Earlier, Vincent Schilling had a column up at ICTMN about Native headdress showing up on a reality show. A short while later, Vincent Schilling was able to talk with the designer about this, um, travesty. There’s nothing quite so rabidly defensive as a white person busy appropriating another peoples’ culture and traditions, all while getting it spectacularly fucking wrong in every possible respect.
Before we get to the spectacular fucking up, a word about traditional Cherokee clothing. (The groom in the show claims Cherokee ancestry. If that’s so, I’d think he’d want Cherokee clothing, but I guess “Native American” will do.) Cherokee people were never big on feathers, and they certainly never had anything even close to Plains Indians’ headdresses. There were a few various ways that men chose to style their hair and decorations, but when a headdress was worn, it was in the style of a turban, as in the painting of Sequoyah.
Gypsy dress designer Sondra Celli created a Cherokee-themed dress and a Native American-influenced headdress for Hunter and Dalton Smith on the reality series My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding.
In an exclusive interview with ICTMN, Celli said that the ‘Native-inspired’ headdress was made by her design team, and the headdress for the groom — who claims Native ancestry — was purchased from a Native American company over the internet.
Celli told ICTMN because the groom was Native American, she did not alter any of the groom’s outfit and that he approved of the bride’s outfit.
“Because he is Native American we made sure we bought a true Native American headpiece made by Native Americans. We bought him a true Native American shirt made by Native Americans. I made sure it came from an authentic Native American company.”
*Resists impulse to pound head into wall* If there is one thing to get into your skull if you are not an indigenous person, it’s this: there is no such fucking thing as “Native American” anything. Repeat over and over until you get it. Indigenous peoples (many of whom are not American) can not be conveniently dumped into a pail of whitewash so we come out with every nation believing the same, having the same traditions, the same clothing, the same housing, and so forth. We are all different. There just isn’t enough eyeroll in the universe for this shit.
What about the bride’s wedding outfit?
She is a gypsy. Hunter is a cowgirl and would not give up her boots. I told her, ‘I am going to Sondra Celli you up’ and I made her a Native American-inspired dress … and [the groom] was real cool with her being her. I am very respectful of the fact he is Native American. This is what they told me — please understand that I am just the designer.
I made sure we did not touch his headpiece and it stayed exactly the way we bought it. The shirt is exactly the way we bought it. We ordered it on the Internet from a Native American company.
I made her headpiece, and the girl who works for me studies Native Americans. She put all of those feathers on. Like we say on television, it is native-inspired. We do not say this is a Native American costume. This is a Sondra Celli gypsy rhinestone costume that is inspired by Native Americans.
Emphasis mine. I’m just going to wander off and scream for a moment.
What is your response to Native people that say this is appropriating Native culture?
I think the fact that their clothing is so beautiful and the detail is so beautiful, they should be accepting of the fact that we borrowed from their clothing. I said “inspired” through the whole show. I never said it was authentic Native American clothing, not once.
Um…Yes, you did say that. You wouldn’t shut up about all the authentic “Native American” clothes. Right up there ^.
I don’t find a problem with putting something inspired from the beauty of Native American clothes on someone who is not Native American. They should be honored that we think their clothing is so beautiful, that we took some of the colors from it.
Honoured. Right. Oh, all you did was borrow colours! Well, that makes it okay.
This is a TV show, so you have to take it for what it is. I do not believe this dishonors people. I would never do that.
That’s convenient. You don’t believe this dishonours anyone, so of course, it doesn’t. White magic.
I’ve taken the idea of kimonos from Japan and they are rhinestoned. I never say they are Japanese kimonos. I say they are inspired.
Every designer from all over the world has taken ideas from Native Americans.
Oddly enough, we notice things like that.
The PBS Museum just had an exhibit, Native American designers that have come into the modern world made Native American inspired clothing with plastic metal who are getting ideas in a way from our world and made really cool clothes with beading. I was blown away.
I think they were inspired by what we do in the modern [world].
Fuuuuuck me. I really do have to scream now. Yeah, just a few of us Indians are crossing the bridge into the modern white world, where of course, we’re stealing ideas from white modernity, while the rest of us are back home in primitive Indian land, everyone dressed the same, all in a tipi, of course. It’s absurd to think that Indians are a part of the world. Christ, she makes it sound like we live in Faerie or something.
As much as I admire their craft, I think they should admire the fact that I took the ideas that they have and turn it into something modern for someone who is not Native American.
Um…oh hell, I give up. White people, please get a fucking clue. In the comments, Beatrice pointed out something I should have noted in the first place:
As if distilling all the variety of different heritages of Roma people into “over the top trashy clown show” wasn’t offensive enough…
This isn’t just spectacularly fucking up Indigenous peoples’ cultures, it’s spectacularly fucking up that of Roma culture as well. I guess all is fair game for a white designer. If you can call pasting rhinestones all over something design.