Indigenous·Point of View

4 reasons to leave the 'pan-indigenous' costume behind this Halloween

Every Halloween for the last few years now, indigenous people have raised concerns about costumed portrayals of the culture.
If you are not clear on why you should not dress up as an "Indian" this Oct. 31, we have four reasons for you.

Every Halloween for the last few years now, indigenous people have raised concerns about costumed portrayals of the culture.

This year, Kamloops, B.C., social worker Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, a member of the Tk'emlúps Tes Secwépemc First Nation, called out Halloween Alley for stocking "Chief Many Feathers" and "hypersexualized" female costumes sporting headdresses.

And more and more, non-indigenous Canadians are joining the chorus — like Cindy Freeman, an elementary school teacher from Regina, who spoke out after seeing "Huron Honey" and "Noble Warrior" costumes at her local Spirit Halloween store.

If you are still not clear on why you should not dress up as an "Indian" this Oct. 31, here are four reasons:

1. We still exist.

More and more people are standing up and raising concerns about stereotypical costumes portraying an entire group of people who are still alive today. We don't run around in buckskin, we aren't sexy Indian maidens … not certain if you noticed or not, but we don't even call ourselves "Indian" anymore in the mainstream. 

2. Overtly sexualized costumes.

With more than 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women on the RCMP's official list, why would you want to sexualize indigenous women in a way that would make them a target?

3. Racism.

If you are dressing up in costumes with names like "Pocahottie," "Sexy Tribal Trouble," "Native American Brave" or "Native American Temptress," you are helping to portray stereotypes — stereotypes that we, as a community, have tried to put behind us.

4. Historical inaccuracy.

Throwing on some fake buckskin and fringe isn't exactly accurate. Pan-indigenous people do not exist. There are many nations across North America, and the Mi'kmaq are as different from the Haida as the Irish are from the Polish.

Some alternatives

So you say you want to honour Indigenous Peoples this Halloween. Then go as Louis Riel, the founder of Manitoba.

Perhaps you want someone more current? How about one of the 10 newly elected MPs in Canada? Winnipeg Centre Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette would be easy to pull off — suit, purple shirt, tie and a ponytail.

Or sling on a guitar and go as the first lady of indigenous music, Buffy Sainte-Marie.


Kim Wheeler is an Anishinabe/Mohawk. She is a writer and an award-winning producer living in Winnipeg. Her work on the CBC radio series ReVision Quest garnered a New York Festival silver medal and two ImagineNative awards. Wheeler currently works as an associate producer for the CBC Aboriginal Digital Unit and Unreserved on CBC Radio One.