Friday, November 12, 2010

A Reflection from the Crow-Lady

Pictures of adorable children diffuse every situation- in this case a Plains child.

I received a lot of feedback on my post about Native American steampunk- both good and bad. What troubled me however, were many of the harsh comments degrading me and my stance on the topic with terms that made me appear to be racist, insensitive, or downright stupid.

What I did instead of retracting my statements, trying to appease, or even erasing my post was quite simple: I reflected.

I thought about what it means to be a person of Native descent and aware of my own culture and past. After all, it was Lakota flute player John Two-Hawks who once told me as an awkward teenager," You are a leaf on the top of a tall, proud tree. You may be far removed from the roots, but you know where you come from, which makes you just as much a part of the tree." I thought about the stories my grams told me about her family when they lived on the reservation in Kansas- all the suffering, the people who cannot be brought back to life. I thought about what it means to me to be Kagashikwe, the crow woman.

What I'm trying to do in these blog posts is not to wipe clean the slate of the past- even that is impossible. I'm Potawatomie. I could tell you all about the horrendous things done to my people during the Age of Steam- how we were pushed from our tribal lands, forced to walk at the points of guns to an unknown and barren territory and expected to survive off of nothing. How the children had their culture beaten out of them. How that culture is now endangered.

But does that make anyone feel any better? It is important to know about the injustices of the past, but if we dwell on them then all that grows is bitterness. Everyone of Native descent doesn't share my view on this, but it needs to be said. It's a controversial topic, an unpleasant one, but talking about it is the only way to ease some of the misunderstanding away.

However, I'm also not giving carte-blanche to people. I'm not telling people to run out and make Native American steamsonas or bedeck themselves in warbonnets, wear feathers in their hair or run out declaring themselves "Awesomefox" or "Jim Stands With a Possum" (that would be a double-whammy of silly AND offensive). If one were to read my article (which seems to be a problem with the internet, I've noticed) one would see that the key element to my belief on Native American steampunk AND multicultural steampunk in general is to DO YOUR RESEARCH and GET IT RIGHT. Do an honor to these people by being inspired instead of slapping them in the face by (horrendously) copying them.

And what's so wrong about being inspired by Native American culture? Or Japanese culture? Or Masaai culture? I know that for every person who 'gets it' that there are ten others in bad warpaint, but I never had the intent of spawning a legion of 'sexy steampunk Sacagaweas' (who continues to be played by non-Native American actresses in films, if you want a real offense). I was thinking something more like a gentleman in a frock coat decorated with Ojibwe-style motifs, or a girl in a Seminole patchwork dress. Perhaps a gunfighter who prefers to wear Comanche leggings, since they're pretty practical for riding and heavy activity.

I will not however, change my opinion that if done correctly, a person can wear the traditional day-to-day clothing of another culture. If you don't agree with this, feel free to launch into a tirade, stop reading, or go harass some kids at an anime convention badly dressed as geisha in halloween store white makeup.

Tomorrow I'll be posting my first of five CYL articles for this month- and I can do so happily knowing that these words are off of my chest.


  1. There's a Māori phrase in common use here in New Zealand: "kia kaha".

    Literally, it means "be/stand strong". It's an affirmation and encouragement for people to get stuck into whatever it is they're doing, and make a difference in spite of the challenges. It's not the strength of machismo, but rather of having energy, focus and courage to persevere and succeed in what you're doing.

    (As an aside, it's also the name that's been given to the nationwide programme where schools and police are working together to fight bullying, creating environments where people can feel safe, respected and valued.)

    So in the face of criticism, and in support of building cross-cultural respect, knowledge and ultimately understanding, I say simply that: kia kaha!

  2. Morbid-curious said it all, and quite eloquently, and in a manner apropos to this blog.

    So I'll say it thus: Keep on keepin' on, Kagashi.

  3. I'm sorry you got some negative responses. I thought what you were proposing was quite reasonable. Cultures do not exist in a vacuum. People travel and become inspired by what they see. I have friends who studied abroad in Africa and bought fabric there to make western clothing out of because they found it beautiful. Are they racist or ignoring centuries of western subjugation of Africa? No, they are appreciating beauty. As long as you are respectful and do your research, isn't that in fact celebrating other cultures? And shouldn't Native American culture be celebrated? (p.s. I know there's no such thing as "Native American" culture because there are many different tribes and groups with completely different belief systems that are not at all the same, but I needed a blanket statement so work with me here.)

  4. I say fie on the naysayers. So far you have performed admirably in discussing and teaching about varied cultures. I really don't see a whole lot different between using Meiji Japan as an inspiration and using a Native American culture in clothing creation. There are plenty of mis steps to make a long the way and if we can't discuss what those mis steps are then how do we learn?
    For the Native American cultures I can understand the real fear of what they have left being co-opted and taken over by mainstream fashion. But if we aren't told what is and is not acceptable to use in fashion then the really important/sacred things will suffer the most. I realize I am not making much sense, drinking and posting is a dangerous activity.

    So I say, Please continue! You are doing an excellent job in teaching and I appreciate your hard work.

  5. I think I'm going to save this post and link it to people when they are too quick to assume that interest=the basis of appropriation. I understand the root of the feeling and respect it, but the best way to overcome that tendency is by doing exactly what you're doing here.

    Keep on!

    1. I would suggest instead reading the following:

  6. Halito! Jin chib Romani?

    Hello friend! (Choctaw-oklahoma) Want to speak some words? (Tsigini roma)

    As a cross-culture person myself I understand what you are saying here and appreciate that you took the time to say it well.


  7. Good for you! IMHO, nobody owes anyone an explanation or apology. If you make a cultural faux pas, other people are free to mock you for it, but you are still free to make that mistake to begin with. If it's your culture and you claim it, then the others can go jump off a cliff.

    I applaud you for taking on the Herculean efforts of broaching such a fraught subject in this day and age. Educating the masses is a thankless job, and guaranteed to be misinterpreted whenever possible. Keep up the good fight, you have more patience than I do!

  8. thank you for sharing your insights....
    I never got a real chance to learn about my heritage as my great grandmother (who was full cherokee) passed on when i was but 14 at the time and never got another chance to talk with her again. My grandmother never spoke about her very much, and i feel that she was considered an outcast by my great grandmother for marrying my grandfather...the great difficulty I find in todays oh so technologicaly advanced society, is trying to find any records or photographs of my's sad to think that such an important chapter of american history was lost to time. thank you again, for posting your really helps, even if you don't think it does...

  9. You are so luky to know about your ancestry this way. Being from Quebec, I am decended from a mixture of cultures, mostly French, but includin Montagnais - Innu on my Father's Mother's side and I know nothing about it. I wish I could have known more. All I know is my Great-Great Grand Father left the reserve in the late 19th century and when my grand-mother went looking for her root in her mother's native village, she was shunned away.

    Great article by the way. I do have to say that with all the warnings you gave in your previous article, I would be more tempted to stay away from a Native Steampunk outfit out of fear of insulting someone, but these warnings were justified. I love japanese culture and I hate to see people make a parody of Geisha and Kimonos.

  10. Hey Miss K.
    Just been running through the neg. posts - hmph! Can I point out the even in the day non-natives adopted native items when they were useful or beautiful? Saying someone can't adopt a native style necklace or motif of embroidery into their clothing would be like saying to a native person - you *have* to wear a warbonnet/leggings/mocassins because you are a native. How offensive would that be?

  11. In the spirit of this post, how do you feel about people obviously not of native American descent doing native punk. I really love the aesthetic and have a lot of respect for the culture, but my native American blood is so far back that you can't tell it was ever there. Do you flinch when you see someone as glaringly white as me trying native punk?

  12. Anonymous-

    No, as long as the respect and the spirit is there. I've seen nativepunk done by people of Euro, Asian, and African descent in addition to Native Americans (and in many cases, it's some of the non-natives that actually get it right, in my opinion).

    Why do you like the aesthetic? What are your favorite tribal styles or motifs? As long as you do your research, wear it to appropriate venues, and steer away from religious items, you have my blessing.

    Besides, that would be awfully terrible of me to post all of this art and information if I only intended it to be used by people of Native American lineage... that would be discriminatory in its own vein.

  13. Hey, I like your ideas just fine! ^_^ It's just like another said in one of the comments above, "cultures don't exist in a vacuum". It's true - and mixes of cultural themes, so long as they all are honouring each other, is no sin at all. Myself, I'm a complete mutt! ahaha I'm Blackfoot/Mohawk-Cree, also with Mi'Kmaq and Winnebago blood, but I'm also Canadian-French, Chinese, Sicilian, British and Norwegian! Now there's a mouthful, yeah? haha

    To top it all off, I'm currently living in Japan :P lol

    I see no irreverence in your ideas. Some purists out there might feel skittish, but that's them - and they have places in our world too, as they guard against loss and misconception, but so de we have our place as well, as we continue beauty through mix, and guard against losing the rainbow and becoming simply grey.

    Continue your artful ways, say I! ^_~

    Oh, uhm... oooh - I can probably tell you and others might wanna clock me in the head for this one, but... d'ya mind a wee bit of good-natured nitpicking?

    I might be a wee bit off here, but in the above photo, it describes the baby as a plains child. I would more tend to think the little one to be of a woodland tribe (again, I might be wrong... ), as the cradleboard type has the headguard shaped more for dodging bows and branches that may fling back from walking through the woods (the plains type has the two spikes in case it falls from horseback) - also, the beadwork is of a symetrical floral pattern, more indicative of woodland tribes, and the baby's face seems a mite more of the Algonquin stock persuasion.

    Please don't konk me on the head! Much love! lol

    Anyways, be well, and keep bein' who y'are - I'm cheerin' for ya! ^_~

    - Jesse Falls-Down-Laughing ^_^

  14. P.S. - I went to your Facebook page - LIKED! ^_^

  15. You are doing great! I love that you are brave enough to address these challenging issues! I honor your courage.

  16. P.S. I'm starting a new steam punk magazine. Would you want to contribute something to the first issue? I'd love to have your voice in there somewhere!

    Let me know if you are interested. :) Thanks for all you do!

    elena at nobletreellc * com