On Friday October 23, two young Six Nations women noticed a lack of posts on social media that took a stand against offensive Halloween costumes that minimize indigenous culture, so they decided to act.
Rather than waiting for a movement to unleash, both Makasa Looking Horse and Chezney Martin took to social media themselves by posting a photo and caption with the title “We Are Not Costumes.”
Having both Lakota and Iroquoian blood, Looking Horse explained that within one day the post had received over 500 shares. The following day, the number of shares nearly doubled.
“’We Are Not Costumes’ was Chezney’s idea, but neither of us could have accomplished the message without each other. We first thought about the ‘stoic indian’ look for our photo, but we realized that was another stereotype. So, we chose to have fun and the smiles you see in the photo are real. We wanted to show that wearing our regalia is something we take pride in and it is a modern form of indigenous art. It’s not something to be disrespected in such a way as to make it appropriate to be a costume, because it represents our ancestors and our culture hand-in-hand,” said Looking Horse.
“Being the daughter of a Lakota chief, I know how much responsibility and honour goes into inheriting a headdress. Personally, I think about the Wounded Knee Massacre when I see those costumes; being half Lakota I know that my ancestors were slaughtered. Now, there are people today that might not know that history and wear headdresses and costumes that mock our heritage on Halloween; almost saying ‘get over it’ through their actions. In general, it’s offensive. We are not a fashion statement,” she said.
Martin agreed, stating that they both just hoped the post would “get out there,” to hopefully change some decisions in costume selection before Halloween.
“The manufacturers that designed those costumes must have designed them without even looking at real indigenous regalia as a catalyst,” said Martin. “The regalia that is made by any indigenous group whether it’s the Iroquois, Anishnabe, Lakota or Pueblo, all are beautiful unlike those costumes. Makasa and I both felt the same way about them; neither of us were happy that society is exploiting indigenous people by selling inaccurate costumes, we were both disappointed,” she said.
“We’ve heard from people as far as Hawaii explaining their feelings and thoughts in how their own cultures have been exploited; the only negative comments that we have noticed were made either by non-indigenous people or indigenous people that are not culturally involved. Neither of us have had to explain ourselves either, there are so many supportive voices that have spoken up and shut down the negative. I think deep down people know that if something offends and exploits a culture, it isn’t right; and wearing something offensive isn’t ‘honoring’ that culture,” she said.
Martin explained that she has been through the process of beading and sewing her own Iroquoian regalia, and it is not a factory-compatible process.
“Real regalia takes days or even years to make, and it is made by hand with natural materials. Whether its cloth regalia or buckskin, raised or flat bead-work, the regalia of any indigenous group is something that represents ancestors and people; that is something both Makasa and I believe should be respected. Those costumes are so grotesque, they have this built-in demeaning attitude toward people that are still living and practicing their culture today,” she said.
“Of course, neither of us feel that dressing as another species, character or creature is offensive; but dressing as an ugly representation of culture is something that hurts more than feelings. It nearly deteriorates all defences against stereotypes and it leaves this impression that our regalia isn’t something to be honourably worn; it leaves the impression that our regalia represents nothing and that our culture does not and should not matter,” she explained. “As well, there is the idea that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but when the imitation is as poorly done as those costumes, I really disagree,” she said.
After recognizing the sexualized manner many of the ‘Indian Princess’ costumes are designed, she shook her head.
“With all of the heart ache and outcry from the families of murdered and missing indigenous women across Canada, you would think those costumes would have already been abolished and rejected from costume outlets; especially those that give the impression that indigenous women wear or might have worn those hyper-sexualized outfits. On top of it, the Lakota are patriarchal; their headdresses were worn and given to men, not women as the costumes portray,” she said. “We are both glad to see universities like McMaster quickly and without argument remove those costumes and hope others will follow suit if they are asked. I really think Halloween should be a fun experience for everyone that participates, but not a night of being, sexualizing and minimizing a different race or culture,” she concluded.
Rather than heavy negative feedback as Looking Horse and Martin prepared for; only support, understanding and positivity has reached them. So far, the post has reached 140 likes, 97 likes in under six hours on Facebook, with over 800 shares on the original post alone. A share made on the “Walking With Our Sisters” Page received 233 likes, and after a share by “Reclaim Your Power,” has received over 600 likes on Instagram. Both Martin and Looking Horse hope it might reach school systems and continue to grow.