An Open Letter To My Local Hipsters


Today in the neighborhood coffee shop, I spotted a poster made by a local designer for an upcoming music festival. Hence the sigh.

A tomahawk and feathers had somehow made their way onto the poster for a West Coast band consisting of three bearded white guys. As I stood in front of the poster, noting the word ‘primitive’ in the write-up below the piece, I looked over and saw a blond girl with a Pendleton-style bag and a guy wearing a knitted Cowichan sweater… or maybe a look-alike he bought at The Bay. Another sigh.

[ Editor’s note: the poster in question does not appear anywhere in the body of this blog entry (though it was later shared by someone else, in the comments that follow); what images do appear here were taken from other sources as a way to illustrate the author’s general arguments. We’re sorry for any confusion this has caused. ]

Headdress a la hipster

Non-native hipsters, I know that native imagery is trendy right now, that your friends are wearing it and the blogs and magazines you read are telling you to join in the fun. But when you and I look at those dreamcatcher earrings at the mall, I’m pretty sure we see different things. So I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to share my perspective, as a real live native person. Maybe in exchange for wearing my culture on your chest, you could allow me to suggest a slight re-jigging of your fashion trend.

I come from a family of artists, so I appreciate the aesthetic value of our artwork. My family is full of carvers, weavers, dancers, and singers. I’m lucky that way. But it isn’t just luck that allowed these artforms to be practiced today, it is years of political struggle and resistance.

For close to 100 years, in an effort to get rid of “the Indian problem” in Canada, the Indian Act made it illegal for us to practice our traditions. You see, non-native hipsters, your ancestors wanted to obliterate us in order to clear up the land for colonial expansion, and getting rid of our artforms and cultural practices was at the heart of those efforts. It was only the mid-1950s that this was written out of Canadian law, so that my relatives were no longer imprisoned for using our masks, blankets and other regalia in ceremonies.

I know you probably didn’t learn this in school, but it is a part of the local history that accompanies native culture. Each Indigenous culture around the world has its own history of suppression, its own story of resisting attempts to obliterate them so that industrial capitalism could flourish. Hey, you in the sweater — do you know what it took to maintain Cowichan knitting practices in the face of residential schools, intense poverty and assimilative policies?

Separating native people from our culture, and the politics and history from the images, serves to erase us. It makes it easier for native people like me, and the woman who knitted that sweater, to remain marginalized and silent while our imagery becomes a consumer object as part of mainstream culture. This is an old tactic, part of broader political efforts to forget the history of colonialism upon which this country is founded. Sports teams, band names and brand names which use Indigenous words and icons contribute to turning a marginalized people into a commodity.

This separation of imagery from politics doesn’t just happen here at a local level, but internationally as well. My ancestor’s ceremonial masks are in museums in Germany, England and New York. Mini totem poles are being manufactured in China and then sold in tourist shops in Seattle, Honolulu and Toronto. In the 1800s, they used to put real, live native people on display as well, remnants of a supposedly dying race. But now it is only our hard-won cultural icons and practices, like dreamcatchers and sweatlodges, that are of interest.

So a tomahawk is not just a tomahawk. It is a symbol of my silence. It is a history of resistance turned into a symbol of cool, devoid of any meaning or political significance. As the write-up below the poster notes, images like tomahawks are seen as ‘primitive,’ as are the ceremonies, laws and ways of life native people still practice.

It is no coincidence that when I go to indie music festivals, I see a whole lot of Cowichan sweaters and not a lot of Cowichan people. Yet it is with great surprise whenever I see a native artist or native musicians – actual Indigenous people – included in such mainstream cultural events. It is not the norm.

Likely, many of you won’t care about all this: apathy has had a long-term love affair with consumerism. It’s a classic co-dependent relationship. But a few of you might ask why you should care, what’s in it for you?  Well, for starters, I am trying to save you some energy. Maintaining your hipster culture requires a significant amount of effort in order to deny or forget the history I’m talking about. And in fact, it is far from ‘history.’ On the West Coast, we are constantly reminded about the unfinished business of land claims in this province. The current struggle over the Juan de Fuca Trail is a prime example, where elders from local First Nations are speaking out against development.

Consumer culture depends on you divorcing the politics behind native imagery from the history of struggle it has taken for it, and us, to be here. This is an active forgetting, requiring you to spend energy keeping current issues separate and apart from the images you emblazon on your t-shirts, the ‘tribal’ designs you get tattooed on your shoulder or the native names you use for your bands (Geronimo being a good example).

It isn’t necessarily that there is a problem with wearing Indigenous art or symbols – in fact, my family’s success as artists depends on people like yourself buying their jewelry, t-shirts or masks. The challenge is maintaining a connection between the imagery and the practice of our cultural wealth (including artwork, language, ceremonies, and law) and the history and politics that have ensured their survival. So here’s what I suggest.

Why not take another trend and put it to use here – I’m thinking here about the local food craze. ‘Eating local’ involves creating connections on a small scale, lessening the distance between the ground where your food was grown, and your plate. It involves meeting your local farmer at the market, buying a potato they grew themselves and picked that morning, and eating it for dinner that night. Why not take these same principles and put them to work with native imagery and artwork? Rather than buying a Pendleton-style bag mass-produced overseas and sold at Urban Outfitters around the world, why not buy a t-shirt, sweater or earrings from your local Indigenous craftsperson. Meet them, find out where they’re from, and the history behind their particular craft. In the process, you will be educating yourself about local Indigenous history and political struggles, and putting food on the tables of local artisans.

I know this isn’t a complete solution to cultural appropriation, but it’s a start. And with this local approach, you’ll be better informed and can still look cool while doing it.

98 thoughts on “An Open Letter To My Local Hipsters

  1. There were no assumptions. 

    Sorry.  I don’t want to alienate by saying “lining a billionaire oil tycoon’s pockets”.   It’s exactly my point though that your husband didn’t make very much doing this.  Ask yourself: who is making the money here?  Not that it’s about money.  Why would we give our creativity away for almost nothing? Own it and share it! 

  2. im native and i dont care about hipster headdresses and crap like that. that’s all superficial and more or less just an extension of playing cowboys and indians. i think youre being too precious about the images themselves, long past the point where it could be amended.

    what does bother me is hipster dabbling in “shamanism” and so on. nothing is worse than peddling fair-weather occult schlock, conceptually or literally. at least the new age appropriation of native methods of engaging the transcendent seemed to have some genuine reverence and appreciation, none of which seems present in the art and mentality being peddled by the sheltered try-hards desperately looking to shed  their materialist white bread heritage of secular convenience.

  3. Fashion, art and culture draws from influence all around… Should Elvis be chastised for drawing influence from an oppressed black culture, should tartans and plaids be produced only in Scottland and should we turn a cheek to designers who draw inspiration from Asian and African cultures?
    We live and operate in a capitalist society. Commercializing native culture is the market’s right. I personally believe in complete equality, and having grown up poor and making it through the public school system into college and now succeeding in the private sector I can attest to personal will. If native communities around Canada started recognizing that they exist in the same market (with significant access to funding and tax breaks) and utilized the Canadian social system to it’s full right, understood the current market demand and stopped using oppression as a backbone they would be cashing in on this latest trend instead of complaining about it.

  4. Its one reason why we don’t allow photography or video recording of our traditional ceremonies.
    Cultural Exploitation is still the name of the game in America. still popular.
    Look at “the Hopi Prophecy.” the books and culture it has spurned,
    and compare it with the traditional Hopi rejection of these books and these authors.
    Who actually checks with the Hopi to see what they say about things?
    Sohahiyoh (Wyandot)

  5. I wonder whether it would be helpful to look at these questions through the dual lens of a) artists’ rights to depict the world as they each see and experience it, and b) the nature of their responsibilities to those and that which they depict. How to best understand the tension and two-way interaction between the individual artist and the larger cultural/political context in which s/he produces and markets their work? 

  6. Jason Bryan,
    your analogy would work IF the ground was level between the two people groups.
    the problem with your analogy is that euro-americans were NOT hunted to extinction, had their cultures shredded by forced assimilation and their lands stolen out from under them,and their religions demonized and replaced by a middle-eastern Abrahamic based religion of Christianity…as ours often were.
    “Racism” as its been defined, is the superiority attitude of  conquerors  over a “lesser” peoples culture. You can call Native peoples  “unjust” or “unreasonable”  or even “unfair” but you’ll have to totally redefine “racism”  if you want to label those who chafe under conquest, as “racist”.    hope that makes sense?

  7. womyn, sorry – does no good for the cause due to etymological incorrectness – what are the goals is the best initial axiomatic structure through which all forthcoming language usage facilitates such, unless self-sabotage be part of the desired course of action

  8. It is interesting to note the use of Cowichan sweaters as an example of appropriation. As some of you readers may be aware, Coast Salish peoples have a long history of weaving before the development of the Cowichan sweater -a style influenced both by european knitting techniques and Salish aesthetics/ weaving. Art is all about having something worthwhile to say, don’t you think? I like how the innovators of the Cowichan style made something new from two separate traditions.

    While we might think that “good” Art is identified by its ability to say something new, I think that Art often needs to speak the same ideas to us over and over again, because we are not great listeners. Art that “respeaks” is essentially, I think, where concepts and terms such as “authenticity” and “appropriation” develop from. I’d like to hear what others think of the above two statements without expanding further about these ideas specifically. 

    The Cowichan sweater industry has a long history of exploiting artists (check out how much an artist would receive for her work versus how much they were charged for their wool). Big business becomes big on the backs of those with the courage and wisdom to be innovate and create.

    I like Sarah’s idea – when it comes to supporting Art, we must support those who allow themselves to be  utilized to bring it into being (Artists)! Ask yourself this one question before you spend your next dollar: If I truly value my time, by making this purchase am I putting my money (time) towards something/someone that I think is worthy of such an investment?

    Great discussion! Haa’mii’yaa!

  9. Like many have already said, I really
    like the dialogue which this blog post has inspired.  I loved the suggestions regarding more responsible
    and informed consumer-culture, and I really loved that it strongly and articulately
    made the case for becoming more educated about and sensitive to the effects of
    colonialism which are still pervasive today.  My only wish is that the article could have
    been written in a less condemning, shaming, and self-righteous tone.   

    I really believe people from all
    backgrounds and places on the political spectrum need to be able to learn, grow,
    and become informed without fear of being chastised for possibly making a
    misstep (cultural or otherwise)—call it tolerance. Not everyone comes from a
    heritage or personal history which is as conducive to social and political
    awareness, and these people more than any need a safe/supportive entry-point to
    becoming informed or they will simply feel judged, get defensive, turn off, and
    return to their state of ignorance firmly entrenched.  This is not to say that out of desire for a
    more supportive and forgiving society we should turn a blind eye to actions and
    ignorance which may detrimental to the happiness and welfare of others, but I
    do believe that the tone of this article is precisely why so many people who
    are not informed choose to remain so.

    I know it must be hurtful and frustrating
    for someone so well educated and linked to this issue to frequently see others
    blindly appropriating and unintentionally disrespecting the culture and very
    real struggle of indigenous peoples, but aside from creating a podium for
    oneself to receive a bunch of congratulations from those who are already
    onside,  I don’t think articles like this
    do much more than draw a line in the sand between us and them—further creating
    mistrust, misunderstanding, and a perpetuation of the very ignorance it strives
    to undo.

    Intelligently and respectfully
    engaging with others in dialogue on culture and social responsibility—absolutely.

    Righteously condemning (subtly or
    otherwise) what you believe to be the ignorance and cultural shortcomings of
    others (in this case naive hipster culture) – well that’s an awful lot like the
    mindset of the colonial powers who got us in this mess to begin with.

  10. Dear Sarah Hunt,

    I’m an undergrad in anthropology. As an aspiring anthropologist one of the first and most crucial things is learning “Cultural Relevance” this means taking an emic approach and trying to understand a culture from the inside rather than the outside looking in. I do disapprove of a tomahawk being considered primitive. Most people would be shocked to know that natives flintknapping cryptocrystline rocks are often when first flintknapped sharper than any steel blade we can make today. For example Obsidian was used in eye surgery prior to the laser.

    I don’t think people are trying to deny or forget the past. I often feel this is an excuse used by people who feel they are or may actually be being oppressed. In your case, I feel you’re using “hipsters” as a scapegoat to start a complaint about native artwork being purchased by people for fashion. Or you could be using this as a money making scheme. Nothing more than propaganda. Trying to get people to buy “Authentic” native works. People who are truly interested in cultures do not need to read about the complaints of hipsters. I do support native tribes, one in particular. The Catawba, which has the oldest standing pottery tradition in the east. While most of the Catawba are amazing craftsman, they also try to play on your heart strings. Encouraging you to buy their wares over anyone else. This is called competition. Ultimately, I feel your article has had the wrong effect. I’m not a very ethnocentric person but when I read this, I’m inclined to defend American Culture. Yes, this land was colonized. Colonization has been taking place for much longer than recorded history. Natural Selection and survival of the fittest are two concepts I believe you should look over before you post crude bashing’s of culture, something you seem to value. 

    I guess my biggest problem is your hypocritical in verbally bashing hipster culture while defending your own. I guess in this case you’re being very ethnocentric also.Thank you for your post, I did enjoy your views. 

  11. Great article. I’ve long been leery of the Native-style clothing and accessories I’ve seen at places like Urban Outfitters. I think your at-least-partial solution of buying from Indigenous craftspeople is great. Thanks for writing. 

  12. thomas, I am horrified to read your suggestion that “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” are appropriate concepts here. These concepts are not even relevant when what we’re talking about is attempted cultural genocide. These concepts are deeply racist and deny the attempted destruction of Indigenous peoples’ cultures through genocidal policies and practices and instead suggest what, that the colonizers are somehow superior and that this is how things “naturally” should have turned out??? No, I don’t agree with that at all and feel that it is concepts like these that continue and promote very colonial and oppressive mindsets and actions. 

    I appreciated sohahiyoh’s comment earlier, about racism where they referred to it as (I’m paraphrasing here) a power dynamic of a group with more structural power assuming superiority over another group with less structural power. Similarly, I feel that an article highlighting the appropriation of Indigenous cultures’ art, imagery, and ideas by ‘hipster culture’ is not “hypocritical” but is instead a much-needed commentary on the current forms that colonialism is manifest in. 

  13. Shawn, I’m glad YOU think it is all about equality.  Obviously weren’t reading the same article I was.  There was nothing in the article about equality, and everything about genocide, enslavement, rape, and cultural misappropriation. 

    See, the problem with a comment like Jason’s, which James tried to explain, was rather than actually reading and attempting to understand Sarah and Nyla’s perspective he made up a hypothetical that essentially invalidated what the article was about.

    Yes, I’m sure if in the US we regularly had non-white models appropriating traditional German clothing there might be some argument for racial insensitivity.  And if non-white people had invaded Europe and killed, systematically raped, and enslaved the entirety of the population that would be racist and bad also.  However, white people actually did (and do, in terms of the whole cultural appropriation) those things.

    “see how racist this would be?”  Do you see how racist what you’re doing, and what Sarah is talking about, is?  Actually, currently, happening every day anytime a person of color brings up racism around an unconvinced white person?

    Don’t be so defensive.  Sarah’s position is real.  The trend is, if not racist, terribly insensitive.  You can either ignore her points, or accept that she has some truth.  Then you get to act.

  14. Thomas I too am an anthropologist, and a native person. You’re use of “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” continues to invoke 19th century notions of social Darwinism (rather than their true use within Darwinian evolutionary theory) that played crucial roles in justifying the killing, and forced assimilation of Native people in this country, all in the name of “science.” You’re perspective epitomizes the problems that continue to exist between Natives and anthropologists/ archaeologists. And if you were truly respectful of the Catawba, or any native community for that matter, you would know not to speak of colonization, genocide, and the continual oppression of Native people in these terms. As a Ph.D student in Anthropology, working with my own Indigenous community, let me offer you some advice, learn a little more about the history of the disciple, read more anthropological literature (preferably from this century), decolonize your mind, you have a lot to learn.

  15. The history of settler-native contact in Canada, and throughout the Americas, is a history not of passive evolution but of active genocide. Genocide is the active process of destroying by force, a group defined by a collective identity. It attacks the various aspects of social life that are necessary to sustain the shared life of a community: political self-determination; economic livelihood; art,music, dance, and literature; language; religion; family; and also the physical well-being and even the actual lives of the members of the community.

    In Canada this genocide has taken three main forms: (1) forced migration and concentration of Indigenous peoples on reserves where living conditions are maintained at levels inimical to human well-being; (2) removal of children from Indigenous communities by the Indian Residential School system and by child ‘welfare’ services; and (3) various efforts, including a range of legal prohibitions that lasted up to the 1950s, that forbade Indigenous people from using their native languages, practicing their own forms of spirituality, and engaging openly in their traditional forms of artistic production.

    When hipsters ironically appropriate images in general, they are working to sever the links that those images with their past uses. That is the point of irony – to reference the past while showing that one is not beholden to it. If I buy an old gas station attendant’s shirt in the local vintage shop, I’m referencing a past in which an actual person wore this shirt as part of their crappy demeaning job. But I’m also showing that this past has no power over me, and in fact I have power over it, since I can wear this shirt freely as a kind of play instead of being required to wear it for my livelihood.

    So when this ironic relation to the past is applied to Indigenous regalia or imagery, it maps on to the history of genocide and colonial exploitation. The hipster in Indigenous gear is referencing but also devaluing the colonial past, saying “it’s no big deal”, in order to make themselves cool.

  16. On Considering the History of Indigenous People.  When you think of Columbus do you think of the man
    who “discovered” the “Americas” or do you think of the man who was a
    massive player in the genocide
    of millions of Indigenous peoples. When you think of Europeans coming
    to “Canada” what words come to mind? Genocide, residential school,
    disease, assimilation, seperation, reservation, clash of worldview,
    theft, resistance, and yes cultural appropriation- or
    do you think of words like- settlement, savages, uneducated… It took a
    lot of work to make the history books, all schools, mass media -to get the
    world to believe what they believe. Even today it depends on which
    educator you get as to which history
    you will learn… If an Aboriginal woman tells you that she is offended
    by a poster design which culturally modifies her,
    and she’s angry about it- consider our history and tell me- how the hell can this be surprising?! We
    are tired of being used…and we are mad as hell. I don’t want to speak
    for Sarah, but that is how I felt when I read her article. It might not
    be the individual who is being oppressive by wearing the items- it’s
    bigger than them really. 16 minutes ago · Like

  17. Matt, as a fellow artist and an indigenous person, I am interested in discussing your piece and your motivations behind it, (as your friend pointed out it seemed no one was doing). What is the story behind the piece? What does it mean to you? And what inspired you to use a tomahawk and feathers in it?

  18. PS- I had never heard of you or seen your work before this… so there is that. It’s not easy to get work out there in front of eyeballs in a media saturated modern market, and even harder to get discussion going around it. If it pisses people off, well that’s about the best you could hope for as a marketing tactic. I’d say all in all, neither Sarah has done you much harm here.

  19. PS- I had never heard of you or seen your work before this… so there is that. It’s not easy to get work out there in front of eyeballs in a media saturated modern market, and even harder to get discussion going around it. If it pisses people off, well that’s about the best you could hope for as a marketing tactic. I’d say all in all, neither Sarah has done you much harm here.

  20. PS- I had never heard of you or seen your work before this… so there is that. It’s not easy to get work out there in front of eyeballs in a media saturated modern market, and even harder to get discussion going around it. If it pisses people off, well that’s about the best you could hope for as a marketing tactic. I’d say all in all, neither Sarah has done you much harm here.

  21. Hey don’t blame Germans for everything,after all it was those offal eating anglo’s  that did most of the colonizing…indeed German’s’ love to come over here and play “Indian” .In fact they pay big bucks for the privilege  😉
    And as someone who actually wore lederhose as a child I recommend them, they are very durable ,never need washing and they can be passed down for generations,your kids might hate them but your the parent & you pay the bills so all’s good

  22. PS- I had never heard of you or seen your work before this… so there is that. It’s not easy to get work out there in front of eyeballs in a media saturated modern market, and even harder to get discussion going around it. If it pisses people off, well that’s about the best you could hope for as a marketing tactic. I’d say all in all, neither Sarah has done you much harm here.

  23. Wow! Matt, I don’t really understand your role in the discussion. I mean, I know you are the artist of the poster that was referred to as one of the offending articles in Sarah’s blog post…but after stating “as interesting as this whole thing has been Sarah, and it has been interesting…”  you proceeded to focus on one flaw in a truth that Sarah was saying: that she claimed she did not post your actual name though you thought that she did, even though it turns out she didn’t. then you are ‘out’ of the conversation. Way to go! You almost found a way to invalidate something Sarah said, except that what you were saying was unarguably wrong. Conversation over?
    As a white artist myself, I feel exasperated and embittered seeing the white hipster art and fashion scenes using native imagery in such clearly ignorant ways. I want artists and designers to be aware of the power they hold in their hands. I want those artists to be able to stand behind their art and feel good about it. But so often in dialogs like this, I see artists not only avoid responsibility by seeking the one flaw they can find in the story of the individual making the accusations of colonialist usage and cultural appropriation, but the artists themselves usually can’t locate their own image in its historical context. Did you the research? If you had, even you may not have felt comfortable using it. Really figure out what the image you are using means, where it came from, and how its meaning changes when it enters your hands. And if it doesn’t feel like yours to use, don’t use it.
    So often the images are used because they are trendy, nothing more. Why the easy, trendiness of using a style or image would override the compassion that could exist towards those most directly affected by the harm being done by that image is beyond me.
    As an artist, I find it preferable to have total creative control over my work. That doesn’t equal= I get to use whatever imagery I want and fuck the PC police, etc. If you go into it expecting that people are going to be offended, then please accept that people are offended. If you have no idea why people would be offended, and they are, then maybe you should be paying more attention to what you are creating and the feedback you receive.

  24. His point is visible to anyone with sensitivity, a comprehensive knowledge of American history, and the racial, ethnic, and cultural implications of the scope and breadth of its European-on-non-white violence. It’s not about equality. In terms of ethnicity, Germans don’t have that scale of human tragedy to relate to. Jews, yes. Not Germans.

  25. If you are a lucky Seattle Hipster, you have a great opportunity:  Chief Seattle Club is having a sale on the first thursday of December. They are at 2nd and Washington in Pioneer Square.  Hipsters are welcome and strongly encouraged to purchase locally made arts and craft works from local indiginous craftspeople and artists. Meet the person who made the lovely thing you desire. It makes the entire exchange so much more meaningful, your gift even more unique and precious.

  26. She criticizes a guy for wearing a Cowichan
    sweater without knowing whether or not he bought it off a “real live native
    person” or from the Bay department store, then she has the audacity to assume
    that this guys “ancestors wanted to obliterate” Native-Americans. Just because
    a person is White does not mean his/her ancestors sought to destroy the
    Indigenous people or owned African slaves. Furthermore, Cowichan sweaters are
    an acculturated art form. They are as much European as they are Native.
    European settlers introduced sheep to the island in the 1850s, and taught the
    Indigenous people how to knit. They then combined these European textile techniques and Salish spinning and weaving methods to produce what is
    now known as Cowichan knitting. There is no archeological or anthropological
    evidence that suggests knitting was done before European settlers. So maybe the bearded white guy wearing a Cowichan sweater had
    an ancestor who was a member of the Sisters of St. Ann missionaries that came from Victoria to the Cowichan
    Valley in 1864 to start a school for the Indians who then
    taught the Cowichan women to knit such items. Just saying.

  27. Written while flying back from South Dakota to Seattle. Yes, I’m a “foreigner”…

    The Dream Catcher


    I can feel the sorrow of the land

    Coming up

    Through the clouds

    Towards me

    Brave and pure people

    As the wolves and water

    Once were


    Arms open

    Towards the river

    Great, big river

    Washing all the blood

    Forgotten battles,

    The beast in us



    This is a cursed land

    Lost in time

    Lost forever

    With the big lesson

    We never learned


    When we’ll be gone

    In wind and dust

    We, of no importance

    There will be nobody

    To forget

    As if cruelty

    Never existed


    And maybe

    From this same earth

    A new tribe will sprout

    Roam the earth

    Brave and pure


    To the day I die

    I’ll be dreaming

    To be one of them

    To be allowed

    To live a life

    Worth remembering


  28. Very nice! You verbalized the strange feelings I have struggled with every time I see a 20 something in a headband (my generation), wearing feathers, or the like, toting a native inspired blanket to a folk concert or hula hoop workshop. Cute but unsettling, and you have seemed to unveiled the undercurrent to what I was feeling, thank you! I whole heatedly agree there should be a sincere effort for people to understand the gap between the history and the trend.

  29. I participated in Vancouver’s Women’s Memorial March for the missing and murdered women, predominantly First Nations, of the DTES and Highway of Tears on Tuesday. While I was there I noticed a lot of other white-presenting youth in Cowichan sweaters. I realize you can’t assume someone’s cultural background by what they look like, for sure! But I have a Cowichan sweater I bought in a thrift store – though I wasn’t wearing it – and I know other non-First Nations youth who wear them. I would never think of participating in and abhor the meme of appropriating headdresses, but I hadn’t thought of the sweaters that way before, since I grew up in the north of BC where they are common, and it really made me wonder if it was appropriate, especially at that march, so I went looking for some views on it. I really appreciate and applaud your voice. I also especially agree about supporting local craftspeople and learning from those who are creating, rather than buying cheap knockoffs from companies mass-producing them in China. Where this issue intersects with the issue of mass production, globalization, and the cheapening of culture is vital, and I’m a vocal supporter of buying locally made goods in any scenario.

    Again, thank you.

  30. …The blankets that the English contaminated with smallpox to use as biological warfare on the natives are the same blankets that are being sold in HBC stores.

  31. At what point is it inappropriate for one to wear, let’s say, a Cowichan sweater? Is it still inappropriate if the person is black? What if they’re 1/20th First Nations? What if they don’t know their ancestry at all?

    If you had a mixed child, what would you tell them? “You can only wear your Cowichan sweater half of the time because you are only half native, and you can’t wear it when you’re out with only your non-First Nations parent, because otherwise people will judge us and think we’re hipsters!” No.
    Art should be able to be appreciated by anyone, regardless of race or what “their” ancestors may have done. We have to judge the individual, not the race, if we ever want to truly heal.

  32. i respect your opinion on this matter and the fact that you took the time to read this. i’m sad that our culture has to buy into these fashion trends for a while.. then just toss them to the side when they actually really mean something. like you said, these pieces of art and artifacts have hundreds upon hundreds of years of meaning.. and they are simplified and used for consumerism. although i do admit own some shirts such as the ones mentioned in this article – i have been awed by native american artwork since i was a kid. i always liked/had totem poles, warrior dolls and artwork because i simply liked it.

  33. For the record, Non-white people HAVE “invaded Europe and killed, systematically raped, and enslaved the entirety of the population” at various points in time. For example, the Ottoman Empire (what is now Turkey) extended as far as modern day Austria and Poland, and lasted for approximately 600 years (ending with the formal abolition of the Turkish monarchy in 1922.)

    However, I agree with every other point you’ve made, and the sentiment behind them.

  34. I wear cowichan sweaters as have 4 generations of my family. I have pictures of my great grandfather proudly rocking a fine cowichan knit pullover standing in front of his model T Ford from the 1930s.
    I find hipsters of all races to be irritating upper class twits but don’t blame them for appreciating finely crafted knitwear. If someone has a problem with me wearing a knit sweater because of my genetics they are welcome to come and confront me about it. They are also welcome to F**k off. Support local indigenous craftsmanship all you can. I am poor so I get mine second hand. Got an issue? Grab a tissue.

  35. I have a genuine cowichan sweater I found second hand that was made in my city- Vancouver, in the 60s. It is beautifully crafted with perfectly placed thunderbirds. I love wearing it but my fear is I’m appropriating simply because I’m not indigenous or cowichan. What are your thoughts? Can I wear this beautiful hand made sweater and not feel judged?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.