Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Question: Should I dress up like a Indian/Native American for Halloween?

It's that time of the year once again! When I must put on my overly cliche, stereotypical war paint in order to battle the onslaught of racist Native American costumes that will be hitting costume stores around the nation. Sigh! Yeppie! It's almost Halloween...

I must "Brave" through the Halloween Season AGAIN! Ugh

I received the following email from a non-native friend the other day. Her daughter wanted her to dress as the Lakota brave from the film Spirit. Here is her question and my answer:

My daughter decided a few weeks ago that she wanted to be a Cowgirl for Halloween. We are planning her costume and Trunk-or-treat theme. Then, she watched the movie Spirit (for the 1,000,000,000,000 time) this weekend and she wants to add a tee-pee to our trunk-or-treat decorations. Then, she asked me to dress up like Little Creek, the Lakota Indian, in the movie (except, she said, I will have to wear a shirt because I'm not a boy.) After talking to her, I realized that she is asking to dress like, and decorate our car like people that she admires, that she thinks are brave and have a good heart, which is exactly what I want her to do. I want her to emulate people with strong character, intelligence and moral worth. I am happy that she doesn't just want to be some silly princess or a cheerleader. So, my question is this, is there any way that I can honor her wishes without being offensive or perpetuating a stereotype?
My Answer:
       You're daughter is too precious for words and it is admirable for her to want to incorporate the "spirit" of the Lakota people. However, after talking to a Dakota co-worker about your question, she believes that while your daughters intentions are innocent, it would be extremely offensive if  you were to dress as the young Lakota warrior in this movie.
       My co-worker mentioned that films like Spirit only continue the misconceptions of Native Americans to non-natives. I've never seen Spirit (I try to stay away from any films that aren't written/directed/produced by Natives), so I can't really tell you about the stereotypical nature of the film, but I was able to find this article:

Also, she was worried about the connection between cowboys/westerns and Native Americans. While Native Americans have continued to thrive in American society, it is our existence as the enemy to western expansion that will forever be ingrained in the memories of non-natives. We have remained this way in the American conscience-historic,vanishing,savage,"uncivilized"
So, my suggestion is not to dress up like Little Creek or paint your car with a Teepee. I would explain to your daughter that while her intentions are admirable, it would hurt and dishonor the people that she admires. That the images she sees of Native American people in the film Spirit are not accurate and are actually harmful to contemporary Lakota people. I would then show her images of Lakota people today. Maybe a library book, such as Gift Horse. Let her know that she can admire the Lakota people by learning more about them, rather than dressing like them.There is so much diversity and a sacred meaning in Lakota Traditional Dress which is only worn by certain people within the tribe. I did a presentation about this last semester. You can check out the beauty of their clothing here:
IDENTITY BY DESIGN: Tradition, Change, And Celebration In Native Women’s DressesIdentity By Design: Online Exhibition
Surrounded by Beauty: Lakota Dress
I hope this helps...

If you have any suggestion to my friend or any other readers who are contemplating questions similar to this one, please comment! Remember: If you are able to pursue someone from picking up a racist Halloween Costume this trick-or-treat season than this blog has achieved it's mission!