We thought we were doing a good job being angry about the fact that American Indian culture is being used as a key trend this fall. But no one has done it better than Sarah Houston Brown, who wrote an open letter to Urban Outfitters decrying the many products it sells by appropriating the prints of various tribes, slapping them on flasks and underwear and calling it all “Navajo.”
Brown’s letter, posted on Racialicious, is justifiably angry, but it’s also as well-reasoned and about as thorough as a smackdown can get. She points out that no matter what the justification for using someone’s culture to sell a product, the way Urban Outfitters is doing it is just plain offensive.
All too often industries, sports teams and ignorant individuals legitimize racism under the guise of cultural “appreciation”. There is nothing honorable or historically appreciative in selling items such as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt or the Navajo Hipster Panty. These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures.
But more than mockery, this particular type of cultural appropriation is against the law. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 prohibits businesses from making or selling any product “that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States.” Businesses in violation of the act can be fined up to $1 million.
I doubt that you consulted the Navajo Nation about using their tribal name on sophisticated items such as the “Navajo Hipster Panty”. In fact, I recently became aware that the Navajo Nation Attorney General sent your company a cease and desist letter regarding this very issue. I stand in solidarity with the Navajo Nation and ask that you not only cease and desist selling products falsely using the Navajo name, but that you also stop selling faux Indian apparel that objectifies all tribes.
Amen. Take a look at the whole of Brown’s letter here, and tell us what you think in the comments.