2014 was another massive year for contemporary arts and entertainment created by Natives and for Natives. Frustratingly, we also saw new chapters in the arts-and-culture wars, with mainstream media continuing to distort Native culture and reinforce stereotypes under the guise of artistic expression. Still, we can't help but break a smile seeing Indigenous artists sharing a stage with rock legends, winning major awards, and competing at the cutting edge of fashion and video gaming. Here are the first ten (of 20) stories we followed with great interest in 2014:
Influence, and How to Use It
Canadian DJ trio A Tribe Called Red won the Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy equivalent) for Breakthrough Group of the Year—and kept breaking through. ATCR made the “Caucasians” t-shirt (a parody of Cleveland Indians apparel) a must-have for hip Natives, saw a track selected for the soundtrack to The Gambler, and pressed the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to tell the truth about Canada’s treatment of Aboriginals.
Can You Not?—Part I
Parisian auction houses haven’t lost their taste for trafficking in sacred cultural items, as shown by two controversial auctions that saw dozens of Hopi katsinam sold to the highest bidder. The second sale, held in December, included sacred Navajo items as well, which representatives of the Navajo Nation bought with Tribal money—setting a potentially dangerous precedent.
Big Name Acts
“Harvest the Hope,” an Anti-KXL Pipeline concert held on a farm near Neligh, Nebraska, featured an interesting lineup: Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and Lakota rapper Frank Waln. Waln, who met Young at a protest in Washington, DC and later participated in a round dance with the legend, called the Nebraska event “a dream come true.” Young and Nelson were honored at the event by Tribal representatives.
Three staffers from the venerable Santa Fe Indian Market broke off to form a rival show, the Indigenous Fine Art Market, and held their inaugural event the same weekend as the 93rd edition of the massive market. In the end, both events were successful, and fears that artists would pay the price for a political struggle dissipated. IFAM is planning a second edition for August 2015.
Native Hawaiian Kini Zamora made an impressive run on Project Runway, reaching the final four. His dynamic designs wowed the panel show after show, and he was the favorite going into double-episode series finale, filmed at New York Fashion Week. But an uncharacteristically lackluster collection was panned by judges when they saw a sneak peek, and Zamora had to revamp his whole line in 24 hours. The garments he showed were much improved, and, as usual, technically flawless, but the stumble proved insurmountable, and he was out of the running.
Can You Not?—Part II
Cultural appropriation was again a big issue; non-Native rock and pop musicians still seem unable to kick the habit of donning sacred feather headdresses as a fashion accessory. Pharrell Williams, quadruple-Grammy winner and judge on The Voice, caught heat for wearing a warbonnet on the cover of Elle UK. Rapper Emerson Windy’s pseudo-Native single “Peace Pipe” and a headdress-happy music video and album cover. A publicity photo of Christina Fallin, daughter of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, drew criticism, which Fallin the younger egged on with public statements and unhelpful assistance from Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips.
Bad News for Hipster Headdresses
Native music fans who are sick of seeing stars and festivalgoers accessorizing their culture were heartened by British Columbia’s Bass Coast Festival, which banned Native headdresses altogether. The considerably larger UK fest Glastonbury didn’t ban warbonnets, but put them on a list of items that cannot be sold without prior authorization.
Consciousness-raising activism on Twitter reached new heights with “Twitterstorms” around the topics of redface in movies and harmful sports-team mascots. But Twitter trends can disappear as quickly as they flare up, as the #NotYourTonto and #NotYourMascot tweeters found out when #CancelColbert, a reaction to a Colbert Report tweet that was deemed racist, effectively drowned out the Native voice.
So Old It’s New
The video game Never Alone, based on Inupiaq stories and created in a partnership with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, was released on Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Steam platforms, and was a hit with reviewers, who praised it as an informative cultural experience and (surprise) really fun to play.
Telling Their Own Story
The Chickasaw Nation embarked on a film project to give one of its cultural heroes her due. The subject is Te Ata, a dancer and storyteller who served as a sort of ambassador for Indian country in the early and mid-20th century (notably performing for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the British Royal Family); she’ll be portrayed by Q’orianka Kilcher, with Gil Birmingham and Graham Greene in supporting roles.