A 'Wild Wild West' costume party attended by some Montreal Alouettes' football players last Monday in Montreal has sparked an online backlash from First Nations people and others who say it smacks of cultural appropriation and promotes stereotypes.
The issue came to light after Alouettes' linebacker Kyries Hebert appeared in photo posted to Instagram, decked out in face paint, a feather headdress, a bone-choker necklace and a suede loincloth. In the photo, a woman at his side sports a low-cut fringed dress and headdress, while both clutch the same hunting spear.
The costume promotes unhelpful stereotypes, said Jessica Deer, a columnist and reporter at the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake weekly, The Eastern Door.
"It just contributes to a one-dimensional representation of indigenous people, but there are so many different First Nations across Canada," she told CBC News Friday.
First Nations peoples "are very distinct and have different cultures and languages, but we don't come across that way in popular culture and TV and movies, and that's what shapes society's views on indigenous people," said Deer.
'A lot of education to be done'
Several people attending a downtown Montreal rally Friday promoting aboriginal issues in the federal election campaign also expressed disappointment with the photos.
"I think it's shameful, but I think it's ignorance," said demonstrator Émilie Joly. "There's no education in our schools teaching respect for First Nations and the history of our people too, I think the Alouettes should apologize."
Viviane Michel, the president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, agreed.
"There's still a lot of education to go to teach the respect for our First Nations. We're frequently [shown] these Hallowe'en costumes, but do these people know we still exist and demand respect?" Michel asked.
"I think there's a lot of education to be done."
When criticized on Instagram, the Alouette in the photo said he was sorry if anyone took offence.
Contacted by CBC News, Hebert reiterated that the photo was taken at a private party.
"We're not really talking about that so much," he said. "There's an understanding. There's an apology, and now I'm focused on what's coming up in the future."
The head coach of the Alouettes', Jim Popp, did not specifically address the costume but said that such activities are monitored.
"On an everyday basis, individuals pick and choose what they do, and if it's something inappropriate, then we speak to them and talk to them."