Cultural appropriation of Native American culture

By: Liv Miller

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Cultural appropriation is defined by as “When members of a majority group adopt cultural elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical way.” Cultural appropriation is a growing topic in this country that when it occurs, or is discussed, often creates controversy.

The cultural appropriation of Native American or indigenous culture happens more often than you think, and it occurs, more times than not, without it even being recognized as wrong. Things such as Halloween costumes, sports team names/mascots, logos, and festival wear, may seem innocent and harmless but are actually dehumanizing and create a false interpretation of Native Americans.

Dina Gilio-Whitaker is an independent writer and researcher in Indigenous studies. She argues on that “The dehumanization of these peoples is ingrained in American culture. The majority of Americans are so desensitized to certain images” and acts of cultural appropriation that the problem still continues to exist.

Despite the long history and record of human rights violations against Native Americans, the American public still remains fascinated with its own image of the “Indian”. American companies, time and time again, have profited off of putting highly stereotypical images of an “Indians” on their products. Anywhere from toys and jewelry, to tobacco products, and common groceries like butter, baking soda, and cleaning supplies. The Indians shown on these labels are created by people who have little to no understanding of Native American communities and culture. This lack of education and understanding leads to inaccurate and stereotypical images on products that have absolutely nothing to do with the people supposedly being portrayed on the labels.

Cultural appropriation is known to often happen in sports as well. There was much controversy surrounding the names of sports teams like the Washington “Redskins” and the Cleveland “Indians”. Fans for the Washington Redskins used to dress up in Native American attire and wear body and face paint, painting themselves red. The team has since changed their name and is no longer allowing fans to enter the stadium dressed in this attire and makeup.

Many of these issues stem from the lack of knowledge on Native American culture. There are so many ways that we can honor and appreciate this culture rather than appropriate it. But to do so we must find ways to respect them and listen to the voices of indigenous people rather than create harmful stereotypes and advertise incorrect perpetuations on Native American culture, customs, and history.

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