The Coyote's Game Blog

Coyote's Game Native American Beadwork & Crafts

16. January 2013 10:57
by Lynne

Where's the Respect?

16. January 2013 10:57 by Lynne | 0 Comments

Judging by recent events in the fashion and entertainment industry, It seems to be difficult for many non-Native people to understand why they should respect Native American culture and traditions.  After all, we openly criticize the dominant culture, and our laws support freedom of speech.  Why should we treat American Indian customs differently? 

Partially, I think the problem is that most people in our society have had very little contact with traditional Native American culture.  They don’t understand that to disrespect what appears to be a superficial aspect of Native culture is to disrespect tribal beliefs and traditions.  Also, Indian people have a longer history of cultural suppression and assimilation than other minorities in the US.  It isn’t surprising that they’re demanding respect for what they’ve preserved.   In addition, some wannabes have crossed the line between imitation and respect when they vulgarize customs such as sweat lodges.

There’s a large gray area between admiring and imitating Native culture and lack of respect.  Some of it has to do with motive.  When I lived on a reservation, an Anglo I knew, who sincerely believed in the traditional religion, asked a medicine man to hold a healing ceremony for him—not so that he could later write or blog about the experience, but because he believed he would be healed of a serious illness.   On the other hand, I also knew non-Natives who bribed members of the tribe to let them participate in traditional ceremonies.   And, at the far end of the spectrum we have the recent situation where a Victoria’s Secret underwear model was decked out in Native jewelry and an imitation feather war bonnet.

But times change, too.  Last Spring I attended the Denver pow-wow and my jaw dropped when the emcee invited non-Indian visitors to join in a few of the dances.   Not to mention the fact that the audience applauded every dance.  My attitude toward pow-wow dances comes from the years spent at a reservation college where at each and every pow-wow the college president reminded non-Natives that the dances were religious in nature and applause was unacceptable.  Joining in the dance was grounds for a strong reprimand.

Teaching respect is not as simple as passing a law on equal rights.  First, children need to understand the importance of respecting people from other cultures.   That’s best taught at home by example, but it can also be learned at multi-ethnic schools like those I attended, with children whose parents came from all over the world.

Looking back on it now, I think the Denver pow-wow emcee was right.  If non-Indian children are allowed to participate in dances with little religious significance, maybe when those children become adults they won’t see Native culture as something alien or exotic.   Instead of feeling threatened by it, hopefully they’ll see that Native American culture has many things of value to offer and deserves their respect.

12. November 2012 10:45
by Lynne

Seller Beware

12. November 2012 10:45 by Lynne | 0 Comments

Beading is a skilled craft and fine beadwork an art.  For many Native people, beadwork is part of tribal culture, a skill handed down from generation to generation.  Because beadwork is used to make adornments for children as well as adults, and because some is classified as jewelry, it is regulated by law. 

At present, U.S. consumer safety laws do not require any special documents to import beads and jewelry findings.  Nor do they restrict beadwork and beaded jewelry for adults.  However, the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act does regulate all products intended for children.

Only the State of California’s Lead-Containing Jewelry Law and Proposition 65 require special documents proving adult jewelry components meet their safety standards.  Anyone who lives or works in California, or who sells to customers from California must comply with both of these laws.

California requires all manufacturers to provide certificates showing that their products comply with California law, and Proposition 65 requires anyone employing 10 or more people selling or distributing products in the State of California to include warning labels.  These labels must state that the product contains specified hazardous materials or, that the product may contain a hazardous material.

With some exceptions, most beadwork for adults falls into the second category.  The warning reads:  “This product may contain a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  There are two reasons why the warning is required.

First, because the chemicals listed in Proposition 65 are reviewed twice a year.  California's logic is that just because beading components are not classified as harmful now, some chemical used for coloring or lining the beads may be found to cause harm in the future.  Use of warning labels protects jewelry makers from unintentionally breaking the law.

Second, although these laws were intended to regulate things like cast lead jewelry charms for children, they have resulted in a flood of lawsuits that include possible harm to adults—not always because it was proven that someone got cancer from the product, but because they “might” get cancer.  Without the warning, at some future date, the seller or maker of beaded jewelry may find themself in court trying to prove that their jewelry didn’t cause harm.  Even though most beaders don't employ 10 or more people and are exempt from Proposition 65's warning, no one is exempt from the threat of lawsuits.

Certainly children should be protected from toxic materials.  But how far we should go to protect adults from possible harm caused by swallowing or inhaling something that was clearly meant only to be worn externally as jewelry, is debatable.  I suspect the adult provisions in these laws have more to do with the fact that today stupidity is profitable and benefits the legal profession, than with controlling potentially harmful substances.

And it seems a pity that in order to protect ourselves from lawsuits, we should be forced to put scary warnings on something meant to bring beauty and joy to our lives.