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:

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My first day at APTN!

APTN headquarters in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba

I landed in Winnipeg early this morning, about 10 hours after I was supposed to thanks to issues with United Airlines [groan].  As you may have seen in my tweets yesterday, United was canceling, rescheduling and even booting people off of flights left and right!  One flight was supposed to seat 50 passengers, but the gate agents made an announcement saying they could only take 22! 

So, as you can imagine, I was happy to have finally touched down in Canada, though it was the next day and I had only had 3hrs of sleep the night before!

Because I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked (none at all, actually), to check out the town and figure out the bus route to my internship, I called a cab. 

$20CAN later and I arrived at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network office in downtown Winnipeg.

Thus far things have been great!  Everyone is beyond friendly and equally excited about my being here (especially when they hear from my supervisor that I turned down 4 summer internship offers from CNN to work here…how did she find that out?!), which is nice.  🙂

I’m looking forward to giving you more updates and content as the summer goes on.  Keep checking back…or just subscribe!  🙂


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.


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…


Interesting article about the Title 1X Educational Amendments Act

I apologize for not posting in a while. I have been studying for the GRE and preparing my applications for graduate school. I have also been doing a lot of traveling…which I will fill you in on in the coming weeks! Thus, I have not had much time to blog. :-/ I promise I will get back to it as soon as things calm down a little in my life. 🙂

In the meantime, check out this article I found today. Here’s an excerpt:

Native Americans can take pride that Tennis icon Billie Jean King, a Cherokee, and Ted Kennedy, descendant of an honorary Iroquois Chief, did wonders to create equal opportunities for girls/women in sports and education in America and abroad.

By enforcing the 1972 Title 1X Education Amendments Act, they actually helped restore those equitable traditional ways of the First Americans, which were interrupted in the last 150 years.


President Obama aims to inspire young people as the new school year begins

Obama speaking to a elementary school students
Obama takes time to speak to elementary school students

Obama will be delivering the annual Presidential Back-to-School address via webcast tomorrow at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia which will be shown in some schools across the country. You can read the text of his speech beforehand by clicking the link below. (It’s definitely worth a read! But, really, would you expect anything less from this eloquent wordsmith?)

Here’s a passage that really spoke to me:

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time.

Read the entire speech at the Wall Street Journal online.


Graduate Horizons 2009 a huge success!

Graduate Horizons Students 2009

I just got back and settled in after an intense weekend full of workshops, panel discussions, late nights working on perfecting my academic resume and personal statement, lectures, and revisions, revisions, revisions! I literally slept all day yesterday to recoup, which is why I’m writing today!

If you know what College Horizons is (which if you are a college bound Native American student, you should!), then Graduate Horizons is just the pre-graduate school version of that. This year’s program was held at the University of California, Berkeley. Here is some info directly from the website:

Graduate Horizons is a four-day “crash course” for Native college students, master’s students or alumni in preparing them for graduate school (master’s, Ph.D. or professional school). Faculty, admission officers and deans from a host of graduate and professional schools and representing hundreds of graduate disciplines will help students:

* Select suitable programs to apply for a given career path
* Complete winning applications and write memorable personal statements
* Learn what turns an applicant into an admitted student
* Become a test-prep “whiz kid” on the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, & MCAT
* Navigate through the financial aid/scholarship jungle
* Explore special issues for Native students
* Learn graduate school survival tips

Participants will be limited to 90 and eligible participants will be Native American (enrolled members only), Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or First Nation; and college students, college graduates, master’s students.

I can honestly say that Graduate Horizons has changed my life in a sense. I now feel that after almost three years since graduating from Mount Holyoke College, I am done talking about applying to graduate school and I’m finally ready to do it! The support, advice, and confidence you get at Graduate Horizons is incredible, especially considering we were only at Berkeley for a weekend!

Thank you to Whitney Laughlin for creating both programs and for running them successfully for so many years, and to Carmen Lopez for taking over and making this year’s program such a success. My younger sister attended College Horizons this year and is just as pumped and excited about the program and applying to school as I am. I cannot thank you both enough for your commitment and dedication to such an underrepresented community. Your believing in our abilities and potential, even when we sometimes don’t see it, is what gives us confidence to go forward with our dreams and strive for the otherwise impossible. Thank you thank you thank you!

For information about College Horizons visit their website and for information about Graduate Horizons go to their webpage.

Amy Stretten, Native Journalist at Berkeley for Graduate Horizons