Native Twitter is buzzing about “Native” Halloween costumes and the many issues surrounding the trend.
Although Missoula tends to be very politically correct and many people here are somewhat culturally aware, there are still plenty of people who will wear “Native-inspired” costumes downtown and to parties this year. I would just like to let everyone know that if you wear a costume of this nature, don’t be surprised when an actual Native person approaches you to educate you on why your choice of costume was a bad one.
As I hope you all know, Native Americans have a sore history, despite being on our own lands and cultural homes. Not being properly represented is a major issue, and having our voices heard is a constant uphill battle. On issues that pertain to how we are perceived in the media, our pleas for understanding consistently fall on deaf ears. We are often stifled with “Get over it,” “That was so long ago, none of you actually experienced that,” or my absolute favorite when it comes to “Native” costumes: “We’re honoring your culture!”
I would like to publicly call bullshit.
You are not honoring us in any capacity whatsoever. Wearing fake beads and feathers in a stereotypical fashion made to match Plains tribes (because no, not all Indians wore beads, feathers, rode horses and lived in teepees), is not honoring us. What you are doing is perpetuating, supporting and endorsing Native American stereotypes that lead to many issues that rage against Native people.
One of these very present and pressing issues is sexual violence and assault against Native American women. According to the National Congress of American Indians’ Research Center, 61% of Native women have experienced assault in their lifetime (three out of five), compared to 51% of white women, and 52% of African American women. Of those assaults, 63% will be at the hands of non-Native offenders.
In the time of #MeToo we are finally having a conversation about sexual assault and violence against women. I would like to clarify that I am in no way saying that our pain is worse than pain felt by non-Native assault survivors. However, popular adult Halloween site Yandy will take down a costume depicting a sexy “Handmaid’s Tale” character that was deemed “inappropriate” and “a symbol of women’s oppression” by mainstream society. Yet, this site continues to sell more than 40 different “Native American” costumes all with sexual connotations: You can’t tell me there isn’t an obvious difference.
When you fetishize a group of people this much, eventually you stop thinking of them as human beings. They become objects meant to be taken for whatever means you feel will best fulfill your needs — be it land, labor or pleasure. Nearly all of the “Native” Halloween costumes out there are heavily sexualized. When non-Natives see this, it implies that Native women represent sex and sex only. This eventually leads to high rates of rape and sexual assault, an issue that is finally coming to light with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement.
With the entire country talking about sexual assault, harassment and misconduct, I would like to allow Native women a seat at the table. Our voices and stories matter. We need allies now more than ever, and it starts with your choice of costume.