Each year, children of all ages dress up for Halloween and haunt their neighborhoods threatening tricks and seeking treats. It’s all great fun. But here is a friendly reminder that, this Halloween (like every other), Indigenous peoples are not costumes.
Inappropriate Halloween costumes are nothing new. But more and more Indigenous people everywhere are calling out people for dressing as Indigenous people, and the businesses which continue to sell these inappropriate costumes.
Dressing up as an “Indian” for Halloween is just as offensive as sports teams using Indigenous people for their mascots and nicknames.
When people choose to dress in the latest “Rez Royalty” costumes, they choose to dress in caricatured versions of Indigenous culture. These costumes also perpetuate stereotypes that many non-Indigenous people believe about First Nations peoples and cultures: painted faces, colored feathers, faux-leather fringes, plastic bows and arrows, dreadful headdresses and headbands.
If someone thinks that they are “honoring” Indigenous people by wearing one of these costumes, or anything similar, they are sadly mistaken.
Cultures are not costumes. Period.
Many non-Indigenous people don’t bat an eye at wearing a culturally insensitive costume, yet would get angry when the shoe is on the other foot. Controversy erupted When ESPN’s Bomani Jones appeared on air wearing a “Caucasians” t-shirt fashioned to look like a Cleveland Indians t-shirt in 2016. The logo featured the grinning face of a white man face resembling the team’s racist mascot Chief Wahoo, with dollar signs where his feathers would be.
The “Caucasians” t-shirt set off a social media debate where white users condemned Jones’ choice of clothing and expressed their sense of injury. It was also later revealed that ESPN had asked Jones to cover up the shirt so as not to “detract from the topics of the day” being discussed on his show.
The fact that a television personality wearing a “Caucasians” t-shirt can create an uproar while professional sports teams continue to use team nicknames like the Indians and the R*dskins and employ stereotypical mascots is wrong on so many levels.
Indigenous people in Canada and the United States were brutalized, massacred merely for being on land Europeans coveted, and oppressed and terrorized for practicing their cultures and speaking their languages. Thw governments of both Canada and the United States virtually outlawed Indigenous cultures and established Residential School systems to take children away from their families and communities.
In these schools, children were subjected to horrific abuses as their languages and culture were beaten out of them.
The people who are offended by being told they cannot dress as Indigenous people for Halloween, or who wear an “Indian headdress” to Coachella or Lollapalooza, are invariably the same people who benefit from their white privilege. It is these people who think cultural appropriation is a way to honor the cultures they steal from. They invariably condemn “political correctness” when they are told not to dress up as Indigenous people on Halloween, or that their football team’s nickname and mascot are racist.
It is a profound irony that so many people want to be make-believe “Indians” for Halloween not so long after Indigenous languages and cultures were outlawed. But it is no joke.
Culture is not a costume.