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September 27, 2011

Navajo Nation tells Urban Outfitters to stop calling clothes “Navajo”

by Deena Winter

The attorney general for the Navajo Nation has asked nationwide hipster clothing retailer Urban Outfitters to give up its obsession with all things “Navajo.”

Navajo printed fabric-wrapped flask -- yours for $18

In other words, cease and desist with slapping the name “Navajo” on T-shirts, earrings, dresses, scarves, bags, beanies, tank tops, bracelets, tunics, flasks (no I am not making this up), beaded necklace crop fringe tank tops, socks, sneakers, duffle bags, handkerchiefs and panties. Yes, even panties.

If you go to urbanoutfitters.com and search for Navajo, you will see that this chain is definitely trying to create the next big trend, which I’ll call Native American chic. Not only are they appropriating the word Navajo (although that definitely seems to be their favorite), but also Cherokee, Indian and Tribal.

You might think Native Americans would be flattered, and you might be wrong. At least one tribe is not amused: According to this blog, the attorney general for the Navajo Nation sent a cease-and-desist request to Urban Outfitters, saying the company’s use of the word will cause confusion in the marketplace and society because people will wrongly think the Navajo Nation authorized the use of the label — which, by the way, the nation actually has trademarked for many clothing items.

Navajo hipster panty: $8

They wrote:

This undermines the character and uniqueness of the Nation’s long-standing distinctive Navajo name and trademarks, which—because of its false connection with the Nation—dilutes and tarnishes the name and trademarks. … The Nation must maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid association with its government, its institutions, its entities, its people, and their products in commerce.When an entity attempts to falsely associate its products with the Nation and its products, the Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial.

The blogger trying to bring this to light said the products — which are “loosely based on Navajo rug designs or Pendleton designs” — represent a stereotype of southwest Native cultures. “Associating a sovereign Nation of hundreds of thousands of people with a flask or women’s underwear isn’t exactly honoring,” she wrote.

“Additionally, it’s more than likely that Urban chose ‘Navajo’ for the international recognition — to most of the world, Navajo (and Cherokee) equals American Indian,” she wrote. “This conflation of Navajo with ‘generic Indian’ contributes to the further erasure of the distinct tribes and cultures in the U.S. and solidifies the idea that there is only one ‘Native’ culture, represented by plains feathers and southwest designs.”

Now, I like Urban Outfitters. Been shopping there since we discovered their Minneapolis store in the early 1990s. It has since become a popular chain that seems to lean left, based on the books and trinkets it sells. But a Navajo flask? Panties? They were definitely not being politically correct when they came up with those products.

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