Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a reel injun has me reeling

I really like this photo of the singer Janita because it reminds me of my sister, Katja, when she was younger! When she was twenty-something, she looked a bit like this Finnish American singer, Janita, whose music I came across recently. Ari Lahdekorpi wrote a review of her new CD, Haunted, for the last edition of New World Finn (which, btw, is closer to its web publication format, so you will be able to read articles from it online soon!), and from that introduction I thought I'd look up her music.

So I found Janita's Myspace page and listened to some of her songs; I really enjoyed "Hopelessly Hopeful." It starts off like a song from an old 40s movie, but then develops into a moody evocative piece that really tugs at you. Her voice is beautiful. I like the oxymoron the song's title conjures: if you are hopeless, how can you be hopeful? Like "never say never," it sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. After listening to all of her songs on her Myspace page, I said to myself, yes, definitely, I've got to get her new CD! Eager to hear more, I looked her up on Youtube to see what was on there.

I found the title track to her new CD and watched and listened...

and then had a sinking feeling and wished I hadn't clicked on this particular music video. You listen to music to take you away from the everyday, to drift, to dream, to enter reverie....Well, not this time. Not far into the song, I could hardly hear the lyrics anymore as I was disturbed by the imagery in the video, by the video's appropriating of Native American symbols to create its "haunting" storyline.

Why would she use the romantic savage image in her video? The young shirtless guy standing at the window wearing a Chief's Headdress? What contemporary Native American guy does this? Wears traditional regalia during his regular day? Is this the only way to show a Native guy? Through stock imagery best left in the past? If it was a Finnish guy by the window, how would he be represented? Would the Finnish guy be standing at the window nude with a sauna pail in his hands to show his national identity? Or would he look like ..... a contemporary guy?

This is not the 50s' anymore; haven't we --Finnish settlers-- to Indigenous lands learned any lessons over the years? Worse was yet to come, however, and I have to say I was truly shocked to see Janita pulling out the feathers of the Chief's Headdress. Now, perhaps this isn't a "real" Chief's eagle headdress, but it does signify a lot of values. It is not just a Hollywood Injun prop.

A Chief's Headdress is a sacred item with high spiritual value. Usually, the feathers are eagle feathers, each feather the highest honor given to a man, each signifying some heroic, brave, or profound thing he has done. A man who wears a headful of eagle feathers commands a lot of esteem and respect. A warrior. A Grandfather. A Tribal Leader. A Medicine Man. Why would she assault this holy object like this? Doesn't she know its spiritual and cultural significance?

Is she and those who made this video so completely ignorant of the respect that should be accorded to the people whose land we are on? Unaware of the sacredness of a Chief's Headdress?

If it was a Bible, a Quran, or the Pope's hat, for that matter, would she be so cavalier? Wouldn't there be an outcry?

My friend, Shannon, asked me today if I had seen Reel Injun, the CBC documentary that through Aboriginal eyes critiques the portrayal of North American Indigenous people in Hollywood movies and discusses the films they are making today that counter the racialized representations that had them stuck in the past. In their self-representations they are not the vehicles of white people's new possibilities. They are no one's ghosts. In their stories, they are not haunting the edges of white people's stories.

They are no one's reel injuns......


marja-leena said...

I so agree! Would it be possible to send this post to Janita and open her eyes?

Merche Pallarés said...

This sounds very interesting. I'll come back with more time to see it. Reading you reminded me of what people think about Spaniards--bullfighters and flamenco dancers! Hugs, M.

northshorewoman said...

Hello ML and MP,

Maybe somewhere down the road Janita will question her choices for this video. I don't, however, have any illusions about that as she had a whole team, I would imagine, working on this video with her. No one had any critical self-awareness about the implications of the symbols they were using? That to me is mind boggling. I am always surprised to come across people who aren't aware of what I consider basic knowledge -- but then again, white privilege works to hide so much from us. I know I have been ignorant of much in the past and have a lot still to learn, and much of that stems from failing to see beyond my own perspective, failing to see how privilege blinds me.

northshorewoman said...

I also want to clarify that it's not just people with white skin privilege who get blinded and fail to see but others who live inside white privilege and have taken up the discourses that favor whiteness. These do, after all, help one "succeed" in life, get ahead so to speak, especially if one reduces that to the financial.

One does not have to be "white" to join white discourses. The guy in the video could be of Native descent. Just because someone is of a certain heritage does not mean that he or she has enlightened or knowledgeable views. Being brown skinned or being a woman does not equate with being aware of how power enables some groups and individuals or overs, how discourses work to structure our choices.

Some people choose to perform authentic identities for material gain in a capitalist society that has stripped them of power.

Merche Pallarés said...

I saw the video. If it wasn't for the last part where she's plucking the feathers (I found it very gross) it would, in my opinion, have been alright as the young man is very attractive and, after all, he hounted her! Who cares if he's a native Canadian or a "white man". He's beautiful! And if Marja, your sister, looked like Janita she must have been very beautiful also! Hugs, M.