were proto-hipsters.
Image shows two white hipsters in Indian headdresses; caption says “No, it’s cool, it’s not like your ancestors killed them all or anything.” Via http://drawingonindians.blogspot.com/2010/05/hipster-indians.html
In college, I retained enough interest in American Indians via my YMCA years to major in Anthropology, specializing in indigenous North America. My most challenging, and ultimately favorite class, was about contemporary American Indian art. The teacher and all but one other student were members of Southwestern tribes, especially the Navajo Nation (by the way, the terminology I use throughout this piece comes from that class – use tribe affiliation if you know it, and “American Indian” to refer to the group in general. It may seem like it’s perpetuating Columbus’s mistake, but it’s what they themselves have chosen). The other white student had a disability, so that class became 3 hours a week of being uncomfortably aware of my privilege. But, it also ended up being really, really fun. We attended a powwow, which is an intertribal dance competition made up of dances and costumes created for the powwow, so you’re not looking at any tribe’s proprietary or religious ceremony. I went to all the area museums that had Indian art (and if you are in DC, I HIGHLY recommend the National Museum of the American Indian). I visited the Navajo and Hopi Nations, learned about their political struggles (for water rights, for government services, for copywrite protections for their art), bought their art, ate a lot of fry bread. I continue to be fascinated by the way American Indian artists recognize that people see their culture as static, and use that to mess with the people viewing their art.
At first glance, the photo is of a basket, but at second glance the viewer is meant to see that it is made out of film strip. Gail Tremblay (Onondaga/Mi´kmaq, b. 1945), Strawberry and Chocolate, 2000.
And I turned my experience with Indian Princesses into a term paper for the class. I’m going to turn the paper itself into another blog, because I think it’s interesting to trace through time white people’s desire to pay homage to the romanticized woodsiness of the communities we all but wiped out by coming here, which is still playing out today (see: hipster headdresses, The Redskins franchise, Johnny Depp as a stoned Tonto in that Lone Ranger movie that has still, mysteriously, not come out…) But my liberal arts education has not cured me of my wordiness, and it’s time to cut this blog short. The TL;DR of Indian Princesses is that now they are the Adventurers and I don’t know what their costumes look like (Indiana Jones? Steampunk? Lara Croft?), or what story draws them together, or whether the dads still play poker in smoke filled rooms while the daughters play make believe around a campfire. I would like to think that some of them arrive at allyship not by making amends for past offences, but by knowing, in their daily lives, people from communities who have experienced oppression.