Don't worry: Have a Kokopelli day

  • Two of numerous "Native American" items found in catalogs

 

"It's a Kokopelli kind of day," a Coldwater Creek catalog announced in a T-shirt ad. "Spirit lifting, mischief-making Kokopelli is here to remind you not to take life so seriously ..."

No thanks. I'll pass on buying the "buffalo on an eco-friendly tee," the Comanche bow and arrow, the Tapiz range belt, or the petroglyph slate drink-coasters either. I'm not Native American. Nor do I aspire to be one of those trekking yuppies employing hardy indigenous porters to carry my "wet/dry gear bags' through Nepal.

Kokopelli has been big this year. In Robert Redford's Sundance catalog you can purchase $199 Kokopelli handcrafted lamps made by Utah "artists." In the "Last Best Place" holiday catalog, from that Western enclave, Monroe, Wis., you'll find the Kokopelli outlet and switch covers, $25 each. They also feature a Kokopelli table sculpture, $89, and an image of the flute player tie-dyed on a long-sleeve T-shirt, $69. He is skiing. He looks stoned.

Several myths surround the humpbacked flute player the Hopis named Kokopelli. Some say he led Native American cliff-dwellers out of their caves with his music, into the open sky land of the Southwest. Maybe he was a medicine man, a wanderer. A loner. He was not, I am certain, a skier.

Back at Coldwater Creek there's the Kokopelli candle holder, earrings, and a version of him adorning one of those "nature sounds' compact discs. You know, water trickling, loons calling. They might better record the sound of cash changing hands.

Portrayals of indigenous peoples in these catalogs echo the message of culture consumption. In the spring 1995 issue of Patagonia, below the advertising mantra of "Stuff it. Stack it. Drop it. Kick it. Check it. Chuck it. Claim it. Lose it. Cram it. Abuse it," is a line of donkeys laden to the hilt, one assumes, with some rich American's gear, tended by a small dark-skinned man named Norbu, who has probably never bought his clothes from a catalog. "Oh, porter? Please set up the espresso and bring me my journal. You know the one. It has that flute player on the cover."

In the last two Redford catalogs, a photo shows a real Native American. A medicine man is shown opening the June Filmmakers Lab at the Sundance Institute. Cool dance. Nice necklace, too. Where can we buy it?

Most everyone in these catalogs is white and affluent. Nothing new here. Women are blond and sinewy. Men are rugged and active, like the men in Robert James Waller's novels. Photographs portray both sexes as young, restless and rich.

We've romanticized Native Americans to the point of extinction. Now we'll make some money off the legend. Yakima ski racks. Cherokee blazers. Phony weekend seminars put on by the New Age. Religion Lite and homogenized. And now that we've silted and dammed the salmon to oblivion, there's a new frontier of profits to be had through the sales of platters, mugs, T-shirts, and ties with salmon emblazoned on them in every groovy store and airport between Helena, Mont., and Seattle, Wash.

Why do advertisers want me to adopt a culture? I have one. Mine includes Gilligan's Island, James Watt and Kit Carson, but it also encompasses Dorothy Day, Wallace Stegner and John Muir. We aren't aggressive buckaroos and compliant Indian princesses out here. Most of us can't afford to stay at Redford's Sundance resort for $350 per person, per night, or mountain bike through Chile and Argentina, tearing up the tundra.

Out West we have a saying: "All hat, no cattle." We know when we've been had. We can spot a drug-store cowboy or a pretend Indian maiden a mile away. Reducing Native Americans, or any culture, to commercial sensation diminishes all cultures.

If you want to be Native American, move to any of the many reservations we have in this country. Spend a winter at Pine Ridge in South Dakota, or walk the eight miles between Worley and Plummer on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in your new buckskin garb during a wet north Idaho blizzard. Arrive in both places broke without much hope of ever being able to climb out of 200 years of institutionalized racism in this society. Feel like an Indian yet? Having a Kokopelli day?

Stephen Lyons works in Moscow, Idaho.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...