Burners Torched Over Native Party
Local Native Americans go to war against insensitive Burners and win.
By David Downs
Printer-friendly version | Send a letter | E-mail story April 1, 2009
There was supposed to be a "private" Burner party last Saturday night at the Bordello in Oakland, complete with three hundred guests, twenty DJs spinning thumping techno and bass, dancers, a fashion show, micro-massages, raw food, an absinthe bar, and coconuts. Instead, the event ended in tears.
Editor's Note: This story is real.
More than fifty Bay Area Native American rights activists converged on the historic East Oakland property at 9:30 p.m. to ensure the shutdown of popular Burning Man group Visionary Village's "Go Native!" party. The fired-up Hopis, Kiowas and other tribal members spent more than four hours lecturing the handful of white, college-class Burners about cultural sensitivity until some of them simply broke down crying.
The emotional crescendo capped a month-long saga that started with a tone-deaf dance party flyer, led to an Internet flame war and a public excoriation of Visionary Village's young, neo-hippy leaders before real tribal elders in the East Bay demanded a cancellation of the event.
But for every apology, the group often inserted a foot into its mouth. Some Burners said they'd been trained by shamans to build altars, others sang racist childhood songs, or noted the lack of Native Americans at Burning Man (which occurs on an Indian reservation). Others asked for Indian help with their Burning Man projects, prompting a Hopi woman to go off.
"I'm trying to articulate my feelings as best I can without completely losing it," she said. "What we do is not an artistic expression. And you don't have artistic license to take little pieces here and there and do what you want with it. That's something you people don't understand, probably never will understand.
"Name your little villages whatever you want, but don't ever associate it with Native Americans. Call it the Crystal Ranch or something. Call it the Mars Ranch. If you want to be spiritual — go be a Druid or something."