The Appropriation Window: Look inside; there's work yet to be done

Among the items included in the "appropriation window" is a photo of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.
Among the items included in the "appropriation window" is a photo of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

There are maps and books and figurines and dream catchers. A Christmas stocking made to look like a Native grandma, her faux buckskin dress open so Santa can deposit whatever gifts down the front. A photograph of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. One Pocahontas Barbie and one Lenox figurine of a Native boy kneeling to shake paws with a wolf. A vase with a Native man screaming to the sky; and a painting of a Native woman dressed in white who holds a falcon, and near her right arm is a rope that appears to have just been cut.

Most of the items are stereotypical, historical reproductions stamped "Made in China." Some are unbelievable, like a tie with a cartoonish drawing of a grinning Black child wearing pajamas and carrying a fish while donning a hat that reads Injineer.

My co-workers call the window these items occupy "The Appropriation Window." Not all things that fall into the foggy realm of appropriation make it to the window, nor are they all appropriated. The dream catchers are a gift sent to donors from St. Labre Indian School. And others, a scant few, are beadwork or pottery created by Native artists. I place the authentic next to the mass-produced, contrasting Native-inspired and inspired Native. All of the items are donations to the thrift store that supports the nonprofit I work at as the only non-White employee in a county whose minority population is 2.1 percent.

"No," I replied, but not before explaining why a group of privileged White women dressed in traditional headwear of Mexican peasants seemed, at the very least, impolite.

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Among those which made the dumpster is one "Children's Map of the United States," portraying reservation areas with caricatures of Native people in dress not tribally correct and in any number of ludicrous or ineffectual poses. Scalping. Chasing settlers with tomahawks. Being pursued by Custer and pecked at by ravens. This same children's map shows a White soldier riding through the South with a Dixie flag on a pole. Also tossed, a book titled History Started in 1776 and another with a back cover description that read "in a land ravaged by Indians..."; a shot glass with the word "Injun"; anything with the pejorative "squaw"; and every statue of a Black waiter holding an empty tray. Yes, there's been more than one.

Once a stack of 20 sombreros came in. As I was putting them in the trash can, a volunteer asked if she could have them. I asked why, and she told me about a group she belonged to, a sisterhood of women fly fishers, who could wear them during their annual fiesta. "No," I replied, but not before explaining why a group of privileged White women dressed in traditional headwear of Mexican peasants seemed, at the very least, impolite.

The first item to make the window was the Mattel Pocahontas Barbie. This, to my co-workers, was obvious. Next was the aforementioned tie. Then, an Indian Lego character. It has swollen to nearly 25 items, including a pair of dolls made in the 1940s and dressed in plastic buckskin. A bearded middle-aged man in a cowboy hat passing my window rapped on the pane one day. When I looked at him, he pointed to the dolls. "I want those," he said, "I could sell them for a lot of money!"

After accepting a new job this spring, I was met with a dilemma. What to do with the Appropriation Window. The window allowed the team to discuss race, disparity and appropriation — and keep items off the sales floor that may upset some who recognized them as outmoded and inappropriate. "We will keep it as a reminder," said Drew, the man who will fill my position. "Not all profit is good profit."

During one of my last days, the team and I contemplated how appropriate a window was for this collection. It is tall with a wide sill. There is a security system sticker stuck to the pane. The window is rarely opened for air and covered by a sheet of plywood in the winter, so the force of heavy white snow won't push in and shatter the glass. "It is also," my co-worker Trent commented as we were closing for the day, "a way of looking inside — a reminder that there is still progress to be made." ♦

CMarie Fuhrman is the author of Camped Beneath the Dam: Poems (Floodgate 2020) and co-editor of Native Voices (Tupelo 2019). She has published poetry and nonfiction in multiple journals as well as several anthologies.

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About The Author

CMarie Fuhrman

CMarie Fuhrman is the author of Camped Beneath the Dam: Poems (Floodgate 2020) and co-editor of Native Voices (Tupelo 2019). She has published poetry and nonfiction in multiple journals including High Desert Journal, Yellow Medicine Review, Cutthroat a Journal of the Arts, Whitefish Review, Broadsided Press, Taos...