A children's clothing store in Winnipeg is under fire after mistakenly selling a faux-aboriginal themed costume and tagging it "rubbies."
Once Upon a Child on Ellice Avenue was selling a tan kids costume with feathers, fringe and beaded necklaces with a price tag that said "rubbies" until someone shared the tag and costume on Facebook.
"I just thought, 'Oh my god. I can't believe I'm seeing this.' And it's actually a store called 'Once Upon a Child' that's selling this?" said Rachel Lyon, a First Nations grandma who spotted the costume on Facebook. "For a child to wear that? You know, what are you going to tell your friends? 'Oh, you've got a Native costume?' and then they're going joke around, 'No, it's a rubbies costume.' I wouldn't let my child wear a costume like that."
But store owner Dave Dunlop said it was an innocent mistake.
"When I woke up this morning my wife was at the kitchen table at 7 a.m. bawling her eyes out reading Facebook. I said, 'What's the matter?' she said, 'I don't know. Someone's taken huge offence to our costume,'" said Dunlop.
The store is a franchise and sells "Rubies" brand costumes.
"One costume brand name that we have here, it's called Rubies, it's R-U-B-I-E-S. Someone in Minneapolis, who knows how many decades ago, spelled it with two B's instead of one," he said, adding whoever entered it into the system likely mistyped.
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At the time, about 20 children's costumes were all out with the same tag.
"When I got to work this morning I talked to one of my friends who is Native and we talked about it. He explained it to me. What a rubbie was and I was like, 'Oh are you kidding me.' So it was just a coincidence – an unfortunate one," he said.
Rubby or rubbie is an offensive term for a person who uses rubbing alcohol as a cheap liquor substitute.
Dunlop and his wife Christina have pulled all the costumes with the tag. They've also talked to their head office about adjusting the misspelled label in the system.
"It's terrible. If we've offended anybody, we're very upset about it. My wife bawled her eyes out for hours this morning. She's not a racist person and we're not a racist store at all," he said, adding they have a diverse staff that includes an indigenous person. "It's unfortunate that this happened, but we're trying to do our best to make it right and fix the problem."
He said they've instructed staff not to put any costumes on the floor that could be offensive.
"We're talking to our girls also, 'If you see a costume like that, that could be controversial, we're not going to put it on the floor.' But I mean, it's no different than any other Halloween store in the city," he said.
'We're a proud people'
Aboriginal-themed costumes have repeatedly caused stirs in Winnipeg and elsewhere in Canada, and some Halloween stores have pulled theirs after they stirred controversy.
"That's a traditional dress or clothing we wear. We don't wear it to go out trick-or-treating. We wear it to powwows," said Lyon. "It's only for occasions where you go to a powwow and dance. It's to celebrate who you are. It's nothing to wear for a Halloween costume. It's just horrible."
She said she used to manage a retail store, and she never would've let the costume be put on the floor.
Lyon said she was shocked and hurt, and it speaks to an ongoing issue with racism in Winnipeg.
"We're a proud people. Maybe some people do bring us down, but it's their loss, and they need to find themselves," she said. "We're people that work. We have lives. We have children that we have to bring up and we try to bring them up as positive as we can. And people do this to us and sell costumes that hurt us. And it shouldn't be that way."