|Eastern Woodlands Nativepunk- a concept sketch by Miss Kagashi|
First of all, sorry about the lack of posts lately, friends- I've been preparing for Teslacon in Madison, WI this week, in addition to taking some mid-terms, so my brain has been somewhat frazzled lately. However, I'm glad to say that I'm back and ready to tackle a month of fascinating content (granted, I am a bit biased...).
Native American Steampunk. What comes to mind? I asked the venerable Google- it gave me this (amongst other) results:
While I admire the artist's style and overall execution, I admit (openly) that I'm not a fan of the concept. Is Native American steampunk just general stereotypical steampunk with feathers and turquoise? This particular artist says a very emphatic no. Take into account that this is my interpretation and opinion on what I think Native American steampunk (or Nativepunk, as I call it for short) could be and I am only one voice- but take these fairly universal points into consideration:
Native American steampunk is post-contact. While some Native American cultures possessed knowledge of working copper, there is no evidence of them using this for steam power. However, since the Age of Steam is post-contact, it's perfectly feasible that native peoples were using or adapting Western technology to suit their needs, even if it's using the scraps.
The story of Native Americans in the Age of Steam is one of survival. The peoples of the Plains used every portion of a slain buffalo- not only for spiritual respect of the animal, but common practicality. This mentality becomes even more important post-contact, as game decreases, lands are taken away, and army rations become nothing more than broken promises- so the need to scrounge, scavange, and improvise is dire. Both Western and traditional clothing was worn for necessity- as was the unfortunate and eventual adaptation to firearms and other Western products. This should be reflected in Nativepunk.
Unless you are of Native American descent and understand the reasoning behind it or have received permission from a tribal authority or researcher, do not involve religious or spiritual items in your steampunk. Certain objects and garments hold a lot of power or communicate the status of the wearer such as Plains war bonnets, Plains breastplates, and Woodlands wampum belts. What I'm going to condone is the use of certain garments and decorative styles instead of these items to create your kit. Furthermore do not wear your ensemble to a powwow or Native reenactment, I beg you.
Most important of all: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Each and every tribe is different- so do not assume that if you mix certain stereotypical elements together that you'll have a Nativepunk ensemble. If you don't do your research, not only will you look a mess, but people in the know can and will call you out on it (believe me, I know). Basically, don't be a bad Halloween costume, give these people the respect that their art deserves.
The idea of steampunk involving the art and style of indigenous cultures can be a very daunting, if not controversial one. While no one worries about using (and utterly butchering) Elizabethan styles because... well... Elizabethans are dead, the descendents of indigenous culture not only remain, but also have ownership of their traditional dress. I believe that even a non-Native person can involve Native American garments in their ensemble in a manner that is both artistically exciting and mindful towards these living descendents. I followed all of these steps, and when I showed my design to various members of tribes of the Three Fires (the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Bodewademie) the reactions ranged from amusement to respectful acknowledgement. One comment that particularly stuck with me was the reassurance that," This is art, not regalia. When I see this, I see art that was inspired by the beauty of my ancestors, so no one possesses it since. It's not offensive."
I'm excited to start making this outfit, and I hope that some of you will be inspired in the coming month to involve some of the art of these peoples in your work and do it in a manner to honor them.
|Tlingit shaman- 1906|