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Indian Country, Social Media and the Right Response from Gwen Stefani and No Doubt

On Saturday November 3, Indian country celebrated a bit of a victory and was paid a not a small amount of respect from Gwen Stefani of the group No Doubt. Within a few hours of posting their latest video “Lookin Hot”—in which Stefani was dancing suggestively in a series of video montages with cowboys and Indians and was also handcuffed and tied to a wall—social media outlets in Indian country were aflame with comments. Shortly after, No Doubt removed the video and issued an apology out of respect.

Here’s what happened behind the scenes.

I was reading tweets on my (@VinceSchilling) Twitter timeline on Friday after my Native Trailblazers radio show on BlogTalkRadio and saw a post from several Native twitter friends and noticed they were speaking out against Stefani’s video.

I navigated to YouTube and noticed that No Doubt had embraced the hipster Indian dress we so often see when people are portraying Native culture. I was admittedly disappointed because I had not seen this sort of thing from No Doubt or Stefani previous to this video.

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube comments poured out from Indian country expressing disappointment and anger at the video. Dislikes of the video jumped from 60 to 800 and kept going. Fans outside of Indian country responded to the contrary and said they did not understand how the video could be offensive – but comments expressing heartache continued.

The following morning, as I was getting ready to head out to a huge mall here in Virginia Beach to celebrate my company’s 3rd Annual Native American Heritage Month Celebration, I finished the story assigned to me and within the hour it was posted it to the website.

As I celebrated the day with members from several tribal nations – all of them wearing different regalia and dancing different styles to include Grass Dance, Men’s Southern Straight, Jingle Dress, Women’s Fancy Shawl and others, I later discovered No Doubt removed their video and issued a statement of apology on their website.

“As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people. This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately. The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness. We sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video. Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.”

Congratulations Indian country, we did it.

But this does not go without stating directly to No Doubt and Stefani that are due a certain amount of appreciation for the respect paid to Native people everywhere.

Not one of us can say in this world they we have never offended anyone. Was the video offensive? In my opinion, yes it was, but the fact that Stefani and No Doubt pulled the video overshadows any errs in judgment on their part.

Do you think making a music video is cheap? It’s not. But they pulled it anyway, even though they had ten times the amount of “likes” on YouTube. They had every reason from a promotional and marketing standpoint to keep the video going. But they spoke out about their misstep – proving even they feel respect is more important than a successful marketing tactic. This sort of gesture of respect, in my opinion is commendable.

In seeking to speak with Stefani in regards to the video, I was told they were touring in Europe, with an extremely tight schedule that didn’t allow for an interview. I explained my position—an appreciation of their actions and a need for greater communication, with the following message:

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In my career as a Native journalist and media professional – I have to say thank you for what I feel was the most respectful response in regards to the “Lookin Hot” video.

The fact that Gwen Stefani and No Doubt responded with such a level of respect is probably the most encouraging thing I have ever experienced as a Native American journalist.

Perhaps we may hear from them. Perhaps not. I say let’s show them how much we appreciate what they have done. Thank them on Twitter @NoDoubt – The band members are @GwenStefani, @TonyKanal@AdrianYoungND and @TomDumontND. You can also comment on the No Doubt Facebook Page.

Which brings me to my most important point. Last week, on the evening after the respected Russell Means had walked on, I had a dream. In my dream I kept seeing the face of Russell Means among countless Native Twitter names that kept appearing in timelines in social media.

I am not saying Russell was or was not speaking to me directly—as I wish to pay respect to the Means family and reserve any direct lines of communication between Russell and his family to them.

But I did receive a message from the dream to the point I was inspired to write this editorial piece.

In my opinion, the area of Social Media is where we as Native people are seeing our biggest source of strength and solidarity. The proof is in the pudding.

Due to the presence of Native people in Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube, Instagram and others we have and will continue to make a difference. And our influence is continuing to grow.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Due to the influence of Social Media – was able to raise nearly $400,000 toward the purchase of the Sacred Pe’sla by the Great Sioux nation.
  2. Within an approximate 12 hour period of posting the “Lookin Hot” video and due to the overwhelming outcry of Native people and supporters of Native people in Social Media – the video was pulled and No Doubt issued a respectful apology.
  3. Since incorporating Social Media strategies into my blogtalkradio show Native Trailblazers over the past year, there have been nearly 60,000 listens to the show to include over 10,000 archive listens in the past two weeks.

Here is my suggestion, let’s keep following each other on social media and continue to grow and show in numbers. I also think we need to show our elders how to use computers and join the social media conversation. A lot of our youth today would appreciate a word of encouragement from an elder that sees a post of “I just did my homework” and responds with “great job” – sometimes two small words of hope, can make every bit of difference.

I propose using the Hashtag #HumanFamily. A “Hashtag” for those unfamiliar is simply placing a number sign # in front of a familiar term such as #NativeAmerican or #Native to help with searching on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.

Great work Indian country – let’s keep up the great work. See you on Twitter, If you follow me, I’ll follow back.

Vincent Schilling (St. Regis Mohawk) in addition to working as a contributor to ICTMN is also Executive Vice-President of Schilling Media, Inc., a Native American owned Media company in Virginia. He is also the host of Native Trailblazers, an APCMA nominated online radio program. Follow him on Twitter at @VinceSchilling.