Siv Jensen is the Norwegian Minister of Finance, and the leader of the Norwegian Progress Party. The Progress Party describes itself as a conservative-liberal party that “believes in freedom for the individual, lower taxes, prosperity and a limited government that empowers people.” The party also holds quite a bit of political influence, seeing as it is the third most popular party in Norway. Needless to say, Jensen is quite the political player. However, whatever political power she may own, she has recently come under fire for a culturally insensitive Instagram post, where she donned a cringe-worthy costume of faux buckskin, gaudy beads, and a black-haired wig plaited into two braids and topped with a feathered headband.
Now, cultural appropriation is a hefty topic. What may be deemed culturally inappropriate by one person may be deemed totally fine by the other. For example, some may consider wearing a kimono with a white-powdered face as culturally appropriating Japanese culture. Meanwhile, some native Japanese people would disagree with that, and even find that wearing kimonos is a tasteful way of integrating Japanese culture with Western culture. Regardless of whatever one’s opinion on cultural appropriation is or is not, Jensen’s outfit must at least be deemed insulting.
The caption of the post is “Høstfest i Finansdepartementet” which translates to “Autumn Party in the Ministry of Finance.” Okay, so this is a work party. Just your regular old work function at the Ministry of Finance, a government institution. Moreover, it’s just an office shindig for the season of fall. It’s not terribly difficult to imagine what may have gone through Jensen’s head when picking her costume.
The season of fall may have reminded her of the American tradition of Thanksgiving, which celebrates an instance of American pilgrims breaking bread with their Native American neighbors as a thank-you for being taught farming by the Natives. Of course, this holiday became ironic, seeing as early American settlers massacred, raped, and crushed indigenous people and their cultures for hundreds of years afterwards, but I digress.
So immediately, Jensen must have thought that a Native American costume would be either funny or fitting. A woman with her stature and tenor must be educated, so it seems reasonable to assume that she must be (to some extent) aware of the terrible genocide of the Native American population. But seeing as the costume does not employ the usage of red-face to imitate the features of a Native woman, I suppose it can be inferred that she did not don the costume and say “Woohee! Look at me! I look like a silly Native American!” So she must have thought that her costume simply fit the occasion. Autumn = Thanksgiving = Native American = Native American costume. So what parts of this thought process is problematic?
The act itself ignores hundreds of years of Native mistreatment that is still evident today
If you guessed the “Thanksgiving = Native American” portion, you are correct. Native clothing is rich with Native history. This holds true for all cultural attire, obviously, and wearing a cheap imitation of a very serious cultural aspect is insulting on its own. However, when you contextualize this case and realize that she very well could have worn the costume simply because it reminded her of Thanksgiving, even more salt is thrown in the wound. The holiday of Thanksgiving could reasonably be considered an misconstrued holiday. The purpose of it was to celebrate a bond between Native Americans and European settlers. But this relationship ultimately was detrimental to the existence of Native Americans. Today, more than five million Native Americans live in the United States, making up 1.7 percent of the population. Genetic research revealed that the Native American population reached a low after the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
It is downright derogatory to pretend that wearing a Native American costume in a fall work party is either tactful or complimentary. The act itself ignores hundreds of years of Native mistreatment that is still evident today, as seen in the conditions of Native American reserves. So please, Miss Jensen, understand that this was boorish on your part. As a high-ranking government official, you should know better and do better. As for us, we must remember to keep holding people accountable for their insensitive actions to ensure that even the ugliest truths about what happened to the Native Americans is never be buried or ignored; it is our duty to remember these truths and hold ourselves accountable. Even doing this to the furthest extent will never be enough reparation for what history has held for Native Americans, which makes doing our duty all that more important.
Photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 / Kjetil Ree / Siv Jensen