You’re casually perusing Amazon or some other costume outlet when you catch sight of the leggy gal with the two black braids and skimpy faux buckskin mini-dress peeking coyly out at you from the big-box-store packaging.
“Dang, that little feather on her headband is so cute! Oh, I already have some knee-high moccasins from last fall. My Etkie bracelet will look great with this! Sigh, I always loved Tiger Lilly…”
Stop! Put it down!
With all the pretty models and sleek packaging, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture and get swept away by a cute costume. But, that’s when we encourage you to take a moment to listen to the voice in your head asking, “Is it okay to dress up as an Indian?”
Well, because you wouldn’t paint your face with black makeup and go to the Halloween potluck dressed as an African American, or strap on a large, crooked witch nose and show up as a rabi, would you? Heck no, you’d get kicked out on your yamaka and go viral for being the week’s worst person.
So then why is it ok to show up in “redface”? Yep, that’s what it’s called when you dress up like an “Indian.” And what might you do if you crossed paths with a Native American person in this get up? Tell them you thought it might be fun to dress as Sacajawea for Halloween because it was oh-so-scary when she was sold as a slave to a man to whom she bore a child when she was little more than a kid herself?
BTW, “Indians” only exist in India and in bad spaghetti westerns. Those cute costumes are actually a culmination of several different, distinct Indigenous American cultures sexed up with some Hollywood flare. They represent a disregard for the very real peoples who were all but exterminated through systematic war, disease and violence. And for what? So that costumers could pick and choose elements of their culture to sell to oblivious consumers for profit? This is called cultural appropriation, and the cool kids don’t like it.
Lastly, I know many of you are aware of or have participated in the recent #MeToo Movement on Facebook. Did you know that 1 in 4 Native American girls will experience sexual abuse during her childhood? So if our other points didn't hit home for you, take a moment to think about what it means to buy into a costume that further sexualizes a group of women who already experience abuse at a higher rate than any other demographic in the U.S.
We know Halloween is supposed to be fun. However, we know and love many Natives who find this holiday extremely difficult and isolating. The bottom line: Just don’t do it and tell your friends not to, especially the ones dressed up like an Indian this year.
Interesting in reading more? Here's a link to Dr. Adrienne Keene's blog archives about Halloween and appropriation.
(images from top to bottom courtesy of Cosmopolitan; Victoria Secret 2012 Fashion Show courtesy of New York Daily News)