Windspeaker.com recently featured commentary by Drew Hayden Taylor entitled ‘The Shame of Skirt Shaming.’
In it, readers are forced to endure the bitter tirade of a male author who seeks to shame traditional practitioners of Native ways, including Elders and medicine people, for strictly adhering to centuries-old ceremonial protocol that requires women to cover themselves while participating in sacred rites passed down over millennia.
In a rather patriarchal tone, Mr. Taylor decided that he must speak for Native women who, he feels, are being inconvenienced by having to change clothes pre-sacrament. He refers to our sacred women’s teachings as “controversial” and a “dress code” of “rigid etiquette.”
From his stance, “skirt shaming” is a downright epidemic and Native women should take a page from white feminists and be up in arms, rebelling against the very ceremonial circles their own grandmothers fought and died to protect.
He makes a variety of assumptions, equating covering ourselves during ceremony to assimilation, residential schools and Christianity.
In my opinion, this is assimilationist trash. For one, in order for the standpoint to carry validity, it should have been written by a Native woman. Mr. Taylor is not a Native woman, nor a Two Spirit. The wearing of skirts and dresses in ceremony does not impact him directly, nor is it part of his spiritual instruction as a man.
His piece comes across as a hetero-patriarchal westerner examining traditional Native practices through a colonial lens. Also, the topic of modesty, especially in day-to-day dress, should be addressed separately from ceremonial dress.
I am Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation), Dakota and Lakota. I practice traditional ways. Medicine people or even random Dakota/Lakota men have never said anything negative about how I dress, and believe me, outside of ceremony, I wear whatever I want.
At Dakota/Lakota ceremonies, women who come wear skirts or dresses. If a woman wants to come and doesn't have a skirt or dress, another woman in the circle lends her one.
I've done it a dozen times. Towels and wraps can also be worn to some ceremonies instead of a dress or skirt. I wore a towel wrapped around my waist during my name giving ceremony. For inipi (sweat lodge), I wear a skirt.
Wearing a skirt has nothing to do with patriarchy. Feminists can miss me with that. Our grandmothers wore skirts and dresses in ceremony long before Native children were stolen and placed in residential and boarding schools to kill the Indian and save the man. It's about honoring the power of a woman. We have our own medicine, and it is stronger than any medicine that men possess. We have been given the power of creation. Within our wombs is a door to the other side.
Among my people, women have their own ceremonies too, where men don't even enter. It's about respecting our ancestors and ourselves. We also have rules about the menstrual cycle. It should also be noted that according to our belief system, women don’t have to go to sweat lodge ceremony. We have our own internal means of purification.
Men, women and children do attend sweat together sometimes these days, and being clothed is important to avoid misconduct or allegations of misconduct. If anyone tells you to enter a sweat with others while nude, run. There are fake shamans and charlatans who prey on those who are new to ceremony.
In a recent piece I did for Indian Country Today Media Network, I exposed one such individual who was not only lying about being a Lakota medicine man, but also about being Native altogether. This man and his “church” have since been condemned as false by the real Native American Church, and it was also uncovered that he was involved in a prostitution ring where he used ceremony as a cover for his acolytes to turn tricks.
On a personal note I also believe there is something to be said for humility and obedience to our sacred rites and what White Buffalo Calf Woman taught. Our sacred rites and instructions were not given to us by a man, Mr. Taylor. They were entrusted to us by White Buffalo Calf Woman herself, who also wore a dress. She even vaporized a man for looking at her disrespectfully. I follow her. If I walked into a ceremony and saw people dressed inappropriately I would assume that the ancestors won't come and I would leave.
If outsiders don't approve of our ceremonies and refuse to keep protocol, they are welcome to leave and practice something else. Assimilationist men like Mr. Taylor who sit in judgment of traditional Native women with a condescending attitude serve as a reminder of why we are so hesitant to share our ways with others. You will not colonize and exploit our ceremonies to serve your own ego.
Editor’s note: This column was originally pubished at www.sovereignbodies.com on Aug. 3.