First Nations urge against wearing offensive 'Indian' Halloween costumes

Aboriginal students in Sudbury are urging party-goers to think twice before wearing a First Nations-inspired costume this Halloween, saying it is offensive to sexualize and mock First Nations culture.

Costumes for sale include "Queen of the Tribe," "Native Knockout" and "Reservation Royalty."

One of the many First Nations-inspired costumes on sale at a store in Greater Sudbury. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Aboriginal students in Sudbury are urging party-goers to think twice before wearing a First Nations-inspired costume this Halloween.

A Spirit Halloween store in Sudbury has an entire aisle dedicated to native-looking costumes for women. Most are short, tan-coloured dresses with fringe, beads and feathers. Some of the titles on the costumes include "Queen of the Tribe," "Native Knockout" and "Reservation Royalty."

The trend is not new, nor is it isolated to Sudbury; these costumes are for sale across the country.

Costumes like these are incredibly offensive, according to Maryan Manitowabi, a grade 12 student at Sudbury Secondary School from Wikwemikong First Nation.

"They're sexualizing it, they're cutting it up, and they're mocking it," she said.

Manitowabi said the costumes make light of what First Nations people face in Canada.

"We already have a problem with missing and murdered indigenous women," she said. "We're already 3.5 times more likely to get raped or sexually assaulted than any other woman in the country, and they're still sexualizing us."

Some of the costumes for sale at the Spirit Halloween store in Sudbury include "Queen of the Tribe," "Native Knockout," "Reservation Royalty," "Noble Warrior" and "Indian Princess". (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Not honouring a culture

Manitowabi said aboriginal traditional clothing is sacred. Every feather and bead is important and must be earned. That's part of the reason why she finds it so offensive when non-native people wear it as a parody.

"If you want to honour our culture, come to a ceremony, come to a sweat lodge, come to a pow-wow, come talk to one of the elders. Don't dress up as us and dance around."

Sherry-Lee Auger, the aboriginal support worker at Manitowabi's high school, said many of her students were upset to see the costumes being sold.

"We have pride in our culture," Auger said. "We are trying to show others that our culture is really beautiful. And then you have Halloween and you have all these costumes, and it's twisting it all around."

In a statement, Spirit Halloween said it plans to evaluate all elements of its costume program each year.

"It was never our intention to offend anyone's culture or heritage," the statement read. "We appreciate our guests' feedback and are open to dialog with members of the First Nations' community."

As for Manitowabi, she said nobody should dress up like another race or culture for Halloween.

"It hurts. Our whole culture is based on respect. We're trying really hard to rebuild our culture. And they're just kicking us back."

To hear the interview with Maryan Manitowabi on Morning North with Markus Schwabe, click below:

First Nations people would like you to think twice about dressing up like them for Halloween. The CBC's Marina von Stackelberg showed pictures of some of the costumes to grade 12 First Nations student Maryan Manitouwabi to get her reaction. 6:00

On mobile? Listen here.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.