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Indigenous Fashion and Veganism: Why Vegan Activists are Wrong to Target Indigenous Use of Animals

Indigenous people are distinct populations of people relative to the dominant post-colonial culture of their country. They have their languages, cultures and traditions. These are all influenced by the living relationship they have with their ancestral homeland. They have distinct cultural traditions, some of which are still the custom today. One of their traditions is their use of animals and nature to survive. Indigenous peoples' relationships with animals come from tens of thousands of years of connections to their environments.

Indigenous people utilise animals in many different ways. They are sometimes used to communicate the values and spiritual beliefs of individual tribes and indigenous communities. Indigenous culture also used animals to survive. Animals provide food, protection and even clothing. Indigenous people strive to be respectful of their environment and only use what is needed to survive, never wasting any products of an animal.

Indigenous fashion

Indigenous clothing varies from tribe to tribe, depending on what materials are available to them. Their clothing relies heavily on natural animal products and other natural sources like plant fibres. In their culture, they are very respectful towards nature and the environment around them. They never waste any products and only take what is necessary for survival. When they hunt animals, they will only hunt what is needed. They will use the meat for food and then use other parts for clothing, accessories, tools and more. In many cultures, they have accompanying celebrations and rituals of appreciation for the animals they use.

When it comes to clothing, they use materials like leather, bone, fur and feather. Depending on the seasons, clothing can vary from light leather-like breechcloths to fur-lined coats and boots. A lot of the textiles indigenous people use come from plant fibres and other plant products. They also come from animals, and they use animal skins to make items of clothing and other necessities like blankets.

Many young fashion designers from indigenous tribes use their collections to bring their culture and traditions back into the spotlight. Their brands aim to reclaim their heritage in a time where indigenous people are still invisible. These collections use traditional methods and meaningful elements such as animals and historical government documents. Designers then combine them with techniques such as graphic silkscreen or 3-D printing.

Targeted by vegan activists

In recent years indigenous people have come under fire by some vegan activists protesting their use of animal products in fashion. Indigenous people have been targeted online and in-person for their use of animal products in their clothing. However, these attacks on indigenous people are wrong and come from misinformation on their culture and traditions. This issue has been going on for a long time. It has resurfaced in recent years due to the rise of vegan fashion.

The fashion industry itself has a massive impact on the environment. Naturally, vegan fashion and biodegradable materials are becoming more common in the industry to tackle this issue. However, there are other ways to make fashion more sustainable than just vegan fashion. Vegan fashion is clothing that is 100% cruelty-free. Materials like fur, feather and wool, won't be used. Sustainable fashion primarily focuses on reducing the environmental impact of clothing. The materials used are sustainably sourced and have biodegradable fibres.

While some believe that eco-friendly materials are a myth, indigenous people have been sourcing these materials in an environmentally friendly way for many years. As mentioned before, indigenous people only take from nature what they need to survive. When they use animal products in their culture, they use every part of the animal. An example of this is the Lakota tribe. They have a long-standing cultural and social relationship with Buffalo that are native to their land. The Buffalo provides them with food and the material to make tools, shelter and clothes.

How to make a change

There is a lot to be done in the fashion industry to help reduce the impact on the environment. However, targeting indigenous people and their traditions and culture is wrong and needs to be stopped. Asking indigenous people to give up or change their traditional hunting methods and their use of animals to make up for the mistakes made by the fashion and farming industry will not make a difference in how the industry affects the environment. Instead, it further isolates a culture that is already near invisible.

Changes need to happen in factory farming and the insistence on competitive animal agriculture. The blame directed at indigenous culture comes from misinformation. Many indigenous people have taken to social media to help educate the world on their traditions. By doing so they showcase a culture that has sadly been invisible for many years. Check out these indigenous influences to learn more about their cultures and traditions: James Jones @notoriouscree and Shina Novalinga @shinanova.


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