Inappropriate Appropriations: An Interview With Adrienne Keene, ’07

by Annie Graham, ’14

Adrienne Keene is an ‘07 Stanford graduate who visited Muwekma-Tah-Ruk to speak on Monday night. Currently in her third year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she used her spare time or sheer determination to start a project alongside her life as a student: she writes a blog called Native Appropriations, concerned with (mis)representations of Indigenous peoples. Her work proves the potential of blogs to formulate individual ideas and change the minds of others. She is also a very upbeat and welcoming person — I got to sit down and ask her a few questions before her presentation.

Annie Graham: Would you say you were an activist at Stanford as an undergraduate?

Adrienne Keene: When I was a student, my activism was a little bit more limited. Stanford was the first place that I was exposed to issues of social justice and activism, in the sort of the “on the ground, protest signs” form. When I was an undergrad and was the co-chair of the Stanford American Indian Organization, we had a couple of instances of frat houses using the Indian mascot for various things. So that was the first time I was kind of involved in activism pushing back against it.

One thing I really appreciated about the Stanford administration, at least when I was a student here, is that they really supported the Native students on the mascot issue. So, whenever something popped up — and it happened fairly often, The Stanford Review was also using an Indian image for a while — the administration would have our back fairly quickly… the president would issue a statement saying the mascot was discontinued in 1971 and is not to be used for any reason anymore.

AG: What happened in grad school that made you become more of an activist?

AK: I think, at Stanford, the community here is a lot more supportive in a lot of ways… I felt like, as a student of color, I had a lot of resources and support here. And so when an issue would arise in any of the communities of color, we would all sort of come together and solve it together. Through the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) and these other networking mechanisms, we could solve the issues as a broader community. And then when I moved up to the East Coast, all the sudden I was extremely isolated and it was just me. And I’m the only Native student in my program and one of only a handful at all of Harvard. So I found myself having to speak out a lot on my own, whereas here I probably would have defaulted to other people in the community or felt like we could have issued some sort of joint statement together.

It was that environment of feeling a little bit isolated and encountering things I had taken for granted as something on everyone’s radar — that sort of pushed me towards that next step of becoming an activist.

AG: Is that the reason you started the blog?

AK: The blog came out of me feeling invisible in grad school and feeling that most of my classmates and colleagues had never encountered another Native person before… because the only images they ever saw were these stereotypes and egregious misrepresentations of Native people and culture. So for me the blog was a way of pushing back on that and for pointing out how ubiquitous it is and how taken for granted it is to see these images of Native people out of context and stereotyped.

AG: What is the main message of your blog?

AK: My main message is really that Native people deserve respect and that we are contemporary, modern people. Because cultural appropriation is a really slippery slope to some people, I never say, “This is okay, and this is not.” I usually just offer people the tools to understand and come to conclusions on their own.

To me the biggest problem is that it’s an issue of power. It’s about powers of representations, and who has the right to represent whom. And for Native people, that power has been taken away through five hundred years of colonialism. So it’s not just who has the right to use the images, it’s who has the power to use the images.

AG: How do you call someone out when you see obvious cultural misrepresentation?

AK: I openly admit that these are hard things to talk about, and so I feel like for me being able to write it down was important, and then I hope that the blog posts can be used as resources for other people. So if you don’t want to have that difficult conversation or don’t know where to start with that difficult conversation, you can refer people to some of the other posts on the blog and use that as a starting point.

AG: What do you think is the importance of a blog, and why should somebody start one?

AK: I started it as sort of a place to get my thoughts together about these issues, because I always had know that seeing people dressed up as Indians or seeing Indian mascots bothered me, but I don’t think I ever really had the language to discuss why or the language to be persuasive about why other people should care. So in a lot of ways, the blog has been a huge learning process for me.

I don’t think I started it with the idea of being an “activist” per se, I really started it with the idea that this is a place for my thoughts. I’m writer, maybe I’m a journalist, I’m a blogger… but the activist label came later. And I think it was as more people started reading it and as more people started talking to me about the issues that I realized that I really was an activist and that this was something I was extremely passionate about and could make change through those avenues.

So for people who are thinking about starting a blog, I think it’s an amazing place to find your voice on issues that you care about.

Go to NativeAppropriations.com to learn more — it’s an incredibly informative blog. Also go to Beyond Buckskin to learn specifically about the appropriation of Native American fashion.


A
nnie Graham is a junior from Phoenix, Arizona majoring in English, and is a founding member of the group Stanford Athletes and Allies Together — ensuring that a safe space exists for queer and allied athletes, on and off the field of competition.

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2 thoughts on “Inappropriate Appropriations: An Interview With Adrienne Keene, ’07

  1. L. Courtney says:

    When did Ms.Keene decide to follow in Rachel Maddow’s footsteps and was it because no Native American alternative exists?

  2. Samra says:

    I had no idea Adrienne Keene was a Stanford alum, that’s fantastic. great interview!

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