A Winnipeg woman says some Halloween costumes being sold in the city are offensive and hurtful to her aboriginal culture, including one outfit that she saw recently.
Mary Swain says she was browsing at Halloween Alley on Pembina Highway when she spotted a costume for adult women called "Pocahottie," which depicts the aboriginal historical figure Pocahontas in a short, low-cut dress.
"I just couldn't believe it," Swain told CBC News.
"It's my culture and we dress up in regalia when we dance at ceremonies and stuff, so I feel like people are disrespecting aboriginal people."
She said she also saw accessories made to look like traditional aboriginal headdresses, as well as items labelled "sexy Indian wigs."
Swain said she immediately complained to the manager.
"I talked to her about it, and I told her my concerns that I didn't think it was appropriate for her to sell these costumes in the store," she said. "That's my culture; it's not a costume."
Another Halloween-themed store, Spirit Halloween on Regent Avenue, carried adult costume outfits with names like "Reservation Royalty," "Indian Warrior" and "Native Spirit."
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Some of the outfits included feather headpieces. Many in the aboriginal community have banned the use of headdresses as fashion items, as they are considered sacred to many indigenous cultures.
'Native women trivialized as sexual objects'
Jacqueline Romanow, associate professor in the University of Winnipeg's indigenous studies department, said she, too, has been offended by some Halloween costumes.
"The costumes that are most offensive to me are the ones that show native women as trivialized sexual objects," she said.
"Given the history in this country, given the context of racism indigenous people experience every day, given the hyper-sexualization of these costumes, that's really the problem." she said.
Romanow said for a society dealing with missing and murdered aboriginal women, the offensive costumes are a concern.
"I think that's more than insensitive, I think it's dangerous. It reinforces the marginalization and the victimization of some of the most vulnerable people in our society," she said.
Store official responds
The regional manager for Halloween Alley, which has 37 locations across Canada, told CBC News he respects all cultures and takes feedback seriously, but there are no plans to remove the costume items in question.
Steven Pierson said what may be considered offensive to one person may not be offensive to another.
"The industry that we work in, you know, does have some challenges with sensitivities on a whole lot of fronts," he said.
Pierson added that many of the costumes in question are sold to aboriginal people.
"The reality is by far … our largest customer base are those customers in the aboriginal community," he said.
"It's not really my place to find what's offensive or not … I'm not an aboriginal person."
CBC News has not been able to reach officials with Spirit Halloween as of Monday night.
As for Swain, she said the official explanation is not good enough for her.
"I don't feel people should be making fun of us," she said.