[UPDATED] Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance

TOmahawk Tassels 420.jpg
Tomahawk Tassels poses for an event poster
Beware of the hipster headdress. With more frequent sightings extending beyond Halloween, it has become a mass-merchandised fashion faux pas. Big names like Victoria's Secret, No Doubt, and Paul Frank Industries have been under fire recently for their alleged racist, misappropriated, displays of Native-themed culture.

All three have issued public apologies and avoided lawsuits, but Urban Outfitters wasn't so lucky.

Shortly after Minneapolis resident Sasha Houston Brown (Santee Sioux Nation) wrote her open letter to Urban Outfitters' CEO Glen T. Senk, the Navajo Nation brought suit against the company for trademark infringement, citing the "Navajo Hipster Panty" and the "Navajo Print Wrapped Fabric Flask" were "derogatory and scandalous."  

The lawsuit is pending. Brown, an academic advisor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, continues to speak out about racism and violence against Indian women. When she saw that Shannon Edberg was organizing a protest this weekend of the "Cherokee Seductress" Tomahawk Tassels, there was no question-Brown had to show up and vocalize her support.

In an article where she spoke with VitaMN, the Minneapolis-based burlesque dancer, who identifies as half-Cherokee, uses what she calls "super stereotypical, cheesy, and ridiculous" Indian-themed costumes and props in her provocative performance. You can watch a tiny bit of it here from her audition with the X Factor:

Before the protest, Tassels issued a statement on her Facebook page, which has since been removed:
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We also have a screen capture of the sentiment that she publicly posted earlier in the day on Friday before the protest:
TOmahawk Screen shot 2013-02-03 at 7.jpg


She followed up by considering a Minnesota Nice gesture of hot chocolate and coffee for the protesters:

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Unfortunately, the cocoa and cookies never arrived for the protesters.

City Pages spoke with Edberg before the protest, and she recounted how deeply offended she was when she first saw Tassel's "mockery of Indian women." After Tomahawk's appearances at the Idle No More flash mob dance at the Mall of America, and the Minneapolis American Indian Center's New Year powwow, she called for the retirement of Tomahawk Tassels.

"We want [Tomahawk Tassels] and her audience to see that, we, as Native people, will define our own image, our own culture," stated Edberg. "The media may lack an understanding of white privilege and oppression of Indian people, but people in the [Indian] community have had conversations with her for years about why her act is offensive. Now, we are calling for her to retire Tomahawk Tassels, and the name."

Many of the protesters in attendance this weekend did not see Tassels' Facebook statement as an understanding why her performance may be seen as offensive.

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B Fresh Photography
Protestors on Friday night
This past Friday, in front of Mineapolis's Ground Zero nightclub, nearly 20 protestors voices echoed through the heavy, sub-zero air. Tassels was an invited guest to the Dr. Farrago's Burlesque Theater, and had been booked months in advance. Co-owner Charles Jennings made it clear that Tassels would not be performing her usual Native number, stating that "she is a top-shelf performer. When she performs here, she gets raving applause." He told City Pages that they were not worried about the protesters, and would not be taking any special precautions.

Montana Picard, another person who attended Friday's protest, started a conversation over Facebook chat with Tomahawk Tassels in 2011 after seeing her on a show flyer for 4/20 holding a peace pipe and donning a war bonnet. "I talked with her about how inappropriate the war bonnet was, and how inappropriate it is to pretend you're smoking pot out of a pipe," says Picard. "I also shared with her information about sexual violence against Native women."

According to the United States Department of Justice, one in three Native women will experience rape in their lifetime. "We need to look closely here at what is happening in terms of the perpetuation of the image of Indian women that is hypersexualized, viable, and commodified," Brown adds.

City Pages exchanged messages with Tomahawk Tassels in the days following the protest, requesting an official reply, to which she agreed to send. However, we are still waiting for that follow-up statement. Updates will be provided as they become available.

[UPDATE]: Last evening, Tomahawk Tassels responded to our requests to discuss the situation via email. She writes:

The suspension of all Native American-influenced acts still stands at this time. Tomahawk Tassels will continue to perform burlesque. It simply means I am taking a "time-out," some time to step back and reflect on the concerns expressed by members of the community. The main reason for choosing to do this was for my SAFETY. There have been multiple violent threats made by several members of this Hater group.



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61 comments
kachina.blue
kachina.blue

'If you dont want to be treated like krap, stop acting like a piece of shit'

foxypinkgirl
foxypinkgirl

I have to say, she is nuts. I was at the AGT taping here in town when she performed and she is nutty. 

Erika J. Dani
Erika J. Dani

I'm so glad you could confirm this. I was absolutely horrified when I was at the 331. Just as horrifying as her performance was the fact that no one at the 331 seemed to object or be phased by her "Indian Princess" burlesque.

Jeff Kozel
Jeff Kozel

You know, this portrayal just isn't cool. It's not about burlesque, it's about stereotypes. That would include the Geisha act. Not burlesque in general.

Emily Koppes
Emily Koppes

Yep, I've seen her at a few different places, one of them was definitely the 331.

Emily Koppes
Emily Koppes

She says she's "thinking and meditating on the feedback she's gotten" but then goes on to call any criticizers "haters" which makes me think she isn't taking any of their criticisms seriously at all, and to be honest, sounds *really* immature. I'd always wondered what the native community thought of her, but never really dug into it or heard anything until Idle No More. When I saw her first post about considering their thoughts and concerns I was really happy, and thought the fact that she was willing to dialogue about it was fantastic. Unfortunately, seeing her further comments about it (haters, etc) has really changed my opinion of her to the negative.

Maggie FitzGibbon
Maggie FitzGibbon

I can see now how it's been difficult to have a respectful, productive conversation about this.

Cara Flora
Cara Flora

I don't need to find your information on degrees, or what have you. The way you are defending her speaks VOLUMES of which you do not know.

Maggie FitzGibbon
Maggie FitzGibbon

I'm not sure where you found information on my family or degrees I've gotten that quickly but that doesn't have anything to do with my original point: your argument that burlesque is offensive is a valid one that a lot of people have. I've seen a lot of performers do acts based on satire related to their heritage. Its valid to be offended by this. But then the argument should be against this aspect of burlesque and not pointed toward one particular artist with this kind of fury.

Cara Flora
Cara Flora

OF COURSE i have a problem with someone performing in Geisha garb. Let me guess, the show was called "Orientale" something or other. to have a conversation about this it would require you have some kind of education on the culture and history of the native people of MN (of indigenous people everywhere really)and to respect it. But you obviously don't, so it would be waste of time. I've seen plenty of burlesque and NONE of it was racially based. Your argument is invalid.

Maggie FitzGibbon
Maggie FitzGibbon

I see that this is a heated topic for you. If you'd like to have a civilized conversation, I'd be up for that. In the meantime, I'll restate my original point which is that this type of performance is all over burlesque. Yes in fact, there was a performer from Japan who did a geisha act during the last festival, for example. If you have an issue with this type of performance that is totally valid. But singling out one performer amongst thousands to point at as offensive is unfair and in some cases I've seen with this argument, incredibly hypocritical as well.

Carla Mayer
Carla Mayer

That's bullshit about the dissent being about burlesque. Nobody gives a crap what some nice hipster girl is doing on a stage on her own time for a living independent of this issue-she could call herself Twinkle Toes and nobody would care. Urban Douchebag Corp. sells Navajo names themed products and are rightfully sued by the Navajo nation, it is the Navajo's culture and theirs alone to do with it what they want with their name and their heritage. It is an affront to take that away from them-and make money off of it, in much in the same way their dignity and LAND has been taken away from them.

Cara Flora
Cara Flora

It doesn't matter how "sweet" she is. I don't care what she is doing, if she's doing it in that attire she is offending a whole culture of people and if she is in fact native (clearly she did not grow up surrounded by the culture she claims to be part of or she wouldn't exploit it the way she is, nor have the audacity to waltz into an Idle No More rally and perform), she is disrespecting herself. You, obviously have no idea what you are talking about. ANYONE who tries to justify this in ANY WAY is adding insult to injury. Why doesn't she do a set with Geisha garb? or how about her interpretation of being Hispanic? I wonder what she would do as an African-American act? pretend to be a slave, chained to the floor, who is getting some male attention? That wouldn't be offensive. I have to stop, I'm probably giving you new ideas for an act since you say it's all satire and therefor makes it OK. She put herself out there, she has to deal with the feedback. If she wants to interpret it as violent that's her problem. She invited this. Her present behavior implies that she enjoys offending people and encourages it.

Maggie FitzGibbon
Maggie FitzGibbon

I know this artist personally and she is one of the sweetest, most caring people I've ever met. She has publicly stated (prior to any media coverage) that she is thinking and meditating on the feedback she's gotten and suspended all Native themed performances before the original article here came out. Burlesque is satire. It takes ideas of cultural and gender appropriation and pokes fun at them. If you have an issue with what she is doing, then you have an issue with burlesque as a whole and that's a conversation to have. But singling out one artist and threatening her to the point where she is afraid for her safety is not the way to go about having that conversation.

Erika J. Dani
Erika J. Dani

Thank you, City Pages, for posting this. am so sure this is the same girl I saw at the 331 once. Absolutely horrifying. The saddest part about it, is she does not even seem to feel what she is doing is wrong and so, so sad for all of us.

Ben Bernick
Ben Bernick

Let's all paint our faces black and see what peoples reactions are like

Cara Flora
Cara Flora

and the page is STILL up with her ignorant, racist pics of herself. The only reason it went down is because so many people reported it for being racist.

Cara Flora
Cara Flora

it's obvious she is afraid because she keeps making snide remarks about the "protesters" on her FB while her male followers coddle her ignorant (and arrogant) behavior. I saw a post on her page that said "F*CK the naysayers" and she "liked" it before she deleted it. Also keeps blaming this on YOU City Pages and the writer for not saying everything she said and she says "Never.Trust. The Media." because she's taking responsibility for performing in her own racist show, but because it's your fault for misinterpreting it. She's pretty good at playing a victim to her own offenses. Sounds pretty apologetic to me. https://www.facebook.com/internationalburlesque

makoons81
makoons81

Tomahawk Tassles should be ashamed of herself!!! She says she is part Cherokee (Which I HIGHLY doubt it) She if she is, from where? Who are her parents, grandparents, great grandparents!?? It is very disrespectful for her to wear the head dress for one. Two: using The Peace Pipe for "420" advertising reasons. And three: She Loves Doing The sh** For Publicity. Thats What irritates Us Natives Off. And just plain lying to the news papers and to anyone who asks about her ethinic back ground. She Really Need To Quit Calling Us "Haters", This Is What We Believe In, we don't like it, she should Stop having Fun with Mocking Our Traditional Ways. Through Out The Years People Are So Used To Us Not Speaking Up, But Not Anymore :)

tanauniverse
tanauniverse

look how mean and scary those protesters are, they look like they are gonna hand out some frybread. Sound like Ms. Tassels being "afraid for her safety" is actually just racially profiling.

What_Is_Your_Agenda
What_Is_Your_Agenda

Thank you for linking to the Vita.MN article. I am relieved to know that there is at least one balanced account of the controversy in the local media.

Jay Nielsen
Jay Nielsen

just get the tomahawk outta your panties and let the girl dance.....we're forgetting the main thing here.....titties are good

Tom Fru
Tom Fru

Ever seen the movie white chicks?

Pinko Thinker
Pinko Thinker

Johnny Depp is also 1/64th Pirate, so chillout.

Lex Lambent
Lex Lambent

i don't get it. how was this offensive.

Erika J. Dani
Erika J. Dani

there is actually a whole documentary about native people being portrayed by whites in hollywood. i don't remember what the documentary is called, but either way, it is definitely problematic when white people were the only ones cast as native american people. that is why the movie smoke signals was such a groundbreaking movie. it was a film written and directed by native people with native american actors.

Erika J. Dani
Erika J. Dani

has this person also performed at the 331? i went there once there was a burlesque dancer who had an "indian princess" performance. it disgusted me that i was the only one who thought her performance was completely inappropriate. the 331 seems to attract a relatively educated crowd and it was shocking to me that no one seemed to be bothered by this performer's choice of show. i haven't been back since so i'm not sure if this is the same person or not. but if not, the 331 performer should also be protested. it saddens me that this performer seems to think the whole situation is funny. it is not.

Cara Flora
Cara Flora

why do you think Hollywood cares at all what an oppressed culture thinks of their multi-million dollar film? and who said it was OK? One person in a culture doesn't represent them all. Also natives think of themselves as belonging to their individual tribes, not necessarily as one big group. You could take some classes on cultural representation in the media at the U of MN if you really want answers to your loaded questions. It's a great class if they are still offering it.

Zainnia Vegas
Zainnia Vegas

if she understood her native culture she would not do wat she is doing, by disrespecting the ancestors.. its deeper than race!

Zainnia Vegas
Zainnia Vegas

its also not the fact of being native american or not.. the problem is that sacred symbols are being used in a show that is not appropriate. the question to ask is, is it ok to swing on a stripper pole in a nun outfit, or use the bible as an ass smacking aparratus etc.. its the sacred symbolisim that is being disrespected! and again Jonny Depp is Native American!

Charles D. Rhoden III
Charles D. Rhoden III

I want to see an African American play a Native American playing a Japanese American: just to see who puts out the racist card. Pffft.

carolyn_martin
carolyn_martin

@Ben Bernick I remember actor Ted Dansen doing that a few years ago when he was dating Whoopie Goldberg, for some fundraiser...Everyone, black or white, was appalled. I don't care what race or ethnic group you choose to make fun of...if it hurts or offends a group of people, it's wrong.

carolyn_martin
carolyn_martin

@makoons81 There is a time for silence and thought...but noone should have to think about this...It's offensive, hurtful, derogatory, and she has the nerve to call Native Americans haters?

What_Is_Your_Agenda
What_Is_Your_Agenda

@tanauniverse If the article had also included screen-grabs from the some (not, all, but some) of the opposition's pages, the intent for violence would be far more apparent.

wagonburner1020
wagonburner1020

@Alex Wasser do you think a white man painting his face black funny? Same thing.

dawn158
dawn158

@Erika J. Dani 

The film is called "Reel Indian".

makoons81
makoons81

@carolyn_martin @makoons81 Oh Gosh Yes! If U Have A FacebooK You Will Be Able To Go To Her Page And Read Her Comments About Her Show And How The Haters Missed It. I Dont Know She Changed Her Face Book Name To Timmie Tomahawk. Or Something Of That Nature. She Thinks Changing Her Name Will Make Things Go Away!? Weird. And Crazy!

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