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Hashtag: CuteRacism

Can we please stop turning Native American culture into a costume for children?
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Frankie & Sue, a brand of kids' clothing, has released its fall 2014 collection, and the imagery being used in the catalog photos and on the company's website is likely to cause concern with some Natives.

The kids didn't do anything wrong here. They are too young to know any better. And that's the problem.

The collection includes some clothing that is mildly Native-inspired, but nothing as offensive as the looks that caused such trouble for Urban Outfitters and Paul Frank Industries. It's the styling in the shoot—the feather headdresses, face paint and dream catcher—that is tasteless.

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We've seen this before, and dissected the hipster headdress thing in many ways. But here's an argument that is tailored to this particular situation: No Native designer would put seven-year-old girls in feather headdresses for a photo shoot. The act itself says you're using a culture not your own, without understanding it. And commerce takes two: the seller who misuses another culture's symbols won't get far without a buyer who doesn't see anything wrong.

If neither side cares about what the headdress means, why is it there at all? We fear the answer is simply because it's cute.

American Indian leaders and honored Tribal members who earn the right to wear the feather headdress—or "war bonnet," to use the common but flawed term—don't do so because the item is cute. Face paint—or "war paint," if you must—likewise had and has a spiritual meaning.

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Frankie & Sue have a Pinterest page that collects images that they say inspired their fall 2014 offerings. It's full of the sort of pictures Natives find insulting—skinny white models in big war bonnets, to put it plainly. On Facebook and Instagram, in the months leading up to the release of the collection, the designers posted previews and behind-the-scenes shots tagged #trendykids #bohokids #navajostateofmind #southwestadventures #navajonation. The Navajo are a real people, with their own spirituality and aesthetic traditions; the Navajo Nation is a sovereign Indian nation. (And like other tribes of the Southwest, the Navajo did not historically wear feather headdresses.)

You want to call your kids "trendy" and "boho"? Go ahead. But the Navajo Nation might rather you leave them out of it—just ask Urban Outfitters.




Frankie and Sue promotional image

Frankie and Sue catalog cover.

Frankie and Sue booth (note dreamcatchers) at a kids-fashion expo.