Summary: In this clip, Al Jazeera's The Stream interviews Adrienne Keene, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the author of the Native Appropriations Blog, and currently a graduate student in Boston. The clip is useful for examining cultural representation as a practice of domination. At the 2:28 mark, Keene orients the discussion by asking "Who has the right to represent whom?" This orienting question comes up again at the 22:40 mark when the host of the program acknowledges that cultural appropriation contributes to invisibility and marginalization but asks, as a practical matter, how one is to accurately and respectfully represent so many culturally distinct tribes. In her response, Keene denies the premise of the question, which attributes the role of First Nations' representation to non-members, and instead she insists that it must be "the right of the community to represent themselves." Furthermore, while students may counter that representations, such as those used as the mascots of professional sports teams, are forms of appreciation, Keene counters that the such representations are actually "a continuing form of colonialism and oppression." That is, they effectively "shrink an extremely diverse community of over 565 tribes in the United States alone down into one stereotypical image of the plains Indian." By selectively appropriating iconic artifacts from indigenous cultures, while also constructing caricatures said to stand for all indigenous people, one limits acknowledgement of diversity and engages in a practice of domination. For instance, war paint and the war bonnet become blunted as mere fashion statements among hipsters, and may no longer invoke memories of resistance to the genocidal policies of white settlers. Similarly, when the Navy Seals adopted "Geronimo" as a codename for Osama Bin Laden, they threatened to transform the historical meaning and significance of the real Geronimo and his resistance (see this response from a group named 1491s). As with another clip featured on The Sociological Cinema, which is critical of the deployment of photographs of African American lynchings, this clip offers an excellent opportunity for students to examine what is at stake in cultural representation and how it relates to power.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist