Kathy M’Closkey

Kathy M’Closkey

Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, University of Windsor

Kathy is an Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at the University of Windsor, Ontario. Awarded her PhD in Anthropology by York University in 1996, her research focuses on globalization and gendered injustice, social justice, intellectual and cultural property rights, appropriation, and the political economy of “collectibles” with a geographic emphasis on historic and contemporary production by Native American artisans living in the southwest United States. She is also a research affiliate with the Southwest Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, the sponsor of Swept Under the Rug: A Hidden History of Navajo Weaving (University of New Mexico Press, 2002, 2008). Kathy served as research director for the award-winning PBS documentary Weaving Worlds (2009), directed by Navajo (Diné) Bennie Klain of Trickster Films, Austin, TX. Her research has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada from 1998 to 2012.

Her forthcoming book Why the Navajo Blanket Became a Rug: Excavating the Lost Heritage of Globalization (UNM Press), repositions weavers and woolgrowers within a globalization and neoliberalism framework. This revisionist analysis reveals how Diné were dramatically affected by rapid transformations occurring in agriculture and textiles, two of the three largest post-Civil War domestic industries. After 1890, the split wool tariff permitted duty-free imports of carpet wools from thirty countries, while offering high tariff protection for the finer clothing wools raised by domestic growers (National Association of Wool Manufacturers, 1870-1943). Free trade in carpet wools triggered an escalation in textile production by thousands of weavers as reservation traders sought ways to market the coarse, unstandardized wool clip. Until the 1960s  nearly all textiles were acquired from weavers by weight. Women received credit, from three to eight times the current value of Navajo fleece, and their textiles were shipped to regional wholesalers to pay down traders’ accounts.

Today over 20,000 weavers encounter “double jeopardy” due to the competition stimulated by the investment market for the pre-1960 “pound blankets,” in tandem with the “knock-offs” imported from twenty countries. Sales of knock-offs are perfectly legal under the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Board Act, a truth-in-advertising act that protects consumers, not producers. As long as imports are not labeled “Indian-made,” sales of knock-offs are permitted. 

Although the Navajo Nation has trademarked its name, protection for communal property rights eludes producers.With the breakdown of the trading post system, weavers face increased marginalization and formidable global competition. For centuries weaving provided a livelihood and means to perpetuate Diné culture, with the concept of k’e, (clanship, environment, reciprocity) at its roots. Weavers reveal during interviews how the process of weaving expresses a form of spirituality. Thus “double jeopardy” has created serious problems, contributing to the potential for cultural fragmentation as weavers are no longer able to provide for their families in this culturally appropriate way.

Because many Navajos endure third world living conditions, my analysis challenges anthropologists’ support for the unauthorized reproduction of Navajo designs by Zapotec weavers. Such appropriation clearly violates Articles 11, 20 and 31 of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), which support weavers’ rights to protection. My research reveals remarkable parallels between the under-researched history of Diné weavers and woolgrowers, and dilemmas confronting Indigenous producers worldwide, coping with globalization, subsistence insecurity, and “development.”


Publications / presentations related to IPinCH:

2015. Invited speaker, From Trading Posts to Today: The Commodification of American Indian Arts. Fowler Museum at UCLA Colloquium. Nov 8. 

2013. Diasporas of and by Design: Historicizing the Growing Impoverishment of Native American ArtisansAnthropology News, November.

2012. Up for Grabs: Assessing the Consequences of Appropriations of Navajo Weavers’ Patterns. In: No Deal! Indigenous Arts and the Politics of Possessions. Tressa Berman, ed. School of Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM, pp 128-54.  

2010. NOVICA, Navajo Knock-offs and the ‘Net: a Critique of Fair Trade Marketing Practices. In: Fair Trade and Social Justice: Global Ethnographies. Sarah Lyon and Mark Moberg, eds. NY: State University of New York Press, pp 258-282. 

2004. Toward an Understanding of Navajo Aesthetics. Jan-Feb 2004.  SEE: Semiotics, Evolution, Energy. Peter Harries-Jones, editor. Chapter 6, From Flea Market to Fifth Avenue: Tracking the Investment Market.  In Swept Under the Rug: a Hidden History of Navajo Weaving. 2002/2008. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.