[UPDATED] Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance

[UPDATED] Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance
Tomahawk Tassels poses for an event poster

Beware of the hipster headdress. With more frequent sightings extending beyond Halloween, it has become a mass-merchandised fashion faux pas. Big names like Victoria's Secret, No Doubt, and Paul Frank Industries have been under fire recently for their alleged racist, misappropriated, displays of Native-themed culture.

All three have issued public apologies and avoided lawsuits, but Urban Outfitters wasn't so lucky.

Shortly after Minneapolis resident Sasha Houston Brown (Santee Sioux Nation) wrote her open letter to Urban Outfitters' CEO Glen T. Senk, the Navajo Nation brought suit against the company for trademark infringement, citing the "Navajo Hipster Panty" and the "Navajo Print Wrapped Fabric Flask" were "derogatory and scandalous."  

The lawsuit is pending. Brown, an academic advisor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, continues to speak out about racism and violence against Indian women. When she saw that Shannon Edberg was organizing a protest this weekend of the "Cherokee Seductress" Tomahawk Tassels, there was no question-Brown had to show up and vocalize her support.

In an article where she spoke with VitaMN, the Minneapolis-based burlesque dancer, who identifies as half-Cherokee, uses what she calls "super stereotypical, cheesy, and ridiculous" Indian-themed costumes and props in her provocative performance. You can watch a tiny bit of it here from her audition with the X Factor:

Before the protest, Tassels issued a statement on her Facebook page, which has since been removed:

[UPDATED] Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance

We also have a screen capture of the sentiment that she publicly posted earlier in the day on Friday before the protest:

[UPDATED] Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance

She followed up by considering a Minnesota Nice gesture of hot chocolate and coffee for the protesters:

[UPDATED] Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance

Unfortunately, the cocoa and cookies never arrived for the protesters.

City Pages spoke with Edberg before the protest, and she recounted how deeply offended she was when she first saw Tassel's "mockery of Indian women." After Tomahawk's appearances at the Idle No More flash mob dance at the Mall of America, and the Minneapolis American Indian Center's New Year powwow, she called for the retirement of Tomahawk Tassels.

"We want [Tomahawk Tassels] and her audience to see that, we, as Native people, will define our own image, our own culture," stated Edberg. "The media may lack an understanding of white privilege and oppression of Indian people, but people in the [Indian] community have had conversations with her for years about why her act is offensive. Now, we are calling for her to retire Tomahawk Tassels, and the name."

Many of the protesters in attendance this weekend did not see Tassels' Facebook statement as an understanding why her performance may be seen as offensive.

Protestors on Friday night
Protestors on Friday night
B Fresh Photography

This past Friday, in front of Mineapolis's Ground Zero nightclub, nearly 20 protestors voices echoed through the heavy, sub-zero air. Tassels was an invited guest to the Dr. Farrago's Burlesque Theater, and had been booked months in advance. Co-owner Charles Jennings made it clear that Tassels would not be performing her usual Native number, stating that "she is a top-shelf performer. When she performs here, she gets raving applause." He told City Pages that they were not worried about the protesters, and would not be taking any special precautions.

Montana Picard, another person who attended Friday's protest, started a conversation over Facebook chat with Tomahawk Tassels in 2011 after seeing her on a show flyer for 4/20 holding a peace pipe and donning a war bonnet. "I talked with her about how inappropriate the war bonnet was, and how inappropriate it is to pretend you're smoking pot out of a pipe," says Picard. "I also shared with her information about sexual violence against Native women."

According to the United States Department of Justice, one in three Native women will experience rape in their lifetime. "We need to look closely here at what is happening in terms of the perpetuation of the image of Indian women that is hypersexualized, viable, and commodified," Brown adds.

City Pages exchanged messages with Tomahawk Tassels in the days following the protest, requesting an official reply, to which she agreed to send. However, we are still waiting for that follow-up statement. Updates will be provided as they become available.

[UPDATE]: Last evening, Tomahawk Tassels responded to our requests to discuss the situation via email. She writes:

The suspension of all Native American-influenced acts still stands at this time. Tomahawk Tassels will continue to perform burlesque. It simply means I am taking a "time-out," some time to step back and reflect on the concerns expressed by members of the community. The main reason for choosing to do this was for my SAFETY. There have been multiple violent threats made by several members of this Hater group.

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