Many people enjoy Indigenous American artwork and products — but how can you be sure that beadwork or dreamcatcher you purchased was authentic, and not just “Native inspired”?
Courtney YellowWolf Graham Wilson, an Enumclaw resident and member of the Choctaw Nation, is making it her mission to put together a directory of not just Native American artists, but indigenous business owners of all kinds, so anyone and everyone can be a part of an indigenous culture without participating in cultural appropriation.
The idea for the directory, called Native Owned & Operated (https://www.ndnoando.com/), came out of the business troubles YellowWolf Graham Wilson was having when the pandemic started.
YellowWolf Graham Wilson is a medicine woman and therapist, and is specially trained in Basic Body Reflex Evaluation (finding and resolving where in the body emotion is being manifested physically) and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. But all the self-care techniques she’s learned didn’t prepare her for the economic downturn of the pandemic, and because she’s self-employed, didn’t have access to the same social safety net available to other workers.
“I didn’t get any of the grants, didn’t get any Paycheck Protection, because I work by myself… and they told me I didn’t qualify for unemployment, so I didn’t have any help,” she said in a Dec. 9 interview. She remembers thinking: “There has to be a lot of other people like me who need help like this.”
But YellowWolf Graham Wilson wanted to focus specifically on Native American businesses because they’re so often overlooked by mainstream America.
For example, the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters in 2012 over the company’s “Navajo” fashion line, which had little — if anything — to do with the tribe or its culture, let alone provide the tribe any profit from those products. The suit was settled in 2016 and allowed for a “supply and license agreement” so that the Navajo Nation and Urban Outfitters could collaborate on a jewelry line, the Guardian reported. Urban Outfitters had been using the “Navajo” line since 2001.
It’s instances like this that can cause real harm to Native American communities; according to Poverty USA, more than 25 percent of Native Americans lived in poverty in 2018, the highest poverty rate of any race.
“There’s a lot of cultural appropriation out there. ‘Native inspired.’ And that really harms us, and hurts us as First Nations. It’s stealing our cultural and sacred designs and what we do and making money off of us,” YellowWolf Graham Wilson said.
She thought at first that she’d manage a small list of Native American businesses on her Instagram, but the requests to be in the directory poured in by the hundreds, so she opted to build a whole website.
“I literally sat down for three days straight and made it. I’m still working out some kinks and I’ve got to go back and check all the links to make sure everything is good, but it’s way to get the word out hopefully in time for people to buy Christmas stuff to help support these businesses,” YellowWolf Graham Wilson continued.
The directory is filled with links to various businesses across the U.S. and even beyond. There are artists like Isabelle Zwicker (White Buffalo Crafts by Isabelle), Stacey Littledeer (Spirit Fire Art), and Jeremy Salazar (Three Feather Studios), but also restaurants and food providers like Off The Rez (Seattle) and Passamaquoddy Maple (Maine); bookstores like Redplanet Comics (Albuquerque, NM) and Iron Dog Books (East Hastings, Vancouver, BC); beauty product businesses like Woke Soap and Ah-Shi Beauty; motivational speakers like Brian Frejo and Dyami Thomas; podcasters like Let’s Talk Native with John Kane and Native Opinion; comedians like the 1491s and Tonia Jo Hall; plus powwow suppliers, nonprofits, grants, IT, authors, fashion, beadwork, clothing, news, and more.
“Anyone can go to this website and feel good about what they’re buying and who they’re buying from,” YellowWolf Graham Wilson said.
Anyone who wishes to be a part of this directory can email YellowWolf Graham Wilson at NDNOandO@gmail.com; please include in the email a link to your website (or Facebook, Etsy, etc.) and any First Nation or Tribe you may be enrolled in (those that are not enrolled in a tribe, please provide a short explanation of how you are contributing to your tribe’s community and how you are sustaining your tribe’s culture, traditions, teachings, etc.).