Our art, customs and practices are appropriated to line the pockets of others while we live in disadvantage
As a 26-year-old Aboriginal woman I am not in Chanel’s key marketing demographic. I don’t imagine a lot of Aboriginal people are – we are some of the poorest people in the country we come from. We have been dispossessed of our land in a brutal colonial project beginning at the end of the 18th century that is still ongoing.
Chanel has come under fire after the US makeup artist and model Jeffree Star posted a video of himself with a boomerang that Chanel makes. To be completely honest I thought it was a joke because nothing about it made sense.
If you are an Aboriginal person the idea that someone would pay nearly $2,000 for a designer boomerang is absurd. To pay that much for a boomerang would have to make it something of worth. A boomerang of worth would have been made by someone who knows how to make them. They would have been lovingly crafted. They might have been used to hunt.
A boomerang of worth isn’t one made by French privately held company owned by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer.
You couldn’t get further away from our cultures than Jeffree Star throwing a Chanel boomerang, if you tried. My mind first imagined Star out in the bush learning how to make one with his very glamorous fingernails. Now I look forward to Mercedes-Benz’s new canoe range. I look forward to Tiffany diamond-encrusted spears. I’m kidding of course, but how is this any different?
At this point I’m guessing that Chanel might be annoyed at Star for bringing the item to the public eye. It turns out they have been selling overpriced boomerangs since 2006. This is one year before the Northern Territory intervention started in 2007 … no doubt the Wertheimers wouldn’t know what this is.
The federal government suspended the Racial Discrimination Act and sent the military into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory over unverified claims of abuse. These claims have been largely unsubstantiated and the intervention is still under effect, with a rebrand.
This is, as my cousin Dtarneen Onus-Williams pointed out, is nine years before an Aboriginal man, Alec Doomadgee, was not able to take his actual ceremonial boomerangs on a Qantas flight in 2015. This is 11 years before fake Aboriginal art – made in Indonesia – started flooding the market so badly that the federal MP Bob Katter announced plans to introduce a private member’s bill to address it.
To understand our anger, the company might need to know about our position in society. Our land was stolen and we were subject to genocidal and paternal policies. We were not allowed to practise our culture, it was punishable. Our knowledges weren’t passed down; we have the highest rate of language extinction in the world. What little is left needs protecting.
Chanel has sent out a statement to the media outlets who have reported on the justified anger of Aboriginal people. It said the company respected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that it “regrets that some may have felt offended”.
If you respect us, discontinue this, apologise properly and support Aboriginal designers instead.