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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Commodification of the Native in the 21st Century

  • Author(s): Fowler, Sarah
  • et al.

This paper explores the emerging popularity of Native American inspired goods within the context of URBN retail stores. Using American Indian stereotypes and symbols these products speak to the western desire to mimic the perceived ideals of Indians, including spirituality and environmentalism thus allowing Americans to assuage technological anxieties with the consumption of a contrived naturalistic lifestyle. It is argued that the production of such “native” goods has further restricted the self-determination of American Indians and perpetuated intolerance by limiting the scope of modern Native American life to once again fit within the definition of a western world. This cycle is additionally harmful in the recreation of the good and bad Indian narrative, popular in the seventeenth century. The good Indian has become a passive naturalist, whose culture is available for consumption while the bad Indian remains the enemy, he continues to lie and cheat and is exemplified by portrayals of modern American Indian entrepreneurs. As an international retailer, URBN is indicative of a global trend in the western perception and treatment of modern native peoples. It is suggested that the global marketing of a trend detrimental to the agency of Native Americans has become an international issue for all indigenous people and stands to perpetuate prejudices around the world simultaneously hindering progress on issues surrounding indigenous rights.

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