Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Yay Life Tribe
The Yay Life Tribe's Facebook Page says:
The Yay Life Tribe is a growing group of people who believe that being happy is a decision you have to make for yourself. Once you make this decision and become positive enough the people around you will want to make the decision to be happy as well. The goal of this tribe is to make the world a better place.

To pass on the love of life.

Nice Right? BUT:

I generally stay out of "cultural appropriation" themed posts (aside from mascots cuz that just pisses me off) and leave them up to Adrienne over at Native Appropriations but this one is just TOO good to ignore, the discussion over there has been brutal.  Why all the fuss?  Well just LOOK at this screen shot Adrienne got from the Yay Life Tribe's documentary:

It. Is. Awesome.

Just looking at this picture made me want to punch this guy in the face.  I mean WHAT??  Look at this guy!!  Ahhhh hahahahhahahaha.  Ok ok, lemme catch my breath and I'll break it down for you:

Ok ok I'm being EXTRA harsh.  Let's at least let this guy explain himself.  Here's what he wrote in response to Adrienne's post:

Hey Adrienne,
This is Zimmerman- I'm Tucker's partner at the Yay Life Tribe- I'm the winged Panda you have featured in the image at the top of your post here. This appears to be self-deprecating humor, I like it.

There are a lot of feelings that are stirred in me by this post but I think first and foremost the most important one to express at this moment is a feeling genuine mutual respect. We're not out to offend anybody and we certainly have no interest in exploiting any culture or beliefs for personal or financial gain. So let me expression our deepest regret that our expression have offended you. Note that he isn't sorry for causing the offense, but he is sorry that we are so sensitive as to have been offended by his harmless artistic expression.

Issues of racial inequality and cultural exploitation can be really sensitive subjects for people and to wit one can never really know who one is talking to or what experiences that person carries with them that have lead them to feel a certain way. Interpretation: You're only angry because your life experience has turned you into an angry person. Not because I did something wrong.

I used teach a course and run discussion groups on Race Relations at Penn State University so I have quite a bit of familiarity with exploited cultures.Not speaking very highly of Penn State.. But more importantly, I felt compelled to respond because American Indian culture is something that is of a very deep personal importance to me. Oh boy oh boy here it comes!!!

I've spent quite a bit of my life working with American Indian tribes- most notably on the Leech Lake, White Earth, and Red Lake reservations in Minnesota, and also worked the Houma Indians in Houma, LA.

The comlete desolation and abuse of the American Indian culture note use of the singular is not lost on me- I've seen the poverty, I've met the sick, I've talked with activists like Dennis Banks (of the American Indian Movement)I know who Dennis Banks is! (He's that guy who was one of the voices in Disney's Pocahontas) and Winona Laduke, I've worked to expose toxic waste dumping on Indian lands and I've witnessed first hand the wretched racism that is thoroughly abundant in this country. So you haz some empathy with me??

For a time, I lived on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota- my Ojibwe name is Doonoo-Gaabawi (it means Standing Bull)- and I have come to understandings and beliefs about the world that have forever altered my life - teach me oh enlightened one. The amount of revere I have for the first nations is insurmountable so when I wear a spirithood or tribal attire it is with the deepest admiration and respect.Then why are you wearing your "spirithood" to a music festival instead of keeping it sacred? And why are you selling them? And why are you doing this with them:

You are totally honoring my culture dude...
But there is much debate to be had, even among first nations, as to what is or is not "acceptable" or "okay" in this respect. And while I highly respect your opinion I must whole heartedly disagree. I'd say the debate ranges from "look at the funny white person wearing that costume" to "that is so racist"

A pipe carried [carrier] that I became involved with in Minnesota told me a story once of meeting of nations where leaders from tribes across the country met to discuss the future. There was much yelling and decrying and hatred- "you did this to my people" and "you did that to our people" and at some point this man got up to speak and asked one simple question:

"Where is the love that brought our people together?" Well... It's hard for me to forgive you when you won't even apologize.

You see, he realized that all that negativity, the accusations, the hatred and the anger were only serving to push people away rather then bring them together. This moment struck me and continues to drive my actions as a person. It is easy to get caught up in your emotions Love is an emotion- the world can be a very difficult and unsympathetic place. Believe me, the life I've lived has hardly been one of privilege- I know too well the weight of the shame of defeat that the world and society can put on you. If you really loved me and respected me, you'd take off the breastplate at the very least...

And it is PRECISELY for this reason that we are doing what we are doing- this world needs love. Period. and food and water and medicine.. And that is our sole goal- to love and to express love to anyone and everyone. Still not sure where the spirithood fits into all this.. or how dressing like you are above is expressing love. Agree with us or not, that is our message and this is exactly what Tucker was trying to express in his note to you. You can read that love note here:

You may disagree with our use of the word "tribe" but I think you'd be hard pressed to defend any argument claiming ownership of such a concept as a tribe. A tribe is a naturally occurring conglomeration of like minded people and to consider one's self a "chief" is merely acknowledging a leadership position within that conglomeration. Yeah.. but you're a "tribe" in the context of you living in AMERICA and wearing a breastplate outta Dances with Wolves and you just got done explaining all your American Indian influences in your personal philosophy soooooooooo

I would have to point out here that these are ENGLISH words, not native words. As a Cherokee I'm sure you're very well aware of this distinction as many prefer to refer to themselves as Tsalagi rather then Cherokee since Cherokee was an English name bestowed upon them. Oh SNAP look at him schooling the real Cherokee... For that matter, the words "tribe" and "chief" are also not native words- the very concept of titles are not exactly terms of endearment. But all of this is simply a semantic issue and I would ask you to look beyond the surface reaction that bothers you and take heart the words the I am giving you here. At this point I started banging my head against my desk.

We mean you no harm or disrespect and we would love to continue this discussion because I think it is one that is VERY important for today's society. Me too. No.. actually... I do mean you some disrespect...

So if it's okay, I'd like to continue this dialogue- perhaps through a facebook forum and maybe with some additional blog posts. I really respect all that you're doing here- this is a voice that needs to be heard. I think ours is one that needs to be heard as well. And think we may find that you and I have a lot in common. Well.. Adrienne IS way nicer than me so that's possible.


So I appreciate these boys' desire to spread a message of love and positivity. But I am still not seeing the point of wearing all that crap (from the top picture) in order to express this message of love and positivity. If anything it seems to be taking away from their message.. you know.. since it is just making people feel exploited and offended whether they intend it to or not.  Also.. if they're promoting spirithoods (I'm still not entirely clear about what their affiliation with spirithoods is).. they ought to know that the spirithood company is selling this:

 and thus clearly drawing a line directly to an American Indian culture.  ALSO IT IS $139.00.


  1. I don't get it. Are you saying he's not as good a native as you? How Uncle Tom-ish...

    His grasp of the English language isn't all there either. Maybe instead of trying to big time some insignificant nobody, you should put effort into ensuring that people who lived "for a time" on, say, Red Lake Reservation don't churn out sentences like "Issues of racial inequality and cultural exploitation can be really sensitive subjects for people and to wit one can never really know who one is talking to or what experiences that person carries with them that have lead them to feel a certain way"

  2. Jordin, I don't know what you're referring to. To clarify: Zimmerman is not Native--that's the problem!--I'd never get into an I'm more Native than thou argument. Calling me an Uncle Tom is low dude! What'd I do to deserve that?!

    Anyway, I hope you'll read some of my other posts and see that I do, for the most part, address serious issues like tribal sovereignty, sexual assault, health, education, systemic racism etc., but this dude ticked me off and made me feel like writing a more humorous post so I did.


  3. Girl, I am busting up in the cafeteria right now. THANK YOU for this. Sharing on the Native Approps Facebook now... :)

  4. Was I too mean? I feel mean...

  5. I agree with Raven! This really upsets me too!

  6. This all seems like a gateway to becoming a furry. I don't get what spirit hoods have to do with spreading this message either. If I ever spot someone actually wearing one of these, I will make them cry.

  7. I kinda like that panda one though, not gonna lie, it's adorable. Oh NO it's happening! I'm becoming a furry!!

  8. how have i not known about this blog before?!??! another to add to my daily readings!