As a result of the exploitation of the Navajo name and culture, the Nation sued Urban Outfitters. Not only does The Navajo Nation hold numerous trademarks on the use of its’ name, including trademarks governing clothing and accessories, but under The Indian Arts And Crafts Act it is illegal “to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization.” Using the name of a given tribe to claim, or even imply, that a product has anything to do with that tribe is punishable by fines of up to $1 million. In the case of the “Navajo Line” from Urban Outfitters” there is a loophole in this law that unfortunately doesn’t protect the Navajo Nation. Under the Act the pieces of culture that are being protected are “Arts and Crafts” even though traditionally these designs and prints are a form of art to the Navajo people, in the eyes of the law they are a form of clothing therefore aren’t subject to scrutiny from the law. The Navajo Nation also stated that they view Urban Outfitters’ products as offensive in nature, and as a threat to the established Navajo brand, which the Nation says stands for quality, Navajo-made jewelry, clothing, and accessories — not imported Urban Outfitters products that claim to be authentic and “Native”.
The problem with the branding of these products is an issue regarding cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when someone adopts something from a culture that is not his or her own. In this case we are discussing the appropriation of the Native American culture. The appropriation that is occurring with Urban Outfitters is the appropriation of the name and the patterns of their “traditional” prints on the merchandise. Unlike cultural exchange, in which there is a mutual interchange, appropriation refers to a “particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” Many cases of Native American Appropriation are overlooked and not considered serious, however all cases of appropriation are a form of dilution that the culture being appropriated feels directly. Urban Outfitters’ isn’t the only company that has done harm like this before, other major companies such as Victorias Secret have incorporated things such as traditional Native American headdresses into their “sexy” fashion shows. Cultural appropriation also often adds to stereotypes faced by non-dominant cultures.
The Native American chief or the “sexy” Native American girl can be examples of stereotypes that pop up during Halloween. When people from dominant cultures ‘dress up’ like this, it reduces something of cultural significance to a costume just so that the dominant group can have ‘a bit of fun’. It also keeps these kinds of stereotypes going. And when cultures have been oppressed, stereotypes often add to their negative experiences.