My newest piece for Fusion: Appropriating Native American Imagery Honors No One but the Prejudice

Artwork courtesy of Lalo Alcaraz of


I was a sophomore in high school, about 15 years old, when a rather hostile group of cheerleaders and football players cornered me, yelling, as I sat on a bench in the quad between classes. “Don’t you have school pride?” a cheerleader shouted. “You should feel proud! We’re honoring your people!” one football player hollered.

I was the only Native American (as far as I knew) at Woodbridge High School in Irvine, California. Irvine is a planned city in Southern California and one of the safest cities in the United States, but I didn’t feel safe that day.

I had met one-on-one with the principal, my guidance counsellor, a few teachers and several students to share my negative feelings toward our school’s mascot – an anonymous Native American “warrior” with long, flowing, jet-black hair, a large nose and huge muscles. I guess I thought if I made it known that I felt appropriating Native American imagery was offensive, they’d stop. I was outnumbered, though, and my personal feelings didn’t matter. But that’s the thing: As Native people, especially as urban Natives (what we Indigenous people living in urban centers call ourselves), we are almost always outnumbered. So, we go unnoticed and unheard. Our opinions never really matter.

Students wore goofy, cartoonish costumes of our mascot (and his equally tasteless “warrior princess” girlfriend) at pep rallies and games. The pair would dance and do occasional acrobatic moves, as they made their grand entrance to the deafening sounds of the school’s marching band, playing the quintessential Hollywood fight song that, for me at least, conjures up images of a scene from an old Western movie: “savage” Indians on horseback approaching a village of settlers…Uh-oh, there must be trouble.

…To read more, please visit:

Please follow Fusion @ThisisFusion & follow me @AmyStretten

The New Dandy: My video that aired on CUNY-TV’s “219 West”

Check out the piece I did for CUNY-TV’s newsmagazine show “219 West” that aired recently…

Bow ties, tailored suits, and button-downs are not usually associated with women’s fashion.  But founders of Brooklyn-based fashion brand, Marimacho, have created a line of clothing for masculine-identified women who prefer a more dandy approach to dress.  Amy Stretten has this fashion forward story.  [Fast forward to 10:27 for my piece]

Hope you like it!


Editorial: Remembering Rosa Parks and Those Battling HIV/AIDS

Today marks two very important days. One is the 55th anniversary of the day black civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. This act of courage propelled the black civil rights movement and many equal rights laws were passed because of it. The other is also very important – it’s World AIDS Day.

Remembering Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) having her fingerprints taken after her arrest on 1st December, 1955.

Today I’m remembering Rosa Parks’ activism and dogged determination to make life better, not just for black Americans, but all people. Thank you for your sacrifices. When I feel like my life is difficult, I always think back to those who came before me and everything they had to endure. The fight is not over, though, and I promise to keep my commitment to make things better for the next seven generations.

World AIDS Day

December 1st is World AIDS Day (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

In a similar vein, I’m also remembering the lives lost and the battles being won against HIV/AIDS. We have lost too many innocent people to this awful disease. We need more education, outreach and prevention. I am glad that so many celebrities are supporting efforts like the “Sacrifice Your Digital Life” campaign and bloggers, tweeters and social network users alike are changing their default photos to red ribbons. I just hope people will continue the activism in the coming year, starting first by getting tested. The best way to begin the health revolution to end the spread of HIV/AIDS is to use protection and get tested regularly because, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

And, as my very wise and eloquent Mother said today, “I hope this is the last World AIDS Day.”


Happy Halloween: A Superhero (Not an Ethnic Minority) is a Halloween Costume

I love Halloween…but I don’t love racist Halloween costumes. And, sadly, it seems like the “go to” Halloween costume is often an “Indian Chief” or a scantily clad “Indian Princess.” When in doubt, wear something brown, cut some fringe, put a headband around your head and attach a feather. Now, you’re an Indian!…??!!

image credit:
Click the photo to read a great article at

What kind of statement are we making when we dress up as a marginalized people? What makes us think we own their culture in this way?

I thought I was the only one who felt sick to my stomach seeing someone dressed up in costume as an “Indian Chief” or “Muslim,” but to my surprise, I’m not! There is quite a bit of buzz online about racist Halloween costumes and how to avoid being racially/ethnically offensive, while still having fun.

As explained,

I saw people dressed as Mexicans, Asians and sporting the ever popular Afro wig. Putting on an Afro wig or a sombrero is not a costume. Batman or Superman is a costume, being ethnic for a night isn’t—it’s offensive.

"Native American boy" costume

Check out Gawker’s list of offensive Halloween costumes including the “Geisha girl,” “Samurai Warrior” and “Alaskan ‘Eskimo.'” also has a great slideshow of wigs and masks (and glasses like the pair below) that made my jaw drop.

This is not okay.

Please think critically when you pick your Halloween costume. Just because your friend who is Native American/Black/Asian/Latino/whatever is not offended, does not mean the costume is not offensive to others! Halloween is about fun…not disrespect.


Your thoughts on “Abolish Columbus Day”

Many Indian rights activists who oppose the celebration of "Columbus Day" have posted this Abolish Columbus Day sign on their Facebook pages in support of Native peoples

We have the day off from school tomorrow in recognition of Columbus Day. I don’t recall ever having Columbus Day off before, but apparently New York takes the holiday pretty seriously. There are even parades and other events in different parts of the five boroughs to celebrate the “discovery of America.”

But, who was Christopher Columbus? And, does he deserve the honor of having his own holiday? Well, it depends on who you ask.

In school we are taught to respect Columbus because without him “we” might not be here today. (Obviously, in public school, we are not educated from the perspective of the native inhabitants.) But, according to sources like,

Many people are surprised to learn that Christopher Columbus and his men enslaved native inhabitants of the West Indies, forced them to convert to Christianity, and subdued them with violence in an effort to seek riches.

So, what are your thoughts on this holiday?


NAJA Responds to Michael Steel’s Racist Remark

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA – Ronnie Washines, Native American Journalists Association President responds to RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s use of the racial slur, “Injun” (a racial slur for Native Americans) during an interview with Sean Hannity on FOX News. Steele said that the Republican Party platform is “one of the best political documents that’s been written in the past 25 years – Honest Injun on that.”

Washines’ response on behalf of NAJA and the larger Native American community:

“I am thoroughly outraged that the leader of the National Republican Party would use such repulsive language on national television. Those of us in journalism have tirelessly worked to ensure that political leaders, newsrooms and the public be respectful to all cultures when speaking publically. Michael Steele’s scurrilous tongue does no service to his group and only undermines the positive work of those who sincerely seek to respect one another in all of our working relationships. I urge Michael Steele to carefully word a sincere apology to the Native American community, which could help stop such uneducated archaic racist remarks from being made in the future. We here at NAJA are available to assist him and his organization with obtaining an accurate understanding of Native America.”

In case you have not yet seen the video yet, watch it here.

Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON, DC – Last night President Barack Obama spoke to Congress and the nation during the annual State of the Union Address. Check out the video below if you missed any of it or want to hear it again. Topics covered were: the economy, including the stimulus bill and jobs; the environment, including the energy and climate bill; education, including tax credits and pell grants; health care, including Michelle Obama’s plan to end childhood obesity and the health care bills; defense, including national security and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; and, discrimination, including equal pay laws. As usual, Obama supporters were enamored by his eloquence and inspiring and encouraging words. Unfortunately, not all members of congress were as excited about what the president had to say. There were many members of Congress who stayed in their seats while the rest of the house gave Obama a standing ovation.

I had the privilege of watching the address while in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill at the Hyatt Regency hotel with the Health Action 2010 conference.

More to come…


Native American Women in Film Series

LOS ANGELES, CA – This is SO exciting!! The Autry National Center and UCLA Film and Television Archive are holding a film series dedicated to the work of Native American women in film! I am SO going to this!

Native American Women in Film series
Sunday, January 24 2010, 2:00pm – 4:00pm

The Autry National Center and UCLA Film and Television Archive Present

Native American Women in Film

Special support provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

January 24 and February 21, 2010, 2:00 p.m.

Free with museum admission

The Autry National Center, in association with the UCLA Film and Television Archive and with special support provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, examines the portrayals of Native Americans in contemporary film through a two-part series. The screenings of shorts and feature films will include a discussion with Georgina Lightning (Cree), director of Older Than America (2007), and Irene Bedard (Inupiat Eskimo/Cree), actor in Edge of America (2003), about Native American women working in the film industry and the obstacles and opportunities for established and emerging Native American filmmakers. This film series is tied to the Autry’s upcoming exhibition, Home Lands: How Women Made the West, opening in April 2010.

Native American Women in Film Schedule

Sunday, January 24, 2010, 2 p.m.

Older Than America
(2007, 102 min.) U.S.
Director: Georgina Lightning (Cree)
Executive Producer: Audrey Martinez (San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians)
Producer: Christine Kunewa Walker (Native Hawaiian)
Actors: Adam Beach, Georgina Lightning, Wes Studi, and Tantoo Cardinal

This accomplished first feature explores a dark reality that has shaped generations of Native American experience cross the U.S. and Canada—the Indian boarding school. A woman’s haunting visions reveal a web of intrigue that reaches out from the past in a cry for justice and healing.

Goodnight Irene
(2004, 14 min.) U.S.
Director: Sterlin Harjo (Creek/Seminole)
Producer: Chad Burris (Chickasaw)
Actors: Casey Camp-Horinek, Robert Guthrie, Jon Proudstar

Two young men have a life-changing encounter with an elder in the waiting room of an Indian Health Service clinic.

Sunday, February 21, 2010, 2:00 p.m.

Edge of America
(2003, 105 min.) U.S.
Director: Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho)
Writer and coproducer: Willy Holtzman
Produced by Showtime Productions
Actors: James McDaniel, Wes Studi (Cherokee), Irene Bedard (Inupiat Eskimo/Cree), Delanna Studi (Cherokee), Eddie Spears (Lakota), Geri Keams (Navajo), and Tim Daly

Inspired by a true, made-in–New Mexico story, this upbeat feature follows a girls’ high school basketball team as they learn how to win. Led by their coach, the girls discover the values of passion, dedication, and discipline as they climb from the bottom of their division to compete for the state title. Edge of America was the opening night film at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, and it tells a story about cross-cultural communication, the values of community and commitment, and the thrill of victory.

Horse You See
(2007, 8 min.) U.S.
Director: Melissa Henry (Navajo)
In Navajo with English subtitles.

Ross, a Navajo horse, explains the very essence of being himself.

Museum admission is $9 for adults, $5 for students and seniors 60+, $3 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for Autry members, veterans, and children 2 and under. Admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month.

Location: 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Contact: (323) 667-2000

For more information, click here.


NABJ Conference on Health Disparities Announced


March 4-6, 2010
Barbara Jordan Conference Center at Kaiser Family Foundation
1330 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 2005
(one block west of Metro Center)

Program Goal:
The goal of this annual conference is to provide print, broadcast and online journalists the tools to effectively report on the impact of health care reform and health policy on underserved communities. Journalists and media professionals will leave with resources to inform and empower readers and viewers to action in their lives.

Sponsored by:
Kaiser Family Foundation
Eli Lilly and Company

For more information, click here.


Stanford University Journalism Conference Announced for March 2010


Journalism and the Politics of Diversity
(via Seeta Peña Gangadharan of Stanford University)

Announcing News and Inclusion:

Journalism and the Politics of Diversity, Thursday, March 4, 2010, featuring scholars from Australia, Finland, Singapore, Canada, The Netherlands, England, and the United States.

Sponsored by Stanford University’s Department of Communication, John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists, Office of the President, School of Humanities and Sciences, Center for Comparative Studies of Race and Ethnicity; and Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Department of Media and Communication.

The symposium is free and open to the public — but, due to limited space, registration is required.

For details, and to register click here.