Last year, Urban Outfitters set off a firestorm of criticism with its line of Navajo-branded clothing and accessories — particularly underwear and a liquor flask, which the tribe said was "derogatory and scandalous."
Abaki Beck was among a handful of Native students who hosted a discussion last week at a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn., on Native culture in fashion and sports. She said companies first must learn from the mistake of ignoring Native American history and then make an effort to engage with Indian Country.
She wanted more than a short apology from Victoria's Secret instead of what she said sounded like an automated response.
"But perhaps that is an unrealistic hope," said the 19-year-old member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana. "It is all about business, after all."
Jennie Luna, who is Chicana and Caxcan, said society largely is ignorant toward indigenous spirituality and doesn't understand what should not be marketed commercially. She and others say more education about Native American cultures is needed.
"We are people; we're not a fashion statement," Luna said. "We are people who are facing serious issues, and for them to further perpetuate the type of stereotypes and disregard for a community's way of life is unacceptable."
ReGina Zuni's advice to companies looking to market Native American culture is to hire Native Americans who have knowledge of tribal traditions, cultures and customs.
However, her reaction to hearing about the Victoria's Secret headdress wasn't outrage about the clothing itself, but about the lack of attention on health care, education, housing and other issues in Indian Country.
"To each his own," said Zuni, of Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. "But seriously, if people want to grab media attention on Indian issues, this is not the issue to advance and place in the spotlight."