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Miss Universe Pageant

September 12, 2011

My Thoughts

I was first tipped off to the fact that the Miss Universe pageant was happening when I was going through my google reader and found this brilliant article in the Native Appropriations blog. I’ve been following this blog for a little bit, and I quite enjoy how the author writes about the very serious subject of cultural appropriation, often with a humorous touch.

Apparently, the Canadian contestant for the Miss Universe pageant dressed up with a “native style” headdress for the national dress portion of the contest. I can’t honestly guess what the people were thinking when they decided it would be okay. Not only is the woman not native, the costume isn’t authentic. She claims it’s Haida, but apparently it’s not.

The dress is reminiscent of a northwest indigenous theme, but the headdress is taken loosely from the Plains styles. It’s another example of mainstream society’s habit of lumping all indigenous cultures into one big awkward stereotype. If they actually had any interest in making an “homage” to anyone, they’d have done the some research. Instead, they’ve successfully reinforced popular stereotypes.

It's vaguely Haida-ish

This is more traditional artwork. Note the similar styles


Combining Cultures

Just last night I was working, and these people came in, and I inquired as to how their day had been going. The woman with the group responded that she’d just gotten back from Sedona, AZ, from her daughter’s wedding. I idly asked if it had been a new-age ceremony (I feel that depending on the context, new age religions can be both interesting and respectful), and while she said no, she did mention that they’d had some native tradition in the wedding. Having lived in northern Arizona for a few years, I’m familiar with some of the tribes in the general area, and I was interested as to which group they had included. She explained that it wasn’t “any one group” but that it was general “indian heritage”.

I get frustrated when this happens. Similar to the issues with the pageant, I feel it’s disrespectful, and a sign of ignorance and laziness when someone lumps so many groups into one homogeneous glob. At least make the effort to try to understand the people you’re claiming to honor. Who knows, maybe if people actually did understand the meaning behind the ceremonies they want to have done for them, they would feel less inclined to do so. Almost as if it were ruining their romanticized view of cultures that are very real, and very much alive today.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Orion permalink
    September 13, 2011 1:59 am

    Well, the rest of their wedding was probably a generic ‘White christian’ (sic) affair, disconnected from most or all of a real traceable heritage they might claim. Is there a difference? Maybe it’s still appropriation when you’re of, e.g., a Norman French genetic background and use Euro-culture accoutrements without bothering to know what they mean.

    • September 13, 2011 9:10 am

      I’m not too familiar with that, but I suspect the difference has to do with power dynamics. It’s one thing to borrow from a group that’s basically equal in social power, and another to co-opt cultural traits of a group that has a history of being oppressed. That’s not to say that mimicking a cultural practice without making the attempt to understand it isn’t offensive.

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