Indigenous Voices: My culture is NOT a costume

Canada’s historic treatment of Indigenous peoples has been unfair to say the least. From the residential school system, to broken treaties and the loss of land, the list goes on. While steps are finally being taken in the right direction towards reconciliation, we as Indigenous people are still suffering the consequences of Canada’s attempt to diminish our culture.

That seems like a pretty radical way to start off a commentary on Halloween, right? Well, I promise this serves a purpose. I wanted to lay out a foundation for you, the readers, to help you understand the suffering my people have endured to truly grasp the weight of making a mockery of our culture — intentionally or not.

Whether you realize it or not, dressing up in someone’s traditional wear as a costume is incredibly insensitive to the struggles that particular groups have faced, and still face today. Because I can only speak for myself as an Indigenous woman, I’ll give you my perspective.

While there are many reasons why it’s hurtful and wrong, the gist of it goes as follows: in Canada, there is a long history of trying to systematically eliminate Indigenous culture in all of its forms. It’s pretty insulting to see people out dressed with a feather in their hair, a velvet dress, moccasins on their feet and temporary “tribal” tattoos on their skin while running around wasted calling themselves Pocahontas. My ancestors — heck, my own family — have and still are being shamed for showing pride in our culture. To say that it boils my blood to see my peers making a mockery of it would be an understatement.

“Why?” “You’re being overly sensitive!” “It’s just for one night!”

The list of justifications goes on and on. The truth of the matter is that it hurts a lot of people’s feelings, and rightfully so. If it’s something that you have the privilege to wear without the fear of persecution, while others would be shamed if they wore it, then you shouldn’t either. We need to treat people with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Haven’t you ever heard of the saying, “Treat people the way you would want to be treated”?

Halloween is the worst time to appropriate culture (not that there is ever a good day to do so), because it’s a day to dress up as something that is completely out of the ordinary, humorous or bold. My culture is none of these things to me — it is sacred and honourable.

I’ll end this by saying that as “cute” and easy it may seem to dress as Pocahontas, Mulan or any costume on the minority spectrum this year, it’s easier to just not.

Indigenous Voices is The Aquinian’s newest column featuring stories by Indigenous people, sharing their perspective on the world around them.

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  • Kara

    Very well said, Sis! You make all of us proud ❤️

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