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Consumption as Assimilation: New York Times Reporting on Native American Art and Commodities, 1950–1970



The appropriation of Indigenous cultures has sparked multiple controversies in the United States over the past decade. This phenomenon is not new, however. This article examines New York Times reporting on Native American art and commodities to demonstrate how trends in consuming “Indian” products contributed to the assimilationist federal Indian policy of termination, between 1950 and 1970. In this period the consumption of items perceived as “Indian” shifted from an elite art collectors’ activity to a widespread fashion trend. Nevertheless, Times reporting shows that throughout this era shopping for “Indian” items subsumed Indigenous cultures into the imagined unity of a national American identity.



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1 “Bethany Yellowtail ‘Gutted’ by Crow Design on Dress at New York Fashion Week,” Indian Country Today Media Network, 20 Feb. 2015, at, accessed 23 June 2015; KTZ has also been accused of copying the design of an Inuit shaman; see “Nunavut Woman Accuses U.K. Fashion Label of Appropriating Inuit Design,” The Star, 26 Nov. 2016, at, accessed 26 Feb. 2016.

2 Baldy, Cutcha Risling, “The New Native Intellectualism: #ElizabethCook-Lynn, Social Media Movements, and the Millenial Native American Studies Scholar,” Wicazo Sa Review, 31, 1 (Spring 2016), 90110.

3 “Navajo Nation Seeks Millions from Urban Outfitters for Using Tribe's Name,” Chicago Tribune, 3 Feb. 2016, at, accessed 26 Feb. 2016.

4 Andrew Westney, “Navajo Nation, Urban Outfitters Settle Trademark Dispute,” Law360, 3 Oct. 2016, at, accessed 26 Oct. 2016.

5 Maraya Cornell, “Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed,” National Geographic, 15 March 2018, at, accessed 20 April 2018.

6 Deloria, Philip, Playing Indian (Chelsea: Yale University Press, 1998), 2.

7 Berkhofer, Robert F., The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), xii.

8 Brinkley, Alan, “The Illusion of Unity in Cold War Culture,” in Kuznick, Peter J. and Gilbert, James, eds., Rethinking Cold War Culture (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 6173, 62.

9 May, Elaine Tyler, “The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home,” in Glickman, Lawrence B., ed., Consumer Society in American History: A Reader (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 298315, 301.

10 House Concurrent Resolution 108 (1 Aug. 1953), in Prucha, Francis Paul, Documents of United States Indian Policy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 234.

11 See, for instance, Watkins, Arthur V., “Termination of Federal Supervision: The Removal of Restrictions over Indian Property and Person,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 311 (May 1957), 4755.

12 Ulrich, Roberta, American Indian Nations from Termination to Restoration, 1953–2006 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010), 66.

13 Watkins, 48, original emphasis.

14 Wolfe, Patrick, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research, 8, 4 (Dec. 2006), 387–409, 388.

15 Watkins, 52.

16 Deloria, Playing Indian, 129, 158.

17 Articles on termination: “Indian Consent,” New York Times (hereafter NYT), 12 Jan. 1956, 26; Lawrence Davies, “Indians Divided on Being ‘Freed’,” NYT, 8 April 1956, 48; “Quakers Propose Help for Indians,” NYT, 4 June 1956, 31; “G.O.P. Delays Sale of Indian Ground,” NYT, 19 Sept. 1956, 39; Seth King, “Lo! The Rich Indian,” NYT, 2 Dec. 1956, 55. Articles on Native arts: “Hopi Indian Opera Offered,” NYT, 30 Jan. 1956, 23; “Easter in Arctic a Festive Affair,” NYT, 1 Apr. 1956, 65; “Wooden Indians to Go on Block,” NYT, 7 April 1956, 21; “Gay Indians of Wood and Iron are Sold for Much Wampum at Auction Wigwam,” NYT, 12 April 1956, 33; Faith Corrigan, “Young Navajos Spurning Rugs as a Way of Life,” NYT, 11 May 1956, 42; “Culture,” NYT, 17 June 1956, 220; Tania Long, “The Eskimos Meet the Twentieth Century,” NYT, 17 June 1956, 203; “Indian, 17, Is Niagara Queen,” NYT, 5 Aug. 1956, 24; “About New York,” NYT, 13 Aug. 1956, 41; “Portraits of 4 Indians,” NYT, 13 Aug. 1956, 17; Pollyanna Hughes, “Indian Festival,” NYT, 17 Aug. 1956, 112; “Excavators Seek Iroquois Secrets,” NYT, 19 Aug. 1956, 41; Diana Rice, “News and Notes from the Field of Travel,” NYT, 19 Aug. 1956, 117; “Indians on Way to Sweden,” NYT, 29 Aug. 1956, 18; “Indian Featherwork Shown,” NYT, 17 Sept. 1956, 20; “Six Young Pueblo Indians Hit Manhattan Trails,” NYT, 4 Oct. 1956, 35; “Photo Exhibit of Navajos,” NYT, 4 Nov. 1956, 134; “Indian Artifacts Traced 1,000 Years,” NYT, 23 Dec. 1956, 12; Paul Bohannan, “On Native Grounds,” NYT, 23 Dec. 1956, 118.

18 Both before World War II and in 1997 the paper had some of the highest circulation rates in the country. See Emery, Michael, Emery, Edwin and Roberts, Nancy L., The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media, 9th edn (Needham Heights: Pearson, 2000), 352, 545.

19 Hutchinson, Elizabeth, The Indian Craze: Primitivism, Modernism, and Transculturation in American Art, 1890–1915 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 40.

20 McLerran, Jennifer, A New Deal for Native Art: Indian Arts and Federal Policy, 1933–1943 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009), 7.

21 For a history of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board see ibid.; Meyn, Susan Labryn, More than Curiosities: A Grassroots History of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and Its Precursors, 1920–1942 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001).

22 Meyn, 89.

23 “Old Pottery Shown for Modern Homes,” NYT, 12 Aug. 1952, 16.

24 Sassatelli, Roberta, Consumer Culture: History, Theory and Politics (London: Sage, 2007), 174.

25 Hutchinson, 33–34.

26 Thomas B. Lesure, “Hunting for Indian Bargains,” NYT, 21 Dec. 1952, X22.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Pearlstone, Zena, “Mail-Order ‘Katsinam’ and the Issue of Authenticity,” Journal of the Southwest, 42, 4 (Winter 2000), 801–32, 804.

30 Ibid., 806–7.

31 “New Designs used for Navajo Rugs,” NYT, 5 Aug. 1954, 16.

34 Corrigan, “Young Navajos Spurning Rugs.”

35 “Prehistoric times” is referred to in “New Designs used for Navajo Rugs” (1954), while the latter statement appears in “Young Navajos Spurning Rugs” (1956).

36 Hutchinson, The Indian Craze, 32.

37 “Indians on Way to Sweden.”

38 “Jeweler Makes Much of Indian Lore,” NYT, 31 March 1954, 30.

39 Anthes, Bill, Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940–1960 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 161.

40 Quoted in ibid., 161.

41 William Blair, “On the Warpath against Bogus Indian Art,” NYT, 28 April 1963, SM1.

45 See also Lesure, “Hunting for Indian Bargains”; W. Thetford LeViness, “Arts-and-Crafts Season in New Mexico,” NYT, 4 Aug. 1968, SM18.

46 Tartsinis, Ann Marguerite, An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design, 1915–1928 (New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2014), 21.

47 See, for instance, “Tribes Influence Décor for Home,” NYT, 14 Jan. 1959, 23; Myron Kandel, “Surprises Are in Store at the Indian Handicrafts Center,” NYT, 20 Feb. 1962, 60; Craig Claiborne, “New Yorkers Dine on Legacies of the Indian, from Aztec to Zuni,” NYT, 16 March 1967, 56; Nan Ickeringill, “We're Stealing from the Indians, Again,” NYT, 22 July 1968, 38; Bernadine Morris, “Sant'Angelo's Fashions a Tribute to the Indians,” NYT, 15 May 1970, 41; Joan Cook, “At 65, He Turns to Hippie Fashions,” NYT, 29 May 1970, 18.

48 “Tribes Influence Décor for Home.”

50 Claiborne.

51 Quoted in Anthes, Native Moderns, 134.

52 Claiborne.

56 Parezo, Nancy J., “The Indian Fashion Show,” in Phillips, Ruth B. and Steiner, Christopher B., eds., Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 243–63, 245.

57 “Indian Fashion Show Is Presented Here,” NYT, 18 Nov. 1949, 32; “Students to Model Costumes,” NYT, 28 Oct. 1953, 21.

58 Deloria, Playing Indian, 158.

59 For details of red power protests see, for instance, Smith, Paul Chaat and Warrior, Robert Allen, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (New York: New Press, 1996).

60 Cook, “At 65, He Turns to Hippie Fashions.”

61 See, for instance, Lisa Hammel, “Fashion Goes Back to Indians,” NYT, 8 March 1968, 26; Bernadine Morris, “For Donald Brooks's Customers, It'll Be an Indian Spring,” NYT, 17 Oct. 1969, 55; Morris, “Sant'Angelo's Fashions a Tribute to the Indians.”

62 Enid Nemy, “Twiggy Says ‘Ow’ to the U.S.,” NYT, 22 Aug. 1967, 42.

65 Morris, “Sant'Angelo's Fashions a Tribute to the Indians,” 41.

67 James M. Naughton, “President Urges Wider Indian Role in Aid for Tribes,” NYT, 9 July 1970, 1.

68 Ickeringill, “We're Stealing from the Indians,” 38.

72 Deloria, Playing Indian, 144–45.

73 “Bethany Yellowtail ‘Gutted’.”

74 See, for instance, Adrienne Keene, “But Why Can't I Wear a Hipster Headdress,” 27 April 2010, at, accessed 21 Sept. 2017.

75 Judy Klemesrud, “The American Indian: Part of City, and Yet …,” NYT, 18 Sept. 1968, 34.

78 Anthes, Native Moderns, 177–78.

79 O'Brien, Jean M., “Historical Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies,” in Anderson, Chris and O'Brien, Jean M., eds., Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies (New York: Routledge, 2017), 1522, 17. For instance, the University of Illinois began its Native American studies program in 1971. see LaGrand, James B., Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945–75 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 246.

80 Deloria, 156–57.

81 For instance, in a June 2017 White House meeting with tribal leaders, Trump outlined his plans to remove restrictions over the “vast amounts of deposits of coal and other resources” on reservation lands. See “Remarks by President Trump and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry at Tribal, State, and Local Energy Roundtable,” 28 June 2017, at, accessed 22 Sept. 2017.

Consumption as Assimilation: New York Times Reporting on Native American Art and Commodities, 1950–1970



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