It's a debate that gets seriously heated around Halloween, but it looks like the next generation has already gotten the message: dressing up as another culture is disrespectful, not fun.
Mom Liz Whitmere posted the following on Twitter last Friday, noting that her eight-year-old daughter wrote it after seeing headdresses for sale at Party City.
"She pointed the costume out and wanted to write a letter and mail it to Party City, but I suggested social media might be a more direct way to shine a light on the issue," Whitmere tells HuffPost Canada.
Party City, the large Canadian party and costume retailer, sells outfits like this for Halloween:
And like this:
Or simply, this:
And the problem with these costumes? They are, quite simply, using another, real culture for amusement (the very definition of cultural appropriation), and reinforcing stereotypes to boot.
"Native Americans are real people, whereas Hermione Granger and Dorothy Gale are characters ... Native Americans, on the other hand, value their cultural dress — which people often take and caricaturize," wrote Sarah Broussard Weaver on this topic in Parents.
Selling children these costumes that paint a wide-sweeping culture with one single brush is yet another way we fail to educate them properly.
And moreover, Indigenous people don't all dress the same, or look the same, or believe in the same things. So selling children these costumes that paint a wide-sweeping culture with one single brush is yet another way we fail to educate them properly on the history of the people who first lived on the land that is now Canada.
"We've been talking about First Nations [peoples] and traditions, and how First Nations people are underserved by the Canadian government," Whitmere says. "[My daughter] has been learning the names of individual [nations], and we're working on seeing the difference between appreciation vs. fetishization/appropriation of another culture. She's pretty engaged with current events and is very interested in fairness ... she holds me to a very high standard."
As the CBC reports, some retailers across the country have ceased stocking or displaying costumes that depict these stereotypes.
"I think it's really important that people do not wear for costume or for fun something that is from a culture that is not their own because it dehumanizes that culture," Alana Sambey, of Toronto's Malabar Limited, noted.
The hashtag #IAmNotACostume, started by Alicia BigCanoe, a Chippewa woman, puts much of this into perspective. As she told HuffPost Canada in 2016, "I knew right away that I did not want my daughter to grow up seeing our culture and sacred regalia mocked and used as costume and entertainment. As indigenous peoples, we are taught to treat regalia with great respect as it is sacred to us.
It's uncomfortable to see people from outside our cultures not respecting the sacredness of our cultural items and using them out of context — especially when we have had to fight so hard to keep them alive.Alicia BigCanoe
"There was a time when our sacred dances, ceremonies and gatherings such as potlatches were banned. Many of those sacred ceremonies have been lost, though some are still very much alive. That being said, it's uncomfortable to see people from outside our cultures not respecting the sacredness of our cultural items and using them out of context — especially when we have had to fight so hard to keep them alive."
If Whitmere's daughter's reaction is anything to go by, at least, it seems like many kids are realizing this for themselves.
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