Panel takes on cultural appropriation

By Tyler Jensen

MSUM’s American Indian Student Association and Dragon Entertainment Group are aiming to change minds when it comes to cultural appropriation. 

The organizations are hosting a panel discussion, Not Your Pocahottie, in the CMU Underground Thursday 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

“The panel is more about (cultural appropriation) in general — everything from Halloween costumes to mascots, and every other generalization people have of Native Americans,” junior Brianna Bradley said.

Bradley is an organizer of the panel, a member of DEG and president of AISA. She grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation and is enrolled in the Three Affiliated Tribes, which consists of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, who joined together after the devastating smallpox outbreaks of the 18th and 19th centuries. All of the panelists are members of AISA and have ties to federally recognized tribes.

Bradley said she came up with the idea to promote discussion of cultural appropriation during American Indian Heritage Month. The groups are connecting the event to Halloween to apply discussion of appropriation to the holiday’s costumes and beyond.

“I’ve seen other people dress up in the costumes for Halloween,” Bradley said. “I haven’t had anybody be offensive to my face, but I see a lot of it on social media. It makes me feel annoyed. It’s really hard to make mainstream changes on this issue.”

Bradley said the panel’s name is a retort to the “sexy” Native American costumes that can be found in almost any Halloween store.

“(The costumes are) the Hollywood take on it,” Bradley said. “It’s not anything like how we actually dressed, which is to be expected. It’s a Halloween costume, but still, to over sexualize us — it’s just rude.”

Senior Nemo Siqueiros, who is descended from indigenous tribes in what is now Mexico, and who will be on the panel, compares dressing in Native American costume to wearing blackface.

“It’s deeper than them just wearing a costume,” Siqueiros said. “If they are not a part of that culture, they should never wear those clothes or try to imitate how they look. It’s racist, and it perpetuates stereotypes of those cultures that are harmful to them.”

He added that in the case of Native Americans, there is often a deeper meaning to the costumes and practices imitated. 

“My ancestors had specific meanings behind those chants and for those feathers,” Siqueiros said.

He detailed the quetzal feathers which in Siqueiros’ culture, men earned by capturing an enemy in battle and sacrificing them.

“It was brutal back then, but it was something that was super important to us,” Siqueiros said. “(The costumes) make a mockery of how we represent ourselves and what we’ve done to earn our place in our own society.”

Bradley and Siqueiros hope people will take time to learn about cultures and traditions before choosing to appropriate someone else’s culture. In that effort, AISA is hosting a number of programs this month, from documentary screenings to sweat lodge ceremonies. More information can be found in their Facebook group, MSUM AISA.

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