Saskatoon

'Stereotypes are offensive' expert says of 'Native American' costume

A Saskatoon Halloween store is under fire for selling an Indigenous themed costume, but so too is the young educator and activist who first raised the objection.

Alex Wilson at the U of S says people need to educate themselves

Spirit Halloween in Saskatoon removed the Native American costume from its shelves according to Zoey Roy, who spoke to the company's CEO. (Don Somers/CBC)

A Saskatoon Halloween store is under fire for selling an Indigenous theme costume, but so too is the young educator and activist who first raised the objection.

However, Zoey Roy is getting some back-up from Alex Wilson, the director of the Aboriginal Research Education Centre at the University of Saskatchewan.

"When somebody says they are offended by a name or a logo or a costume, then people should heed that and think about educating themselves," Wilson told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Roy began speaking out after seeing a costume labelled Native American. CBC News reportage on the issues generated mixed public feedback. Some comments were supportive. Others amounted to thinly-veiled racism.

Spirit Halloween Native American costume. (Spencer Gifts)

For Wilson, the issue is simple.

"Stereotypes are offensive to people, especially those that are targeted in them," she said. "They allow people to treat other humans as if we are not fully human."

"Canadians seem to be living in a total state of denial about the depth and impact of the everyday racism that Indigenous people face."

More education needed to combat racism 

Wilson also dismissed the argument that raising concerns over Indigenous costumes is going too far and that it could lead to bans on dressing up as a Doctor, or Astronaut for Halloween. She is quick to point out that those are jobs, not a race.
Alex Wilson, from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, is the director of the Aboriginal Research Education Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. (Credit: University of Saskatchean)

"People wouldn't be asking these questions or people would understand why it is offensive if we were learning about racism and how to combat racism."

At the same time, Wilson said, it may not be safe for Indigenous women to point out the inappropriate nature of costumes like the one Zoey Roy saw for sale. Instead, this Halloween, she is challenging others to speak up.

"This is a great opportunity for allies and people who are non-visible minorities to use their privilege and power to mention it and to try and educate about it."

with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning and The Morning Edition

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