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Put Down the Peace Pipe and Step Out of the Costumes

Carolina Castoreno
5/24/14

With identity misappropriation being a regular occurrence these days, my duties as a Native activist have kept me fairly busy. From being depicted as mascots, to Anglos wearing red face and war bonnets, and of course my favorite “I’m a Cherokee” claims, I’ve cracked down pretty hard on White America for their lack of respect for my culture. So it is only fair that I call out every instance of misappropriation, no matter who commits the act.

A couple of days ago I became aware of an up and coming rapper known as Emerson Windy. Now I may be late to show, but many who know me know this. I am an avid fan of Hip Hop. I love conscious rap, neo-soul, and street poetry. But I loathe what has happened to the rap game in recent years thanks to the likes of Lil Wayne and the Young Money crew, as well as 2 Chainz and their other consorts. They have co-opted a beloved form of art and desecrated it. And it comes as no surprise that the aforementioned “artists” (and I use the term loosely) have collaborated with this Emerson Windy fellow, another “artist” who will now be known for his desecration of Native culture.

“Peace Pipe” is the video that Emerson Windy released this week. In this video he is dressed in “indigenous attire” and raps about passing a peace pipe. Let’s start with the fact that Emerson mixes the regalia of a headman, medicine man, and a brave all together. Really Emerson, you wanted to be all three? Talk about an identity crisis. This is the problem with wanting to play dress up; people can’t even get that part right. If you wanted to portray a football player, would you also carry a baseball bat or a hockey stick? Why in 2014 is it still trendy to put on “Indian” costumes? But then again, just go to any typical Midwestern Pow Wow, and all you will see are non-Natives in costumes. That’s another issue we need to address in Indian Country, but I digress.

So you want play Indian? You want “smoke ‘em good peace pipe?” Please, pile on the stereotypes. A peace pipe is not a recreational tool to give you a good buzz. The pipe is a gift from our Mother Earth to be used ceremoniously only. It is not a plaything. When you portray it as just another vehicle for getting high, you perpetuate the negative imagery that society paints on Natives, that we are all drunks and like to “smoke peyote.” News flash, we don’t smoke it. What you are doing is equivalent to someone using a rosary or prayer beads in a sacrilegious manner. It demeans our spiritual beliefs.

I read Mr. Windy’s bio on his official site. He appears to enjoy philanthropy and spreading awareness about causes such as homelessness. Those are very commendable acts. The bio also states that Emerson likes to “push the limits.” Well, he has indeed pushed the limits with the Native community. Not even Native rappers would dare insult our elders or ancestors by playing dress up in a music video. Take for example Frank Waln, who gifted the anthem “Oil for Blood” to the Anti-Keystone XL Movement. While many of his videos depict the poverty stricken reservation life, never does he pose as a holy man or pervert his own culture to turn a dollar.

Has our society learned nothing from the countless incidents of “black Face” or even “Yellow Face” in cartoons and movies? There was internet outrage over the group of white students who threw an MLK party by dressing up as “thugs with watermelons.” Did Mr. Windy condone their behavior? In a society where people of color continue to be pushed to the margins and still face racism from majority groups, it is unacceptable to have to face discrimination from one another. We should be in unity against the wider scope of oppression and identity misappropriation. The battle cannot be won with a “you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. I strongly urge the Native community, Hip Hop enthusiasts, and the general public to put the pressure on Emerson Windy to remove his video and issue an apology. We cannot move forward when we still condone playing dress-up as children do. It’s time for America to grow up.

Carolina Castoreno is an enrolled member of Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, also Mescalero Apache and Yaqui. She is the president of the Native American Student Alliance at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, as well as the Indiana contact and outreach board member to Indigenous Latinos for AIM-IN/KY. She is a writer, activist, student and mother who is dedicated to social justice, Native identity, and education for and of American Indians.

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Sammy2's picture
I respectfully disagree with some of Carolina Castorino,s words, “With identity misappropriation being a regular occurrence, and my favorite ‘I’m a Cherokee claims.’ “ Few people know the history of the Cherokee’s, the divisions, factions, three hundred fifty years of wars with the Europeans, and the adoptions and admixture that occurred among Cherokees during these long long years. Widely scattered and beaten with the exception of Dragging Canoe’s Traditional People, the main body of Cherokee’s under the leadership of John Ross via treaties began the process of assimilation. At the time of the Trail of Tears, most Cherokee’s in the National Party had already adopted Christianity. Upon reaching Indian Territory in Oklahoma, violence broke out among the various Cherokee Parties. Among other reasons, including an attempt to avoid the violence Cherokee’s splintered, some moving to Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, and Kentucky. Most of these Cherokee’s were not present to sign the Dawes Rolls. Those who cannot trace their lineage to someone who signed the Dawes Rolls cannot be citizens of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The UKB and the Eastern Band Tribes have blood and age restrictions preventing Cherokee People from joining their tribes. Were part-blood people any less Cherokee? No! They had blood and culture and continued to live the Cherokee lifeways, often in secret, over many decades. These people are Cherokee’s despite not having signed the genocidal policy of the Dawes Rolls. Sure there were many who drifted away from their culture, just as there were many who retained it. There are towns and other places heavily populated with Cherokee’s today, sometimes disrespectfully described as “outlanders” or wannabees. These people retained their culture and are no less Cherokee than those who are citizens of the Cherokee Tribes. You must also remember that the Tribes are considered “Domestic Dependent Nations”. Those of us who retained our Traditional Culture believe as Steven Newcomb writes,” As originally free and independent sovereigns pre-existing the Constitution, Indian Nations have the inherent right to exist free and un-constrained by the non-constitutional assertion of plenary power made by the United States on the basis of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Dominion”. Even though we live among the yonega, we gather and live according to the above stated belief and as such are not dependent or constrained. Although the Cherokee Nations speak about gathering once more under “one fire”, they do not make that possible because of their adherence to the genocidal requirement of high blood quantum and having an ancestor on the Dawes Rolls. Therefore, given Cherokee history, a great great many people are Cherokee but not a part of the Three recognized Cherokee Tribes. For Cherokee’s the Dawes Roll is not just a genocidal policy but also exclusionary. It is a political roll designed to keep out Cherokee People of blood and culture simply because of past historical differences. Additionally there are many Cherokee people of blood who have chosen to once again return to their ancestral culture. This is not easy for someone who has been raised mostly in the yonega culture. It is a process and takes a long time. Some cannot make the transition, and some do. During these times of relearning many make mistakes. We correct them over time. These Cherokee’s do not deserve the wrath of those who are Tribal Domestic Dependents. What took five hundred years to destroy will not heal in fifty years. It will take time. We are still practicing the old ways that were written down at the time of Soquili (Horse) and passed on to us. We are Traditional People. Although there are those who do practice pan-indianism or new age indianism, most do not. Those who abuse to the extreme should be confronted. The Great Spirit made us who we are and I ask, who are you or anyone else to disrespect us by singling us out?
Sammy2
builds-the-fire's picture
I respect both opinions, but wow Sammy2 really hit it on the mark. So many who know and "feel" their Native blood, feel exactly as Sammy2 so eloquently wrote. I know my ancestors felt this was their land, why should they have to be "counted" in it? My ancestors tried, couldn't "live like the white man," then I guess they tried again and fell into the capitalist money trap. If the U.S had to recognize all of the "dna" Native Americans who recognize and respect their ancestry, what a power that would be to be reckoned with--issues like Keystone probably wouldn't be an issue.
builds-the-fire
Two Bears Growling's picture
Sammy2, Kudos to you my friend! You have said what MANY out here in Indian Country have been saying a VERY long time, but haven't been able to say it as ardently as you just did. I applaud you for saying what has needed said for ages. You are also VERY right in the histories you laid out for folks to see. Loads of folks don't even know of these things who are what I describe as "high bloods" with roll numbers. ................................................................................................................................. Just because someone has a roll number doesn't mean they know much about their tribal histories, cultures & our ancient religious practices & beliefs. Many can't even speak their tribal languages for one reason or another. I know folks with no roll numbers who know far more about their ancestors & can trace them back to at least the 1700's then some folks who have that coveted roll number. I also know folks with a roll number who are no more "Indian" than the man on the moon. They are white, black or Latino in every way: Their dress, music they listen to, things they watch, way the decorate their homes, etc. They couldn't tell you one thing about their ancestors of long ago, tribal beliefs, religion & practices, simply because they have never been told or worse yet, they don't care one thing about our Native ways & beliefs. The Native spirit simply isn't in them in the least bit. They may or may not look Native in skin tones, but they have that roll number & depending on their tribal affiliation, they get that per capita check, get that college paid for, health care, can buy real estate on tribal lease lands & all the other perks that can come along with that tribal roll number. ................................................................................................................................. If you don't know or at least trying to learn your culture, religious practices & beliefs, aren't even trying to learn any of it, the language or written words for those who have a written language, don't know your ancestors, then you don't even seem to have a Native spirit in you! ................................................................................................................................. Ms. Castoreno has fallen in that old foolish nonsense of calling others non-Indians who do not have a roll number & the childishness of " I'm more Indian than you are!" playground mentality I see out & about Indian Country atvarious times. The Creator made us all regardless or not if someone has or hasn't a roll number. I have written a number of commentaries about this very thing through my time here visiting at ICTMN. They are somewhere in past articles waiting to be read again. Look them up sometime if you like or perhaps the editors can help you out with this task. They have some very nice folks here working for ICTMN. ................................................................................................................................. Sammy2, thank you again for all you had to say in support of those without a roll number who are VERY much Native people. I also appreciate what you had to say about a number of topics you touched on that haven't been talked about for a while among Native folks but VERY much need to talked about. Take care my friend & may the Creator watch over & protect you & those special in your life.
Two Bears Growling
Two Bears Growling's picture
Sammy2, Kudos to you my friend! You have said what MANY out here in Indian Country have been saying a VERY long time, but haven't been able to say it as ardently as you just did. I applaud you for saying what has needed said for ages. You are also VERY right in the histories you laid out for folks to see. Loads of folks don't even know of these things who are what I describe as "high bloods" with roll numbers. ................................................................................................................................. Just because someone has a roll number doesn't mean they know much about their tribal histories, cultures & our ancient religious practices & beliefs. Many can't even speak their tribal languages for one reason or another. I know folks with no roll numbers who know far more about their ancestors & can trace them back to at least the 1700's then some folks who have that coveted roll number. I also know folks with a roll number who are no more "Indian" than the man on the moon. They are white, black or Latino in every way: Their dress, music they listen to, things they watch, way the decorate their homes, etc. They couldn't tell you one thing about their ancestors of long ago, tribal beliefs, religion & practices, simply because they have never been told or worse yet, they don't care one thing about our Native ways & beliefs. The Native spirit simply isn't in them in the least bit. They may or may not look Native in skin tones, but they have that roll number & depending on their tribal affiliation, they get that per capita check, get that college paid for, health care, can buy real estate on tribal lease lands & all the other perks that can come along with that tribal roll number. ................................................................................................................................. If you don't know or at least trying to learn your culture, religious practices & beliefs, aren't even trying to learn any of it, the language or written words for those who have a written language, don't know your ancestors, then you don't even seem to have a Native spirit in you! ................................................................................................................................. Ms. Castoreno has fallen in that old foolish nonsense of calling others non-Indians who do not have a roll number & the childishness of " I'm more Indian than you are!" playground mentality I see out & about Indian Country atvarious times. The Creator made us all regardless or not if someone has or hasn't a roll number. I have written a number of commentaries about this very thing through my time here visiting at ICTMN. They are somewhere in past articles waiting to be read again. Look them up sometime if you like or perhaps the editors can help you out with this task. They have some very nice folks here working for ICTMN. ................................................................................................................................. Sammy2, thank you again for all you had to say in support of those without a roll number who are VERY much Native people. I also appreciate what you had to say about a number of topics you touched on that haven't been talked about for a while among Native folks but VERY much need to talked about. Take care my friend & may the Creator watch over & protect you & those special in your life.
Two Bears Growling
Cora Jo Beaty's picture
My ancestor was on the Guillion-Miller Roll.. Does this make me any less Cherokee than someone whose same-generation ancestor was on the Baker or Dawes Roll? NO. Yet card-carrying members of the Western and Eastern Bands feel it necessary to label myself and others like me as 'fake indians.' Why? Because they fear that people like me will want 'a slice of the pie' ... government funding, casino money, scholarships, etc. Ridiculous.
Cora Jo Beaty
silenthawk's picture
I am a disconnected tsalagi and have been looking to learn our ways, lauguage ect. I have tried reaching out to both eastern and western but because I cannot find my gggrandmother I get no reply. We need to put aside any diffrences and stop destroying ourselves for aniyonega. If anyone can help point me in the right direction to look for our old ways I would greatly apprieciate it. WADO
silenthawk