'It's demeaning to our women': Petition wants Indigenous costumes pulled from Spirit Halloween shelves

Every year around mid-September, social media feeds start filling up with hashtags like #CultureNotCostume and #NotYourPocahontas. They are hashtags created in response to Halloween stores that stock costumes with names like Native American Princess, Toddler Little Chief and Sexy Cherokee Warrior.
Spirit Halloween features a Native American line of costumes online. (Composite: Spirit Halloween Website)
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Every year around mid-September, social media feeds start filling up with hashtags like #CultureNotCostume, and #NotYourPocahontas.

They are hashtags created in response to Halloween stores that stock costumes with names like Native American Princess, Toddler Little Chief and "Sexy Cherokee Warrior.

This year there has been a growing grassroots movement to get the costumes pulled from shelves, and there is precedent. A few weeks ago there were complaints about a sexy Handmaid's Tale costume, which was pulled off the website for retailer Yandy.
A sexy Handmaid's Tale costume was recently pulled from the Yandy catalogue, after complaints. (Yandy.com )

But the sexy "Native American" costumes remain.

"As an Indigenous woman [these costumes are] offensive on so many levels … [they] sexualize our women, it's demeaning to our women, and it perpetuating stereotypes that can lead towards violence towards women," said Lori Brave Rock who lives in the Blood Reserve in Alberta.

Brave Rock started an online petition demanding Spirit Halloween — a pop-up Halloween costume shop — remove these costumes from their shelves.

In the coming weeks, Brave Rock plans to protest outside the Lethbridge, Alta. Spirit Halloween location, to hand out flyers educating people on issues impacting Indigenous people, such as MMIWG. 

"If they're going to persist in selling the costumes, then we need to persist in our efforts to let them know that this is not okay," said Brave Rock.

"Having a petition, having a rally … it's more geared towards educating people on the issue as well because it's not being taught."

Lori Brave Rock started an online petition urging Spirit Halloween to stop selling Indigenous costumes. (Supplied by Lori Brave Rock)

What Brave Rock hopes to teach people is that wearing costumes that trivializes someone's culture is not okay.

"When I see these kinds of things, it's such an insult to think that our culture — our history — is just summed up in a cheap plastic costume, made probably in China."

"It's not like we can walk in there and buy a white person costume, I don't know how this is okay in 2018 to put on a costume and go out pretending you're somebody else's culture."

For Brave Rock, the costumes gloss over everything she and her family has gone through — from residential schools, to being impacted by the issue of MMIWG.

"I've experienced many of the social impacts from colonialism, I was in the last residential school here on the Blood Reserve up until it closed in 1987," said Brave Rock.

"I've also lost a very dear friend to me, who was killed by her spouse, so I'm touched by the murdered and missing Indigenous women issue."

Brave Rock said the costumes also trivialize authentic First Nation regalia, and reminds her of the beautiful regalia her mom used to make.

"I think that these companies are motivated by the all mighty dollar, they're obviously profiting from the appropriation of Indigenous cultures and I think as long as … that's happening, then Indigenous people are going to have to start standing up to say that this is not okay."

"We're more than these outfits, we have very beautiful cultures, and there's a better way to honour us."

Unreserved reached out to Spirit Halloween for comment, and received a statement. 

"Since 1983, at Spirit Halloween, we have offered a wide and balanced range of Halloween costumes that are inspired by, celebrate and appreciate numerous cultures, make believe themes and literary figures. Understanding certain sensitivities, we always strive to present our costumes in a responsible and respectful manner. While we respect the opinion of those who are opposed to the sale of any cultural or historical costumes, we are proud of our costume selection for men, women and children. We continue to offer this broad assortment of costumes in the future, while we maintain our commitment to our diverse customer base," - Erin Springer for Spirit Halloween.