Why you should think twice about your “Indian” Halloween costume

By Kelly Alderfer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock your whole life, you know that people have been dressing as

The whitest man of all time wearing a cheap imitation of a Native American headdress
The whitest man of all time wearing a cheap imitation of a Native American headdress.

Native Americans for Halloween for quite a while. Walk into any costume store, and you’ll see a whole variety of them for women, men and children. Maybe you’ve been to a Halloween party and saw someone wearing one, or you’ve worn one yourself. It’s pretty common.

Unfortunately, what a lot of people don’t realize is that by dressing as a Native American for Halloween, they are reinforcing stereotypes of an entire culture that is so much more than buckskin and headdresses. The whole idea is considered “cultural appropriation,” which is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.

You might be thinking, “but it’s just a Halloween costume, what’s the big deal?” Dr. Amanda Morris, associate professor of multiethnic rhetorics at KU, said. “Native Americans are people, not costumes. To costume yourself as a stereotype is to disrespect the real, living people and reinforces the idea that they are absent from contemporary society when they are very much alive and well.”

One of the problems here is that most of us grew up being taught that this is okay. Around Thanksgiving when I was in preschool, my class made headdresses out of construction paper and wrote on each feather something we were thankful for. It’s an innocent activity, but it’s the first step of many that can cause some of us to have that stereotypical view of Native Americans that we may have today.

As I got older, I don’t remember learning too much about Native Americans. I vaguely recall some facts I learned about the French and Indian War and the Trail of Tears, but that’s about it. What I was left with was the idea that the Native Americans I thought I knew were people of the past, but they aren’t—they just don’t go walking around in the clothing we see in the movies or in the Halloween stores.

Native American women should not be represented by racy costumes titled “Pocahottie” and “Tribal Temptation” just as “Chief Big Wood” and “Chief Big Arrow” shouldn’t symbolize men. It’s disrespectful and just plain silly.

So if you plan on celebrating Halloween this year and you haven’t bought your costume yet, think about all of the other options you could choose from. Be imaginative! Try to think of something no one has thought of before. People are going to be a lot more impressed with your original costume than something that has been worn one time too many.

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