A quiet group gathered in front of Ground Zero in Minneapolis on Friday evening for the “Retirement Protest for Tomahawk Tassels,” on the night of a burlesque event at the venue where Tassels was performing. Though Tassels announced last week that she was “suspending” her American Indian act, the protesters called for her to retire her stage name as well.
There were about 12 to 15 protesters outside Ground Zero around 10 p.m., talking with passersby and reporters, making their case. A number of them expressed interest in sitting down and speaking with her, though they did not encounter her that evening.
Kate Beane, who is pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota where she also teaches American Indian Studies, attended the protest because she’s concerned that many people in Minnesota don’t understand the realities of the American Indian experience. In an assignment she gave to her students about what they knew about American Indians, several of her students said Disney’s Pocahontas was the only thing they knew of the culture. “That’s dangerous,” she said.
Beane feels that Tassels, who identifies as half Cherokee, has used burlesque dancing as a medium to learn about her ancestry, using objects such as tipis, which the Cherokee did not use, giving an inaccurate portrayal.
Megan Treinen, another protester, doesn’t see a problem with Tassels pursuing burlesque, but thinks she needs to find a different identity. “There’s no reason she can’t be successful with a different name,” she said.
The protesters gave no speeches and didn’t chant, although they did hold signs such as “Amanda, we support you in dropping your Tomahawk Tassels routine!” “Native culture is not for sale” and “Somebody said there is going to be frybread?!” They didn’t seem to prevent anyone from attending the show, although some audience members did stop and talk to the protesters.
Kathleen Watson, for instance, thought it was cool that there was a protest. “It’s good they are raising awareness. Not everybody that is attracted to burlesque come here for the social issues,” she said.
Though the protesters didn’t speak to Tassels on Friday evening, some hope for a sit-down respectful conversation. Montana Picard said she tried to start a conversation with Tassels a couple of years ago over Facebook after seeing a poster for her show that she found offensive. Picard said the two had an ongoing dialog that consisted of Picard trying to explain to Tassels about Native appropriation and violence against women. “She was polite, I was polite, but basically she said ‘I don’t care if you think it’s racist.’ Picard eventually gave up, but became involved again in the outcry that has erupted over Tassels recently.
Picard, like many at the protest, was unhappy with Thursday's Vita.mn story about Tassels, saying that the article portrayed her as a victim who is bullied. At the same time, Picard says that after talking about the issue with elders in the community, she feels she would like to once again try to engage Tassels into a dialog. “We need to make sure we are kind and open-hearted. It’s not about attacking her,” she said.
R. Vincent Moniz Jr., who has been a vocal critic of Tassels in the last few weeks, announced on the event's Facebook page Friday afternoon that he was backing away from the event, but did end up coming to the protest. “I really felt like it would be better to come to the protest, not to protest, but to celebrate the win,” he said. “My friends and I came to show our support of Amanda's decision to suspend her racist minstrel show.”