November is Native American Heritage Month. Similar to February being Black History Month and September/October being Latino History Month, November is meant to be a time to mark Native American contributions, history and contemporary issues. Coincidentally, it falls post-Columbus Day (or Indigenous People’s Day if you refuse to celebrate Columbus), and coincides with Thanksgiving.
In a grand display of ignorance though, this month has thus far witnessed the following: No Doubt released a video for their new single “Looking Hot” that featured Gwen Stefani in multiple headdresses and feathers, wearing very little clothing, hanging out with a wolf in a tipi, and being tied up and writhing while white cowboys pointed their guns at her. Victoria’s Secret sent supermodel Karlie Kloss down the runway wearing a leopard print bikini, fringe, turquoise jewelry and a floor-trailing war bonnet.
Even Friday, popular Native comedian/activist group ,the 1491s, brought attention to an Irish bar named McFadden’s that had put out a promo poster for an upcoming pre-Thanksgiving party, telling potential customers to “Party like a Pilgrim, Drink like an Indian [sic].” The interesting thing here is not necessarily that non-Natives have done something offensive, but that the responses on both sides of the issue have been incredibly similar.
In all three of these cases (and in others that date prior to this month) the Native community has responded quite loudly through social media. Twitter feeds flooded, Facebook was inundated with images, shares, and comments, more comments and dislikes on Youtube, as well as blog posts and online articles popped up within a few hours. Social media and networking means that groups and individuals across the United States can take part in the pushback. In the case of the No Doubt video, “Looking Hot” was released on November 2nd, and the band pulled the video offline and offered an official apology on November 3rd, stating that their “foundation is built upon diversity and consideration of other cultures” and that, “Being hateful is simply not who we are.” With Victoria’s Secret it took two days for them to announce that they were sorry they had offended people and would pull the footage before their show aired on December 4th. Even smaller, more local offenses like McFadden’s are being met with hundreds of phone calls and messages informing them of how racist their marketing campaign is currently being viewed. Late Friday afternoon, McFadden’s of DC emailed an apology, canceled the event and instead offered a complimentary cocktail hour from 8-9 PM on the 20th.
It is interesting that so many Natives and their allies take to social media to effect change. There’s a new breed of activists in the Native community, or as Native journalist, Simon Moya-Smith, coined them, Digi Skins, meaning those Natives who use the Web to raise awareness about issues important to them and to combat American ethnocentrism. This can be viewed as both a continuation of more traditional communities, and a solution to how dispersed Natives are across the United States, and even the world.
Social media allows for Natives to connect with each other on Native issues, regardless of living on reservations or in cities, regardless of tribal affiliation, and regardless of class or occupation. In the case of activism, it allows for a Lakota studying in Egypt to connect with an Alaskan Native at home, and for them both to petition their government to extend the Violence Against Women Act. This trend in Indian Country is helping to bridge physical space and pull the community together.