Native American and Goth

This is a summary of a Facebook thread with some light commentary. Some comments were omitted because they don’t add as much as other, comments like “that’s cool” and “how pretty”. The commentary parts are my own opinions, and specific quotes will be in quotations and/or blocked out, if there’s a lot going on. I commented on what I knew or believe, not things specific to tribes, because I have no idea about them. The original post was:

“I was wondering if ‘Native American’, could be Gothic…certain aspects, of course…any ideas?”

What follows is something we’re going to have to take in sections, because oh my god, the amount.

Can Native American be Gothic?

So the relationship between Goth/Gothic (yeah we’re going to use both even though there is a difference, just for the sake of argument) is unique. Generally, when mixing Gothic with something, let’s say with a Native American tribe and its cultural practices, you go with the one with more rules that you want to follow. So, if there is certain Gothic imagery that is deemed inappropriate with that particular Native American tribe, then there’s a very good chance that’s one thing you’re not going to be using a lot of. This, of course, brings up a lot of questions about identity and what’s more important to you, but that is why living a Goth or Gothic lifestyle is kind of a journey. Gothic culture doesn’t really have any hard, “live and die by” rules, so by metaphor you weave Goth on the loom, or more rigid part of your life. It’s just for some, Goth can be both.

I know a couple of Native goths, but they both just do the regular goth thing, no integrating of their own cultures into their style, which is a shame.

**Can I just talk about this for a second because it just scrolled up…”Would like to see more art like this as well. I love the new gothic beauty magazine the theme is PoC goths” A theme. A goddamn theme. Still waiting for non white goths to be mentioned in something without a headline of diversity over their heads. Because they do normal goth things too you know. Sorry, just so tired of seeing that “Diversity in the Goth subculture” but you would never see someone talking about their business or involvement in the subculture which there are plenty of. Are we still not past this? Where were we?

Walking the line of being Dine’, and wearing a lof of Gothic fashions is interesting, especially when following a lot of the old ways, which clearly you have some exposure to. Much of what I’ve heard over the years has been ‘Navajos don’t do that, they don’t wear that, etc.”, because it seems to be different, or show ones indiviual style, its seen as, in some instances ‘thats what a skinwalker would wear/do/say, etc.”, and appearance is so important to our people, as this is how the Holy Ones know its us…[was asked to clarify]I’ve definielty thought about incorporating tradional Dine’ fashions into my looks, but I find such difficulty in it, as apperance and how ones dresses is directly related to how the Holy Beings recoginze us as being Dine’, so its kind of a struggle of how to bring these elements into it, while being respectful, and still being myself. There are many taboos, and guidlines for apperance, so it seems one must either follow all the exact rules, or don’t bother at all, or at least thats been my issue of blending two very distinct, but important parts of who I am. One look I was wanting to practice was tying a traditional Navajo hair bun, tsiiyéél, but doing it namely for fashion statement seems so, trite.

The first picture is of an exchange between two people, the second picture will lead nicely into the next question:

conversation one purple here is the same purple from first picture

It all began with a picture…

and from this picture the conversation you know has to come up, comes up. Yes, my dears, appropriation.

conversation 3















People kept mentioning where they went to school and what they studied, and sometimes that’s great as one person demonstrated by sharing a lot of information that, you know, would come up when you go to school for years to learn about cultures, compared to me just googling it for five minutes. However, when I was looking up some responses to “tribal goth”, people would sort of dismiss claims of cultural appropriation with general explanations and cite, “I went to University of You Wish You Had This Education, I know very well what I’m talking about.” Textbooks can be wrong, and they are still mostly written by the victors, so someone who didn’t go to UofYWYHTE (oh so close!) may have some insight that  you didn’t get at school. I’m not saying every book is always wrong, but perspective people. Listen.  Someone else suggested “Kids, they are fantasy paintings. Stylish and pretty, nothing more. Please unwad your undies. My mother is half native and she sure as shoot doesn’t find every little thing offensive. We really ought to stop being so damn touchy.” And to wrap up this part of the tour, we have a whole exchange…

royal mistake sorry

You’ll have to click on the picture because there is a whole lot going on. I’ll summarize the aftermath. Blue is Becky, Red is Clara. Clara and Becky continue to, erm…debate, on whether or not Native Americans get mad when you borrow from their culture. First off, there are hundreds of tribes, and each one is totally within their rights as a tribe to be chill with it or be vehemently enraged. Like I’m uncomfortable that we’re even generalizing to this point, but oh my god that is another post. Becky says it’s extra offensive for a white girl to be wearing a war bonnet. (I’m paraphrasing, time, trying to save you it.) Clara says she finds that a girl’s race should have nothing to do with whether or not it is offensive. But it does. You may have noticed many times as the word appropriation comes so does the history of white people in this country (USA, btw) using imagery from other cultures. We’re going to cover this real fast, specific to Native American tribes: When you borrow from a tribe, you borrow the meanings and respect associated with that image or symbol to that tribe. It’s usually not a free for all, where you pick out of magical pool of Native Americanness and swing on whatever you grab and call it “tribal” (and I’m legit done with that word). There are things that are aesthetic choices and don’t have a heavy meaning coupled with it, and sometimes people are happy to share that with other people. You appropriate when you disregard those meanings for the sake of “looking cool”, where you don’t really care, you’re not here for a lecture about history, you’re here for festival/Halloween/goth wear (and some people need to get honest with themselves about this real fast). When you borrow, you sit down for the history lesson and know what you’re taking and if you’re not ready for that, you can put it right fuck back. Becky and Clara continue to sort of respond to racism, where the lines are drawn between the history of racism (essentially between white people and Native American people throughout the centuries, because yes it is still happening…) and the exchange between cultures. I honestly feel like they weren’t seeing eye to eye and so the conversation kind of goes in a weird oval of “you’re both making valid points, but about different things…” Cultural appropriation in other places was briefly mentioned…like in Japan, but again another post. Someone else joined in, and their general attitude was “I’m part native and it doesn’t bother me, so why is everyone upset about something that doesn’t bother me…the only race I see is the human race.” (You should cringe, even if just a little…like you get it right?) After much scrolling this was added “I am Chippewa Indian (our tribe prefers “Indian” over “Native American”) and this is somewhat normal in our culture. It may not be the same for all tribes, but the Ojibwe group have always been adaptable when it comes to clothing. We still hold our traditions sacred like most Indians do, however we don’t hold a strict guideline on dress codes, except for our “war” uniforms.We preferred European style when it was introduced. And just as being one with the Earth is sacred, the love of Goth is sacred as well. It’s all about what is in our hearts”.  And the thread was broken into a fray of weirdness and threads in groups are wont to do.

I included most of the conversations because they serve as a reminder of the place we’re still at in discussing cultural appropriation. Oh and speaking of tribal….

Is tribal goth cultural appropriation? 

There is room for it to be, yes. The handful of tribal goths I know know what they are taking, why they are taking it, what it means to the culture they are borrowing from and what it means to them. Sometimes it’s because they practice the spirituality of that culture and it is very much a part of their lives (not something do, when they remember it’s a Dark Moon and yeah, why not?). I’ve seen the few and reckless who dared to wear something that resembled, for example, a Native American headdress and be ostracized from their community so fast it would make your head spin. I think the word tribal here is a sibling to eclectic. The previous use of the word tribal is a convenient generalization for people who can’t be bothered to differentiate and god, if you know how it sickens and enrages me to see it in fashion. There are tribal goths who cross heavy into cultural appropriation, where they take without a second glance, for style alone, and fuck you if you don’t like it. Those goths, well, I don’t care to know them.

So was the question ever answered?

Briefly, but mostly concerning fashion. Music was mentioned but to a lesser degree, but it looked promising. I think the answer is going to be different tribe to tribe and how much you want to be able to express your idea of goth. People still seem to be lost on why having a conversation about cultural appropriation is important. It’s about compassion and respect for your fellow human beings. They made something specific to their way of life and you treat it with respect because that’s what you do as a decent human being.

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Until next time,

Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous.


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