By Monty Herron
Hello, again friends and community members! I hope your holidays (honoring all faiths and paths) were wonder-filled! After a much-needed break to rest and recharge with family and friends, even compete in a karaoke competition; it’s back to my commitment to social awareness, sustainability and decolonization in our region, and communities. Now more than ever, with the orange presidency looming on the horizon, we must hold each other up, own our narratives, and be committed to these things in word and deed.
This week has been an explosive one for people staying watchful and mindful of Greater Portland’s behavior in regards to social justice issues, Two-Spirit folks, members of Portland’s Native community, and Settler/White-identified allies.
Here’s the deal. The fine folks at Invoke, Esoteric Living & Modern Artifacts 414 SE 81st Ave. Portland OR 97213 (503) 496-2221 Wed – Sun 12-6:30 pm Instagram @invokepdx www.invokepdx.com Owned by Durga & Kristie Savaya, have created a massive controversy of their making. They enlisted the aid of one Michelle Meister to hold a class at their store, taught by Michelle- Charging people $30 or $35 a piece. The photo depicted above is from their class flyer, advertising “Dreamcatcher Class, Make your own, Great gift idea!” Limited to 15 participants, etc etc. (I’ve heard anecdotal concerns that this is not the first time M. Meister has crafted and made “Prayer Drums” too, for a different store, and that there was an outcry at that time too. She even alludes to this in her response below, which would indicate that she has run afoul of angry Natives before.)
Problematic? Yes. Cultural appropriation. Possibly even illegal because of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (Found here: https://www.doi.gov/iacb/act) In part, the Act states that it “is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian-produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000. Under the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or officially State recognized Indian Tribe or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian Tribe. The law covers all Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935. The Act broadly applies to the marketing of arts and crafts by any person in the United States. Some traditional items frequently copied by non-Indians include Indian-style jewelry, pottery, baskets, carved stone fetishes, woven rugs, kachina dolls, and clothing.
All products must be marketed truthfully regarding the Indian heritage and tribal affiliation of the producers, so as not to mislead the consumer. It is illegal to market an art or craft item using the name of a tribe if a member, or certified Indian artisan, of that tribe, did not create the art or craft item. For example, products sold using a sign claiming “Indian Jewelry” would be a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act if the jewelry was produced by someone other than a member, or certified Indian artisan, of an Indian tribe. Products advertised as “Hopi Jewelry” would be in violation of the Act if they were produced by someone who is not a member, or certified Indian artisan, of the Hopi tribe.”
So, by the broad definition of the act, The only people that should be marketing or selling “Dream Catchers” are those who are federally registered or recognized by their tribe, of Lakota or Ojibwe descent. Not to mention the fact that usually, by tradition, at least in my experience here, and my teachings as a federally enrolled Umpqua, Takelma, and Assiniboine Native; teachers don’t teach for monetary compensation, or the oppressors frogskins if you will. If they do, they are allowed to. What many other people from all walks of life and I objected to is the continued appropriation of Native American culture, for profit, giving nothing to Native Americans for what is being taken of ours, AGAIN. There is also the issue of these things being religious items, not something that’s an ‘Arts & Crafts’ project. (I know thanks feds for calling it the Arts & Crafts Act.) So the call went out to the community to let these folks know ‘we’ (those of us sharing the same values) were not ok with this and respectfully asked them not to move forward with this class for the reasons I stated, and others had their reasons too. We were met almost immediately with derision, racism, gaslighting, tone-deaf replies, and tone-policing, with the owners accusing community members of being ‘bullies’ and ‘reverse-racists’.
Here was Michele Meister’s (prose/poetry?) response to the community.
“This is my reply…
If one person had come to me,
Human being to human being,
Without teeth bared and claws stretched out,
We could have had a conversation.
Do you think in 59 years of life,
Of working with the Sacred,
Of working with the Spirits,
Of working with the Gods and with the Ancestors,
Do you think I never thought of this?
Do you think that in 11 years of working
In a business oriented around Native spirituality,
Do you think I never thought of this?
Do you think the conversations I had
With Native Elders and Tribal People,
With AIM Members and NARA volunteers,
That I did not discuss this very thing?
That I wasn’t concerned that I had no right
To make the ritual objects, I made for them?
No right to make the drums,
No right to make the rattles,
No right to make dream catchers?
Do you think they were wrong when they told me
That what is in your heart matters.
That sacred things made in a sacred way are sacred?
That it is the removal of the sacred by those who stereotype and deride
That is the problem.
That it is the misrepresentation by non-natives pretending to make native art that is the problem.
That it is the pushing aside of native people that is the problem.
This is what I heard when I discussed this with many native people.
The same native people I taught to make drums, because they had no one left to teach them.
The same native people who asked me to make dream catchers for them,
The same native people who told me that the right to make these things comes from having the right things in my heart.
It comes from walking with the spirits, the ancestors and the gods in every moment of my life.
It comes from the sacrifices I have made and the journeys I have taken
To earn the right to make my art.
It comes from living simply and not participating in the over culture.
It comes from choosing my integrity over the family of my birth.
It comes from working unendingly for justice for all people.
Do you know that there are many cultures
You are lumping together when you talk of Native Americans?
Do you think the Ojibway were the only ones
To ever see a spider web and try to make it with sticks and string?
Do you think the Ojibway people are the only ones who dream?
Do you think that a Hopi person cannot make a dream catcher?
I do not claim to make Ojibway dream catchers,
My dream catchers are non-traditional,
But they come from my heart and from my dreams,
And making sacred tools is a sacred practice,
Which opens humans to a better connection
With the spirits, ancestors and gods.
This is why I share my skills.
I walk in integrity, and in sacred space.
Instead of wasting your time bullying me,
Perhaps you could find one of the many homeless natives trying to survive on our streets,
And offer your home,
Or a blanket,
Or a cup of coffee,
Or a few minutes of your day to hear them.
WHAT THE ACTUAL !!??! “Because they had no one left to teach them”?? My horsehide prayer drum begs to differ. The nephews I work with on dancing traditionally, Uncles and Aunties who teach, and help us build regalia would seem to disagree too. We never asked for you and your “White Savior” attitude. And did you actually just take my concern for your appropriation about my culture and deflect it by suggesting we have no right to speak unless we have invited someone that is house-less into our home for a blanket or a coffee-klatch?? (Also thank you for using ‘homeless native’ and the many other times you use the lowercase ‘n’ instead of Native as in Native American. I can see how much you respect us and our ways of knowing.)But ok, I’ll do you one better than that my fair settler friend. I travelled with companions to Standing Rock in September taking an entire truckload of needed medical, warming, food, and building supplies; and then, combined, we purchased another $2000 in needed fresh food and building materials before departing. Since I’ve been back in Oregon, I fundraised again and constructed bulletproof lexan shields for Water Protectors. Those are leaving my place this Sunday, Jan. 8th for North Dakota. (Thank you to everyone that has travelled, donated, or helped me construct things for Standing Rock, you are ALL rockstars, and know what it means to give selflessly, or be an ally!)
So I guess by your standard, I’m ‘over-qualified’ to tell you how effed up your profiting from my culture is. This isn’t an issue of whether a Hopi person is making a dream catcher, it’s that a settler is, and trying to make money on it. When you’re told your actions are denigrating or take away from others, or cause harm; IMHO, an apology and desisting in the behavior are all that is needed to begin to make amends. Let’s also not get it twisted- I took the time to try and educate because I care deeply about my culture. It isn’t my ‘job’ as an Indigenous Two-Spirit person to educate you; it’s a choice, one made of love, but one that takes time, energy, and emotion from me. I’d also really appreciate it if you folks resisted with the whole gaslighting about race thing. “This isn’t my ‘race’. It’s my ethnicity and culture. I was raised knowing I am Native. I am a medicine carrier, I dance Men’s tradish, sweat, smudge, and speak my people’s language…. I know our stories, our struggles and our triumphs. I will never be silenced, nor will I be erased.” This subject area is one having to do with Native American issues, we are taking back our narrative, we are tired of the abuse that has never stopped in 500 years, and frankly, speaking for myself; I’m sick of your s**t. Stop telling us how we should feel, or how you have some sort of right to take whatever you want, profit from it, and tell us to kick rocks. Sound familiar? Yeah. Broken treaties. Colonialism. Genocide. Racism.
But the saga was far from over. After many community members expressed displeasure, and supported each other, and tried to reach out to educate, Michelle seemed to come around and left a brief post saying she was cancelling the class, and that it wasn’t her intent to hurt anyone. Bravo! Enter Kristie & Durga Sivaya. Here is what they posted in the event thread on social media, about twelve hours before they deleted the event and their Facebook page.
“At the request of the person leading the class; the class has been cancelled. This is not the decision of Invoke as we do not agree with your opinions. We are a small business that gives to the community, supports local artists and encourages spiritual growth and exploration as it relates to ALL GENDERS, COLORS & CULTURES. The accusations you have all made are inaccurate, judgmental and appalling. You know nothing of the intent of the class, nothing of the individual that was teaching the class and nothing of our store. In a time that we should be all growing and learn from each other and unite, you have continued to divide us. -Durga & Kristie”
I think it’s interesting that all the feelings, historical trauma, and appropriation can be dismissed as ‘opinions’ by these folks. They continued to gaslight, make claims of ‘reverse racism’ and said the concerned parties were trying to shut their business down when they were on-air guests of Lars Larson’s conservative radio talk show on KXL. They had even stated that they “didn’t think anyone from the Native American community would even come into their store to speak with them”. *This will be important later. Huh? So the business owners of esoteric goods, when confronted with a sticky situation ran to a conservative talk show host? That confuses me. It takes the intractability of their refusal to have an open dialogue about this issue to a whole new level.
In the meantime, I asked members of Portland’s Native community, LGBTQIIAA community, and demonstrated allies to please have their voice be heard here, at PQ. We aren’t going to silence, dismiss, or reject- your pain, grievances, or fears. We have a right to our own narrative as People of Color, Queers, and Allies. I was grateful to hear back from a local member of Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ).
“This is my interpretation of the conversation which occurred last night with the owners of Invoke. I in no way speak for the others who were part of this conversation. In full disclosure, I entered this conversation as a white, cis-male, non-Indigenous pagan hoping that the owners of Invoke would see the harm of their actions, and make steps to repair relationships with the community.
We spent three and a half hours in conversation with the owners, as well as four of their friends. Such a long conversation is not easily “re-capped”, but I’ll do my best here to bring up some of the main themes. In many ways, this will be a “glossed over” account.
From the outset, there were two main perspectives. Our point of view was that in hosting a dreamcatcher class taught by a white woman, Invoke had hurt the Native American community, and had been called to account for it. Our hope was that they would offer an apology and reach out to the Native community to make amends.
Their perspective was that there was nothing wrong with the dreamcatcher class, that most of the things in their store were offensive to someone, and that the tactics used in the comments on the Facebook page constituted bullying.
We met them as human beings, people who could have made similar mistakes at one point in our lives or another, and who had experienced being “called out” in one way or another. We wanted to convey to them that they could move forward by apologizing and seeking to make amends. My experience was that all of us were very careful not to take a superior tone and to be empathetic, although there were times when we did raise our voices due to heated emotions.
Some of the main issues that we faced (in no particular order) were:
-The four of us who came to talk to the owners were all white. This was particularly an issue for two of the owners’ friends, who were persons of color, and was very upset with this dynamic.
-The nature of many of the Facebook comments and other communications the owners had received had left them shaken, fearing for their livelihood and safety. It seemed hard for them to differentiate between the informative posts and the threats of violence they had received. They repeatedly expressed that they were the victims of bullying. This made them unwilling to offer an apology, as it seemed like giving in to bullies.
-The owners seemed concerned that this was part of a larger scheme to remove their business; that SURJ, which they thought was a for-profit organization, was operating on behalf of some other interest (according to http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/about_this_site, SURJ is not-for-profit).
-The owners, while openly expressing the desire to be good people, were not well versed in social justice language and protocols.
-The owners had difficulty acknowledging their racism. At one point each of us was asked if we saw ourselves as racist, each of us replied “yes”. This caused the owner to believe that this, and other similar campaigns, were hazing rituals, that our goal was to beat them down, and when they assented, to lift them back up as “one of us”.
-The owners struggled to understand the harm of cultural appropriation and seemed resistant to the repeated and various explanations.
-The owners seemed unsure of our role in this, at times hoping that we would be able to bring an end to the campaign if they convinced us to do so. We explained that whatever we believed or said, we were just four people, and that the future of their store would depend entirely on them and how they carried themselves from this point on.
The conversation pretty much ended as a result of exhaustion and it was getting late. At the end of the conversation, the owners remained adamant that to issue an apology would be to give in to bullying. All three of us did our best to offer the owners of Invoke an empathetic audience who heard their concerns, who tried to explain the harm of cultural appropriation to them, and who sought to provide them with a path towards restoring the standing of their store in Portland’s diverse community. Hopefully something productive comes from this. However, that remains to be seen.” -M.
The next day, because I wanted to also create space for growth, and promote understanding; I called the number listed for Invoke, the phone was answered by Durga. He told me I was welcome at the store anytime. He’d be happy to buy me lunch. I said it wasn’t necessary, but I’d love to stop by and get comments directly from him and Kristie regarding this. Durga stated that he already knew me, that we had ‘hung out’ or shared space. That he, Durga, has seen me dancing, and heard me speak in public. I told him I could not recall hanging out with him, but I would head right over. I offered to let them send me a press release or a new statement via email if they wanted, but he said no, come on by, they had already retained an attorney and were fearful because of death threats to their family. I told him that was unacceptable, and to even hear that had taken place made my heart heavy and sad. When I arrived at Invoke, had parked and entered the store, I saw Durga to the right (with a customer?), Kristie near the front of the shop, and another client, that I believe to be Jerome Funchess. Jerome Funchess, who immediately moved into my personal space and stayed there as I walked back to speak with Kristie. She said, “Are you, Monty?” I replied yes. “You aren’t welcome in this store, EVER.” Ok says I, I left peacefully, while Durga watched. Jerome said he “would walk me out”. I told him that I didn’t need any help finding my way out, as I was invited in not 20 min before by Durga. He insisted on speaking with me, saying he was a customer of their store and lived in the neighborhood, proceeded to tell me that the energy that this whole incident created within him was unwelcome and uninvited and that I was a bully. While simultaneously policing me as another Person of Color, telling me if I wanted “to protest about Leonard Peltier being incarcerated that was something he could get behind, but I shouldn’t be protesting about Dreamcatcher classes being taught by white people”. I told him his comments towards me were unwanted and uninvited, as I proceeded to my car… he continued to follow me, shouting at me angrily following me to my car, making me feel incredibly unsafe and threatened.
I reached out again to the community to say I want your voices and I got them. I have to tell you readers- I was overwhelmed by the amount of support, private messages asking if I was ok, what was needed to support me, etc. I wept that night because I cannot think of a time when I have ever felt so supported and loved while doing social justice work. Here are a couple more submissions from community members.
From a Yaqui sister here in Portland-“Good intent does not mean it’s OK to take what is not yours. The missionaries thought they had good intentions when they converted us to Christianity, and they put us in boarding schools and beat our Sacred language and way of life out of our children and us. They felt entitled to our bodies and minds, and to our culture, we were turned into myths and stories of something that had long died out, when in fact, we are still here and trying to rebuild… what is left of our culture and way of life? Who are you helping when you continue to appropriate something that you do not understand? You take something Sacred and turn it into a fun decoration for your new apartment, to add feathers and beads…you just do it as a fun craft project, when in reality, a lot of prayer and ceremony goes into every single step of creating one of these objects. This ignorance, and being unable to recognize that, or educate yourself and better yourself, makes you complicit in contributing to the cultural genocide that my people have faced for hundreds of years. When you hurt someone, and they tell you “please stop doing that it hurts me”, you do not get to tell them “No.That doesn’t hurt for you.”
“Watching the implosion of a local business as it publically argues with patrons (those for and against their right to cultural appropriation) has been mind blowing. Over the top. I don’t participate in those discussions because if someone is going to do something even after it has been explained why they shouldn’t, my voice won’t help change their mind. But to see them become verbally aggressive towards People of Color trying to explain why they didn’t want something done, and watch other patrons defend the store with equally dismissive attitudes, has shown me how just much Portland has not changed. It’s sad.” From a Taino, Two-Spirit/Trans Brother
I’m not sure what the next chapter will be for these folks or the communities affected by this incident. There seems to be plenty of pain to go around now. I agree with the owners that being united not divided is a great goal, but it will never happen while you dismiss our concerns and tell us to shut up. I tried to walk my talk, and foster understanding; but after being invited in by one owner, and thrown out by the other like some sort of cruel ‘Mean Girls’ moment, while they allowed a customer to try and intimidate me and occupy my personal space, I won’t be going back.
Monty Herron is an Op-Ed columnist, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Two-Spirit, author, & academic instructor.