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Our society can never really eradicate patriarchy or sexual violence when we permit violence against Indigenous women.

By Dani M. 

Every year, Indigenous peoples become fatigued by the cycle of genocide. Each stereotype a reminder of the endless violation of consent upon Indigenous Nations by the U.S. and agents of White Supremacy. While I’ve grown exhausted, addressing the same dissent against stereotypes that violate my personhood year after year, I have moved beyond awareness, now working to understanding why non-Native consumers remain invested in anti-Indigenous stereotypes.

Hypocrisy, Greed and Racism

Yandy, the latest perpetrator of hypersexualized “Indian Princess” costumes has refused to remove them; despite the fact that the moment “sexism” was contested by White women, “The Handmaid’s Tale” costumes were removed and a formal apology presented immediately. Contrary to claims that Yandy wants all women to “own their sexy”, Yandy continues to actively oppress Indigenous women, even sharing that the company made $150,000 in profits from the line of costumes last year.

Other retailers, like Party City echoed the sentiment alluding to consumer demand as a justification for profiting on colonial violence. When the Indigenous women-led petition was delivered by Amanda Blackhorse, (one of several Indigenous women who protested Yandy a year ago), police were called, reiterating the ways that corporations leverage authority against Indigenous peoples to protect products and complacency.

Fetishization is Violence

It essential to understand that the settler gaze was born out of genocide, forced assimilation, and post-mortem violence. This settler gaze is inherently violent—an active force of colonialism and imperialism, maintaining white supremacy by establishing an exotic “other” and this act of fetishization inherently disavows and dehumanizes people. Largely shaped by dichotomies of primitivism and civilization, the process is both anti-Indigenous and anti-Black.

Saartjie Baartman, an enslaved Black woman shown off as a European attraction because of the size of her buttocks, is the ultimate example of the violence fetishizers are capable of. Even her remains were on display until this century. More recently, the Mayo Clinic had apologized for the display of Dakota man’s “Cut Nose” remains, another grim reminder of the control that colonizers have had over Indigenous bodily autonomy, even after death.

From Edward Curtis to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, Native peoples have been resisting the settler gaze for centuries. Native artist like Matika Wilbur are subversive, along with others like NativeApprops and The Aila Test that poke fun at the Bechdel test. Despite Native people creating authentic representations, those with dominant culture still places higher value on stereotypes instead of authentic representations.

 

The Causation of Violence

Many remain ignorant or apathetic towards the disproportionate amounts of sexual violence Indigenous women face, while denying the causation of violence and fetishization. Is the trauma endured by Indigenous women quantifiable? “More than 60% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have been physically assaulted and 1 in 3 have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Nearly all (97%) of these women have experienced at least one act of violence committed by a non-Indian” according to the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice.  

Fetishized costumes of Indigenous women mitigate these statistics and send codified implications that Indigenous women are disposable and deserving of violence, ultimately acting as moral licensing for Indigenous genocide and global imperialism. When Indigenous bodies are considered a burden to U.S. progress, the violation to our bodies is inextricable to the violation of the land. In other words, resource extraction is linked to sexual violence, no different from the destruction on Unci Maka, Mother earth. Faith Spotted Eagle, a Yankton matriarch from the frontlines of Standing Rock, one of the founders of Brave Hearts Society and former presidential candidate, expressed the lasting effects of sexual violence that results from resource extraction.  Simply put, “They trespass our bodies like they trespass our land.” Indigenous peoples never really can heal from historical trauma when we are still resisting the forces of violence that stem from colonialism. These costumes are a constant visceral reminder of colonizer occupation.

Reclaiming Our Power

In the words of former Tribal President of the Oglala Lakota, Cecilia Firethunder, “Keep your White hands off my Brown body… I am challenging white men right now, and white men have already done a tremendous amount of damage to my people.”

White womanhood continues to be a pillar of settler colonialism and White Supremacy because of the fact that white women continue to remain loyal to internalized misogyny at the expense of ALL women. While corporations like Yandy are cheering for White women to “own their sexy” through expressions of sexual violence and colonialism, Native matriarchs all over have been at the forefront of protecting the bodily autonomy of women in ways that benefit everyone.

Firethunder countered legislation on a statewide abortion ban by proposing to build a women’s health clinic on sovereign Tribal lands. This history exists as a reminder that Indigenous paradigms subvert the patriarchal structures imbedded in settler paradigms.

These costumes act as a moral license for violence against Indigenous women. Our society can never really eradicate patriarchy or sexual violence when we permit violence against Indigenous women. Yandy’s response, as well as the ways they leverage corporate powers against the populations of Indigenous women, reiterate how necessary it is for non Natives to actively divest from colonialism and take a stance on protecting the bodily autonomy of Indigenous women in order to change these conditions. We need accomplices, not bystanders.

How You Can Change This

  • Educate others with what you have learned in this article.
  • Sign the petition, make a phone call, leave a review on Yandy’s website and Facebook page as a show of solidarity.
  • Most importantly, realize that this is bigger than Yandy. As an accomplice, anytime you witness hypersexualized fetishized imagery that Indigenous women are contesting, help get it removed! And the easiest way to help, is to simply not buy these products. Our biggest enemy is the consumer demand and the mass production of these fetishized costumes.

To all those joining us in this movement, I thank you and I hope we all see the day that everyone can celebrate the empowerment of Indigenous women instead of the harmful stereotypes.





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