Removing a Blood Feather: Student Art and Perspective on Native American Oppression

By Brianna Torres, ’21.

“Removing a Blood Feather” – Original art by Briana Torres. Featuring a traditional Native American headdress without a person wearing it. The piece articulates that, in today’s society, select aspects of their culture have been kept while forgetting about the bloodshed and oppression that was aimed at an entire nation that comes with it.  

The following text was written by Torres to provide context and awareness to guide the viewing of her piece.

In America, many people groups are oppressed, and most times no one is even aware of it. For one particular group of people, Native Americans, their suffering has not only been forgotten, but it has also turned into cultural appropriation. A once thriving people group has been reduced to objects and left to survive on their own.

Native Americans have endured many obstacles in their life, and it is important to be aware of the unfair treatment of the thousands of people who are part of Native American history. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, Native Americans lived peacefully on their land, but, in the process of the Pilgrims discovering their new home, they destroyed an already existing one. After multiple battles between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, on May 28, 1830, the American government passed an act forcing tribes to move out west in order to take their remaining land in the east; this act was called The Indian Removal Act.  As Americans, we celebrate a holiday dedicated to Christopher Columbus, the initial oppressor, and yet we have no recognition for the hardship of an entire race of Native Americans.

Today, the descendants of the same people can still be found on reservations. These areas have poor living conditions and little resources. 38% to 63% of Native Americans living on the reservations are subject to poverty, and 40% of the homes they live in are found to be inadequate. Due to the lack of adequate housing, it is common to find overcrowding in the homes, and, on top of that, these homes might not have running water or a connection to a sewer system. Little is being done to provide more acceptable homes and jobs to support these families.

After years of oppression, current Native Americans must also endure watching their culture butchered in modern fashion and in caricatures. This happens through the act of cultural appropriation, which is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” One example of the cultural appropriation of Native American tradition in fashion is the classic headdress, a well-known symbol for Native Americans; something once so highly respected is used for people to wear to music festivals or even down runways. Another inappropriate reflection of Native American culture can be seen in logos and teams mascots; people wouldn’t use derogatory terms like “redskins” in branding for any other race. So many have forgotten the history of these people, yet much of what remains is only used as accessories. Inside the reservations, life continues to remain grim for its residents, and outside it doesn’t appear to be much better.

There is still little being done for those of Native American descent. Oppression has been a reality for them since the United States was founded, and it has led to a life filled with misery and little opportunity for change. It is sad to think that some of the Native American representation shown today is a result of cultural appropriation for the profit of others.

It is important to inform one another on the suffering of people today because even being conscious of these issues is a form of support.  The average LCA student can partake in this simply be taking the time to read an article about current issues regarding Native Americans and, in the future, holding a higher respect for these people so as to set an example for others to follow.