Owning ‘Red’: A Theory of Indian (Cultural) Appropriation

When non-Indians use Indian names, imagery, iconography, and other symbols—particularly for commercial purposes and without Indian input— Indian tribes and individuals increasingly claim that such usages constitute “cultural appropriation.” Wide-ranging examples include Victoria’s Secret models walking the runway in Indian headdresses, Urban Outfitters marketing “Navajo Print Wrapped Flasks” and “Navajo Hipster Panties,” Boy Scout Troops mimicking Pueblo Indian dances, and the many sports teams with Indian mascots, including the Washington Redskins. This talk situates these cultural property claims in a larger history of the dispossession of Indian property and describes the often extra-legal steps tribes have taken to push back against appropriation.

About the speaker

Angela R. Riley is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. She is Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law and Director of UCLA's Native Nations Law and Policy Center. She directs the J.D./M.A. joint degree program in Law and American Indian Studies and is the UCLA campus representative on issues related to repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Professor Riley's research focuses on indigenous peoples’ rights, with a particular emphasis on cultural property and Native governance. Her work has been published in the Yale Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, California Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal and numerous others. She received her undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma and her law degree from Harvard Law School. In 2003 she was selected to serve on her tribe’s Supreme Court, becoming the first woman and youngest Justice of the Supreme Court of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.