If I Buy Native American Jewelry, Am I Appropriating?

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions everyday and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. 

POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red at the bottom is the takeaway of the discussion.

Question:

I’ve always loved turquoise jewelry, particularly because it is my birthstone. I started seeking out traditional pieces when I was I high school, and out of what I intend to be respect for Native designers, I try to purchase signed pieces from certified Native-owned dealers/artists. I have loved wearing these works of art – but being aware that they may be problematic has made me pump the breaks. Is there ANY appropriate way for a White person to wear traditional turquoise jewelry (i.e. squash blossom necklaces, naja, etc.)?

Native Responses:

Navajo jeweler here. It goes a long way to research the source of what you’re buying. I often make jewelry for a specific person in mind because it’s a form of protection in our culture. I think as long as you’re wearing jewelry made by Native people, it’s fine. Just do me a favor and try to buy direct from artists. Galleries are highly problematic and expensive AF! It’s also really nice to be able to talk to the artist as far as their creative processes and inspiration. You might even establish a good working relationship for continued dealings. Also be cautious about old jewelry with broken stones. These items could very well have been grave-robbed goods. As we pass, our jewelry is often buried with us, but we typically break the stones. I’ve seen galleries displaying a few in the past and their means of acquisition was definitely questionable.

Half white part Native here. I don’t see a problem at all and agree with the other poster that it’s always important to be respectful and learn about what you are buying and who made it, etc. Just don’t be wearing it with costumes acting like those camp people pretending to be Native.

White Responses:

If I buy art inspired by indigenous individuals, I get to know the artist, and ask what inspired it. If there are traditional lifeways depicted in the art, I take that seriously and listen to the artist’s interpretation of their work and culture. I remember I carry that with me when I wear it. In general, when I buy art from independent artists it’s about the connection and the story. Every piece carries that.

I just want to say I’m super interested in this question/answer. Also White, and have tried to go the same route, making sure I buy from Native sellers/authorized/certified, etc. Very very interested in being respectful/knowledgeable and pass on knowledge.

Takeaways

If you are buying from a Native designer then you can wear it and respect their culture. However, be careful of jewelry with cracked stones because it could have been robbed from a grave.

To submit a question, go to How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch and submit a question in DM or email alohakiona@gmail.com.

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