On February 1, 2010, Ethos received the following e-mail concerning the winner of our Bandest of the Bands event and, specifically, the group’s wardrobe choice of “Cowboys and Indians”. In the Winter 2010 issue, we have attempted to address Ms. Johnson’s concerns as well as shed light on how Native Americans are portrayed in various forms of popular culture. See the spring 2010 Editor’s Note, which also addresses this complicated issue.
Dear Ethos Magazine and UO Cultural Forum,
I currently have a copy of the Ethos 2009 Volume 2 Issue 1 magazine in front of me. When I open it up, the first article discusses the issue of Native American stereotyping and how native peoples come in “all different shapes, colors, and sizes.” I agree completely. I was raised in South Dakota, a state which is home to seven Native American reservations, and in regards to these reservations, remains a hotbed
of failed policies and broken promises.
I feel the need to bring this up because of an event that Ethos Magazine and the UO Cultural Forum recently hosted. On Thursday, January 28th, I went to “the Bandest of the Bands” at Wow Hall. The venue was good, and the music was great. I was having a blast but sent several skeptical looks toward students who were wearing some interesting costumes. After some questioning, I learned that the final band, Sea Bell, had asked fans to dress in a “Cowboys and Indians” theme to show support for the show. I didn’t see any cowboys, but I did see the response to the “Indians” part. I cringed yet again as Sea Bell stepped onto the stage dressed in full-out “Indian” gear. Many wore feathers in their braided hair, complete with face paint and buck-skin style clothing. It seems as if a member didn’t have a true Pocahontas costume, they felt that a tan tank top and beads, or a furry vest, would suffice.
I looked around to see if anyone else was having a similar reaction to my own—what on earth was a band, costumed as the epitome of Native American stereotyping, doing on stage for an event hosted by Ethos Magazine and the UO Cultural Forum? Ethos, defined as the fundamental characteristic of a spirit, people or culture, and the UO Cultural Forum, designed to promote cultural awareness and respect for diversity…?
I stood there confused. No one else seemed upset. The music was wonderful. It was folk-esque but edgy, harmonious but with a strong beat—exactly what I like listening to. Was I just overreacting? It wasn’t until later that I could really sort out my thoughts. To understand my frustration, one needs to know some facts about my home state. South Dakota includes the two poorest counties in the country, both located on Native American Reservations with per capita incomes ranging from $5,000 to $6,000. At Pine Ridge, another South Dakota reservation, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the unemployment rate is about 85% with 2 out of 3 people living below the poverty line.
I realized then that I had every reason to be upset. In this nation where the inadequacies of many Native American reservations go largely ignored, stereotyping this particular group of people is merely rubbing salt on the wound and furthers the idea that the grievances against Native Americans is a thing of the past.
Sea Bell won the competition, having received the highest decibel reading given by their ecstatic fans. I don’t say this with condescension, but let me remind you, or stop to remind yourselves, before anyone else begins to forget, that the heritage and cultural background of Native peoples is not a costuming theme.
University of Oregon student