TORONTO – On Saturday, October 25th Tsong De Kwe (Cathy Calfchild) and some friends in Toronto were window shopping leisurely downtown. The group decided to check out some scary Halloween costumes at the Spiritshalloween.com store, Yonge and Dundas location, but the only thing that scared them was the ignorant racism displayed as ‘Indian’ costumes. “We came across one entire isle of all these native costumes, and we were flabbergasted because the costumes themselves were very revealing and the names were highly offensive.”
Outraged by the manner, quantity, and the very nature of the numerous ‘Native’ costumes on sale, the group Tsong De Kwe asked to speak with a manager. She was given an email address to send her concerns, but they would not provide her with a telephone number. Tsong De Kwe went home and after searching their website, found the language and terminology referring to the native population also to be offensive. “The website describes us as though we are extinct or relics in a museum.
First of all we are still here and we do still exist. Plus, we don’t wear costumes, we wear Regalia. Regalia are well thought out; the patterns represent symbols and meanings. The colours can represent the person’s spirit colours, family colours or clan. When I wear my skirt it reminds me to be humble, I wear my moccasins to remind me to walk in a good way.
People wearing these costumes are often drunk. In order to wear a headdress or breastplate you usually have to earn it, or be a chief. You cannot put on a costume and be “Indian” for a night. You cannot understand or identify with 500 years of colonization by wearing a costume.”
The next day Anishabek grassroots organizers and a few allies returned to the store at noon to voice their concerns, and about 15 people stayed for the duration of the afternoon. Security repeatedly asked them to leave but they did not comply. After half an hour the security said they could stay, while Tsong De Kwe replied “Ya, I know I can stay on my own land!”
The hyper-sexualized and racist Halloween costumes capitalize on ‘Indian’ stereotypes, with names such as ‘Pocca-hottie’ from the movie ‘Pocahontas’. Other costumes names included Huron Honey, Pow Wow Princess, Naughty Navajo, and Reservation Royalty. In regards to ‘Pocahontas’, the group wanted to convey a strong point. “They are making light of a 12 year old girl who was “married” to a much older European settler, an Anishinabek woman who was stolen and raped. These costumes play into the fantasy; they put women at higher risk, and create further detrimental stereotypes. According to Amnesty International, Anishinabek women are 5 to 7 times more likely to have a violent death than other women, because we are more likely to have violent traumatic experience. Pretending to be something you have attempted to conquer for 500 years is still colonized thinking. After 500 years, colonized thought hasn’t really grown. I have to raise my son to watch out for this way of thinking. It’s almost like re-colonization. Who we are as people has been disregarded… our thoughts and concerns are totally disregarded and they just do what they want anyways. They are somehow offended that we are offended.”
Another group of women in Winnipeg took to the streets as well, and it is believed that due to the joined efforts, one store has removed their ‘Pocca-hottie’ costume.
Tsong De Kwe stays strong on her point: “We do not want these costumes to be produced, manufactured, or distributed, we want them gone. For next year we are encouraging everyone to take a nationwide stance on this issue, we plan to start acting as soon as stores start selling Halloween items.”