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Accusations of Racism Against Native American Photo Shoot By Next Top Model

By Kishore Sawh on April 13th 2014


Heidi Klum has unusually found herself in some hot water recently. In the German variant of Next Top Model where Klum mentors a group of contestants, a promoted theme was Native American, and the typically much-loved Ultramodel has been getting accosted and highly criticized over the decision.


Posted to her public Facebook page, the gallery of photos in question is open for anyone to see. Comprising the gallery are a series of editorial styled fashion photos in sepia tones, and the models are in various renditions of traditional Native American attire and make-up. The problem is the attire and shoot are striking most as an attempt that merely furthers stereotypes rather than anything else. The term ‘Redface’ is what’s being tossed around.


The comment section is absolutely full of negative remarks, such as this, “

People dress up in stereotypical ‘Indian’ garb, they’re not only denying the existence of 566 distinct Tribal Nations, they’re mocking an entire group of human beings based solely on their race and heritage.”

That’s just the tip of the vehement iceberg, and further outrage hasn’t just been the stereotyped posing and attire, but what many are calling the hypersxualization of Native women.


Interestingly enough the Facebook page has remained up, and doesn’t seem like it will be taken down. Klum has made no public offering of apology or defense. A spokesman for GNTP’s company ProSieben, was quoted telling The Independent on behalf of Heidi and the show:

We have nothing but the utmost esteem for the Native American culture and are so sorry if our shoot was offensive to anyone. By no means was our intention to insult Native Americans or in any way demean their heritage. We sincerely apologize.






Simply put, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. That’s my personal view. Some people are extremely vocal about being offended but by definition that word is derived from a perception – meaning offense is usually tied to a perceived insult. Therefore being offended doesn’t grant anyone any rights. I think there’s certainly room for the argument that the photos should stay as is. Taking them down is almost tantamount to burning books perceived as heresy. Fashion takes its cues from all around, much as many other facets of the art world. Should the receptive and exploratory nature of the creative facility be tamed by those who take offense to anything?

Via: The Idependent

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joe Campbell

    This photoshoot was extremely distasteful and disrespectful. A global corporate system is in place that is not concerned with anything important i.e., community, culture, art, religion, history, etc. This system is only concerned with profit.

    The head dress is Sacred to N. American culture.

    But what I find most distasteful about these photos is not their complete disregard of N. American culture and history, it is their purpose; the portrayal of unnaturally skinny, hypersexualized girls to further profit mongering greed. This should offend any decent person. Unfortunately many are desensitized to this sort of thing and consider it “normal”.

    Would you want your mother, or your daughter to be one of these models? Is their any reason you would want this other than the payoff, and the little bit of life security that might come with it?

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  2. Skyler Jarrett

    I wonder how many of the offended people here are actually Native Americans. My experience it is the mindlessly ignorant white folk who do all the gettig up in arms.

    If anything this shoot promotes the image of the native American, showcasing, even if in a small way, the lifestyle. By the time the mindless society get through these images may be all we have left of this vibrant culture.

    Time, people, to get a real life and enjoy the imagery for what it is….Great photography

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  3. Carlisle Antonio

    As a Native American from the Oglala Lakota nation, my people have been involved in a survival against genocide for a long time now.

    I am also a Filmmaker and photographer and combine my art with my cultural traditions.

    I know that most of you won’t get this, because your cultures do not have the same reverence for attire, symbols and meaning. Fashion doe snot represent culture, but a style, that is transient and more often than not meant to sell commercial products.

    Wearing a headdress for Native people is totally different concept from your way of thinking. For us, every part of that bustle and feather has a significance and has to do with how we are as people, our traditions, our language and the lives of or ancestors. It has to do with our philosophy of life, our balance and our purpose. It is not transient and symbolizes hundreds and thousands of years of our cultural traditions. Therefore it is beyond fashion and one that has a deeper spiritual meaning and reverence for our people. As native people we ourselves do not have the right to wear a headdress- because we are native. That right comes from a lifetime of living in a certain way and is only accorded to a few who have been considered worthy of that privilege.

    So this is not about the freedom to do what you want, but being accountable for what you portray by having the respect to ask native people permission and then accept their answers. Freedom of speech also means being accountable for your actions. Labeling things as art or fashion without really understanding the significance of people’s lives is again part of a genocidal and colonial mindset, that has no regard for anything that is sacred to some.

    I would like to see Heidi Klum and all of you people here take for instance anything out of Muslim culture and parody that in your fashion and then comment about it. Or for instance dress up people in Jewish clothing, like as though they were from Auschwitz with Swastikas and Hitler slogans. Or why stop there, why not also have supermodels dress up as 911 jumpers from skyscrapers with burning clothes…Extreme, perhaps, but I’m just trying to make a point. Let’s see what happens then.

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    • Skyler Jarrett

      Buddy, While I have the greatest respect for your people, and, indeed, all native and indigenous people from all over the world, your comments overlook a very important point. How many Native Americans are living their lives in this traditional costume today compared to those that have adopted “white” fashion.

      Sorry but you cannot claim ownership of a clothing fashion, It is what it is.

      I suggest you highlight the Indian ways in your movies to let the world know what a fine culture it is. As for the genocide issue…I totally agree with you that it has been, still is, and probably will remain an horrific blight on “white” society…Take heart though as it is your people who have the right to be proud and mine who should only bow our heads in shame. At the end of the day though, this is simple a photographic portrayal of a photographers idea, something he has every right to do

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  4. Alex Salisbury

    One of the issues is that “playing Indian” reduces Native Americans to stereotypical character tropes. Why bother concerning yourself with authentic representations—Americans much prefer their commodified and imagined images of “The Indian.” And notice that “real” Indians are always left out of the picture.

    Intentions of malice aren’t a prerequisite for racism. A couple years ago there was a hubbub about a bunch of white Canadians dressed in blackface to “honor” their favorite Jamaican sprinter. In our society, blackface is an absolute taboo. Why not then redface?

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    • Chuck Eggen

      Come on Alex. Enough with your save the world from agony. Go out and shoot some dripping faucets to show the world how we’re wasting water or something.

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  5. Black Z Eddie

    Nothing offensive with that photoshoot. Some people need to quit looking for every reason to whine about something.

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  6. Aaron Tsuru

    This is pretty common knowledge that Native Americans find this very offensive. Got an idea for a photoshoot involving playing dress-up? How about googling that first, eh?


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    • Ranalli

      If you seriously have to google something to find out whether it is offensive or not then artistically you might as well just give up.

      I can find something offensive to someone else about EVERYTHING. On a scale of so-benign-it’s-not-even-worth-discussing to making a photo-shoot showing off the fun side of suicide I’d say this is far leaning to the former.


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  7. Kym Warner

    I can’t believe I almost commented on this….what a waste of time that would have been!

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  8. Erik Tande

    Being offended by this is pretty silly. It’s like saying “If you’re not scandinavian you can’t dress up like a viking and take pictures because it’s offensive.” or “If you’re not Scottish you can’t put on a kilt and take pictures because it’s offensive to Scotts.”

    Ridiculous :P

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    • Ruben

      The scottish and the scandinavians were not subject to one of historys biggest and most ignored genocides, still today the conditions in the reservations are on the level of third world countries.

      To use the image of a people so blatenly and openly denied of their excistence and struggle in modern day society and use it as a prop or theme for a fashion shoot bring along a huge historical baggage and ethical implications.

      I get that the photog wasnt trying to hurt anyone with the photos, but he most likely wasnt aware or didnt consider the feelings of natives and the implications it had.

      But to then just say ‘its silly’ is just denying an entire group of people their right to fight the exploitation an capitalization of the culture of them and their ancestors, who were brutally murdered and oppresed while trying to maintain their culture.

      If you insist on making an historical comparison you would be closer by comparig it to using the clothing of jewish prisoners in a nazi germany concentration camp as a fashion style.

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    • Connor

      Ruben I get your point about the comparison to the clothing of people in concentration camps but the difference between the two is that the clothing of the native people doesn’t symbolize their oppression unlike the clothes of concentration camps. The traditional clothing of native tribes symbolizes their culture (albeit in this case probably not accurately) not their oppression.

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    • Lolrite

      Ruben, that is a laughably bad analogy. Native American garb isn’t, in itself, a symbol of genocide and suffering, unlike clothing prescribed to a prisoner of a concentration camp. All sorts of peoples and cultures have undergone massive genocides, most of which have faded into annals of history and no longer at the forefront of our mind.

      If anything, the fate of the Native American is far more persistent in our cultural psyche than those of historical people. Most of Eurasia was slaughtered or enslaved by the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, should no one wear any of the traditional clothing of those people because they were oppressed at one point in history? How about Hawaiian-themed clothing? No mainlanders should be wearing grass skirts and leis, right?

      I will agree that it wasn’t the most diplomatic choice to go with the Native American theme, as we can see here it is like skipping between landmines. That does not, however, imply that there is any moral imperative involved in doing so. The logical basis for taking offense is very very thin.

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    • Ranalli

      Rueben, your post represents everything that is wrong with America’s current ultra-political correct conundrum.

      The funny thing is that most of the folks complaining…aren’t even of Native American descent. Just ridiculous.

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    • Connor

      LOLRITE I am so glad you brought up the Mongol empire. People always comment on how awfully whites treated Native Americans and I agree they were treated horribly but people always forget that cultures have been oppressed by dominating cultures for thousands of years. It really wasn’t until recently that people have obtained the belief that invading other peoples land and driving out their culture was wrong. The Mongolians did it, the Romans did it, heck any empire in history did it. It is only because that the oppression of the Native Americans happened more recently in comparison to human existence that people forget that humans had been doing acts like this for thousands of years. What happened to Native Americans was horrible but people have to remember that they weren’t the only people that it happened to.

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  9. Drew Pluta

    The real problem here is just bad taste. They’re showing up late to the hipster party. This whole native American style thing has been cruising for a couple years now and the whole idea is ill conceived. Evey time anybody puts out a product or attaches brand identity to it they go down in flames, yet the kids keep doing it so everybody wants to cash in and provide what the market is asking for. We’re in a feedback loop of stupid. Just stop it, it’s not interesting.

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    • Philip Kirk

      And there’s the real problem: when an entire culture (or in this case many different cultures that have been lumped together) is reduced to “This whole native American style thing” in order to sell stuff, a style which is then discarded when it’s no longer cool. Calling on people to drop it because it was sooo last season is kinda missing the point.

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  10. Celena

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about either. It seems like as soon as anyone says “Indian” people are going to be “outraged” and call it offensive, no matter what is going on. It’s obnoxious.

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  11. Aaron K

    Like the author, I don’t see a lot wrong with these images. It’s a themed shoot and everyone gets bent out of shape because it’s a non Native American wearing Native American style garments. Whatever you do and wherever you go, you will always offend someone, especially in these times of ridiculous political correctness and hypersensitivity that only serves to stifle free speech and expression. Unfortunately, nowadays people seem to think that to not be offended is a human right. Get over yourselves. I’m pretty sure the intention of the photographer was not to mock or ridicule native peoples. I bet people wouldn’t be spitting venom if she were wearing a nun’s habit or dressed in a cossack costume. IT’S ART. Perhaps if the ultra liberals spent more time creating it than criticizing it and everything else in this world, it might be a better place.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      “more time creating it than criticizing” – nice. I like that. Cheers

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    • Connor

      I agree with you both. I don’t see anything wrong with the photos. The photos aren’t emphasizing the oppression of the native people. Traditional Native American clothing doesn’t symbolize their oppression it symbolizes their culture. Now if the photos had white men chasing the models with rifles in them, then I could see how it would be offensive.

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    • Alex Salisbury

      Why bring free speech into this? I’m sorry, but critiquing racism does not stifle free speech. Free speech is the ability to make such critiques. And then you, conservative reactionary, can, in turn, react to said critiques. You gotta admit the hypocrisy in your complaint that liberals should “spend more time creating than criticizing.” At that rate, why did you bother commenting?

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