Shandi Finnessey, Miss America entry in the 2004 Miss Universe, contest chose an American Indian image as her theme for the “native costume” competition. No, she’s not Indian, and no, her northern plains war bonnet costume was not authentic. But this beautiful blonde, blue-eyed white girl from Florissant, Missouri new what visual image distinguishes her country from all others: the northern plains American Indian war bonnet.
And immediately Indians protest! That is, the professional, liberal Indians. That is, one or two.
Jim Adams, wrote an editorial for Indian Country Today, the largest Indian paper in America. Adams quickly quotes Tex Hall, President of the National Congress of American Indians, and current chairman of the Affiliated Tribes, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, of North Dakota, recalling the blatantly inauthentic costumes the black hip-hop group Outkast wore during their Grammy performance, and how “many” Indians protested all that.
Adams points out that Outkast responded with insincerity and even professional perfidy, not following through on a promised performance for Indian youth as a peace offering. All Adams can say regarding Finnessy’s costume is that she didn’t win with it, as if that validates the liberal Indian aftermath protest. Finessey came in second, second to Australia’s Jennifer Hawkins, whose “national costume” dress, unless made of tanned and dyed wallaby skin, resembled absolutely nothing associated with Australia.
Adams’ report is an opinionated inflation based on a conversation with Tex Hall. On this basis, Adams can say, “Some are calling it worse than the Grammys,” and “Native viewers are taking offense.” Adams plus Tex, that’s two, and two requires the plural. Why, it sounds like every Indian in America is upset with Shandi. Standard slop for Indian Country Today reporting.
Hall promises to “demand an apology” from both broadcaster NBC and the Miss Universe Organization—owned by Donald Trump, a major casino mogul as well.
Hall and liberal northern plains Indians have long been protesting the use of the Indian imagery their tribes dominate. They have been particularly miffed at the “Fighting Sioux” image of the University of North Dakota. Of course, much of that is simply tribal envy, and in the case of the war bonnet, Hall may again be out of place. The tribes over which he is chairman are not known for wearing the war bonnet. The Hidatsa, a branch of the Crow, do in fact speak a Siouan language, but the earliest descriptions and depictions of them are without the war bonnet. Such a distinct piece of attire is also absent among the Arikara and the Mandan. All three of these tribes are historical enemies of the Sioux.
I’m afraid the war bonnet is associated principally with the fighting Sioux, and also the Blackfeet, the Cheyenne, and later other plains tribes, even southern tribes, like the Comanche. But the Sioux are really the image makers of the American Indian. They are the Ralph Lauren of Indian clothing. When Tex Hall puts on a war bonnet, in a very real way, he is simply putting on a “costume” himself.
Hall nonetheless rebukes Shandi’s grandmother, who is from North Dakota, for not being sensitive to Indian culture and tradition. “The war bonnet is never worn by a woman.” he says. Well, Hall should have been around in 1940, when Miss Oklahoma wore the high plains bonnet herself. Martyne Woods was of Choctaw descent—an eastern woodland tribe.
So why don’t liberals like Adams and Hall protest the use of Indian girl models for soft porn? Are they unaware of Keith DeHaas, of Norman, Oklahoma? DeHaas is a successful Indian entrepreneur, originally from North Dakota, in fact—Standing Rock Lakota Sioux. He created the famous Rez Dog Clothing company, operating out of Norman.
DeHaas has created yearly calendars, with hot shots of Indian girls modeling bikinis. This is as far from Indian tradition as possible. This is completely outrageous, and brings no honor to Indian people, no respect for tradition, nor does it encourage Indian young people to follow the traditions. This is the ultimate assimilation—adopting the modes of sexual attraction of the foreign, conquering race.
I don’t hear any Indian protest against DeHaas, except my own. Where are the great liberal Indians, the sanctimonious guardians of Indian tradition? Where is the outrage, the demand for an apology, the legal suit?
The hypocrisy of these whining, racist Indians is more obvious and egregious than anything Jesse Jackson could conjure up.
At least Shandi’s heart was in the right place.