Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hippies and American Indian Studies

Today I want to talk about Haight Ashbury hippies.
I watched the majority of a documentary in my American Indian Studies class today (we're finishing it next week) called Reel Injuns. It went into the portrayal of Native American people in film, media... It was all about how they alternate between being portrayed as "the noble savage" and "the bloodthirsty killer".
We also learned that Iron Eyes Cody (a.k.a.: Indian guy crying at litter on sidewalk) was actually Sicilian. He just really liked Native American cultures and was bullied as a child for being a Sicilian immigrant. So he decided to be an Indian. Fun fact.
Anyhoo, there was this part talking about the hippie counter-culture of the 1960's. The Summer of Love...
And that got me thinking:
Aren't hippies fascinating?
To understand, you really have to think about everything that led up to the Summer of Love. I mean the 50's were massively paranoid, parents and grandparents were rigid. Kids in the 60's were sick of the wars and the communist scare and the Victorian mentality of previous generations. You know the amazing thing about culture? It evolves at a remarkable rate. Each generation is different. So when the previous generations try to impose their values on a changing culture... well, it just doesn't work. Especially in a time of civil rights and young people totally burnt out on war.
So they just wanted to feel free.
Completely free.
And I guess to people who grew up on western movies and "noble savage" novels- and were in the throes of a momentous civil rights movement- the generic Hollywood Native American "culture" (I say "culture" in the singular because according to images pushed by Hollywood there is only one) embodied that free-spirited attitude.
So what was the hippie era?A bunch of identity-confused white kids trying to be Indians.
And I find that ironic.
And now here we are, 45 years after that summer, watching hipsters walk around in beaded headbands and ironic t-shirts... and you know what? That's okay. They're confused. They want to be a part of something. We don't have to believe that their great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess, but... it's okydokey. I mean, they're following ridiculous stereotypes of a lot of cultures:)These girls, for example, are quite talented. They're generalizing no less than 5 cultures at once in this picture. Let's play "Name That Culture!", shall we?
1. 80's Skirt Girl, on the left, is playing a ukulele. Ding, ding! Hawaiian!
2. We've got a sad, generic representation of a Plains teepee behind them. Of course they would most likely refer to it as an "Indian teepee" because, of course, all Indians used them. I wonder when hipsters will get around to wigwams and longhouses...
3. Logger Shirt, on the right, is drinking tea like a proper British lady.
4. The blanket 80's Skirt is sitting on is a classic Missoni print from Italy. Though I suppose it's okay for them to have that:)
5. The girl in the middle has a tambourine. Just to be thorough, that is thought to be of Arab origin, originally. Need I say "originally" after I've said "origin"?
6. And finally, the headbands. I know that they want these to be of Native origins, but they REALLY aren't. They don't resemble any traditional regalia or garb I've seen. I honestly would just call it a fashion statement and have no problem if they didn't think it was "tribal" or "Indian-inspired". Why can't we wear feathers in our hair as an accessory without thinking that it's somehow inspired by Indigenous Americans?
By the way, this is a wetu (or wigwam in Algonquin), the traditional Wampanoag dwelling. My ancestors on my mom's side slept in these in harsh weather.
My Blackfoot ancestors did live in teepees. But more like this:And less like this:Some of my Irish ancestors lived in these:One more fun fact: the word "okay" is of American Indian origins. So is "punk".
Not entirely sure which linguistic group or tribe, but I do know that "hi" is "oki" in Blackfoot, so...


  1. Oki Niskani, Sukapi, Love, "Steve the Hippy"

  2. Haha, thank you for leaving a comment in Blackfeet and calling your self a hippie all at once! I appreciate that so much!

  3. Hi Belle - perhaps designers, and trend makers have responsibility in what is highlighted as the current. I'm very interested in your analysis of the photograph of the three young women. If you mean to say that only indigenous Hawaiian should play ukelele, then logic suggests that stands for every other instrument. Should slide guitar only be played in the Mississippi Delta bi African Americans?

    Culture and identity are both fluid/evolving processes rather than things in stasis with boxes around them. I agree absolutely with you that the commodification, in other wordstheft for profit, of indigenous artifacts, imagery, deeply, profoundly wrong. I also think that the colonisation of research is hugely problematic and indigenous and third world feminists have written a lot on this.

    I have seen the movie you are referring to a long time ago. Similar issues have occurred in NZ. A European company made an advertisement for, I think beer, with a woman face wearing ta moko (traditional Maori (indigenous) facial tattoo). It's theft and the ultimate disrespect.
    I hope you are still blogging / and sorry for the epic comment