“Canada’s Drag Race” queen Ilona Verley is among many online calling out Nyx Professional Makeup —commonly referred to as Nyx Cosmetics — for cultural insensitivity after a Halloween makeup tutorial posted by the brand on Instagram last week shows a makeup artist inappropriately using a dream catcher.
The now-deleted video featured American TikTok influencer Emmy Combs brushing what’s likely eyeshadow or blush against a dream catcher on her forehead, creating a patterned effect similar to the “mermaid scales” makeup trend.
As the video and screenshots of it circulated, critics voiced disappointment in Combs — a white makeup artist who doesn’t make mention of being Indigenous on any of her online platforms — and her treatment of a dream catcher. One Twitter commenter wrote, “You don’t have to disrespect a whole culture like this.”
Although commercialized dream catchers have become associated as culturally appropriative house decorations, handmade dream catchers are seen as spiritually significant in many Indigenous cultures.
The video was taken down shortly after it went up, without explanation from Nyx Cosmetics. Neither the company or Combs responded to HuffPost Canada’s request for comment.
Nyx Cosmetics has previously come under fire for its treatment of Indigenous peoples. A Buzzfeed Canada investigation of its Canadian branch, under parent company L’Oréal Canada, revealed that Canadian employees were trained to collect personal information of Indigenous customers who showed their status cards: Before amending a training document, it referred to a First Nations customer by an offensive term.
The company has also sold a series of eyeshadow palettes named “Dream Catcher” since 2014.
Nyx apologized once Vancouver drag queen stepped in
Verley, a high-profile “Canada’s Drag Race” contestant who spoke to Vogue in August about being Nlaka’pamux and Two-Spirit, was among those calling for the beauty company to make an apology. Within hours of a tweet directed at their account, Nyx replied to her with an apology to “anyone who felt disrespected” by Combs’ video.
In a conversation with HuffPost Canada over Instagram, Verley said that their apology wasn’t enough. The performer called for a public statement on their social media feeds “addressing the harm,” along with donations to Indigenous organizations to make up for the company “generating profit from disrespecting our culture and our people.”
Whether or not Combs’ dream catcher came from authentic origins doesn’t matter to Verley, who points out that the makeup artist’s actions are still problematic.
“It made me sick to my stomach that in 2020 there is still such a lack of understanding that cultural items should be respected and have no place anywhere near Halloween,” Verley said. “What really hurt me was that they had the nerve to physically damage something that is a part of Indigenous culture ... in this day and age, the average consumer has more sensitivity than a massive brand such as Nyx.”
Verley noted that as a former employee at a Nyx storefront, she had experienced racism and witnessed anti-Blackness from management during her time. She hopes that moving forward, the makeup brand provides sensitivity training to employees running their social media accounts and gives greater platforms to marginalized communities beyond visible people of colour.
As for Canadians eyeing a potentially problematic Halloween look, Verley has a simple, but effective rule.
“Step back for a second and think to yourself if it’s appropriate,” she advised. “If you have to question your choice, trust your gut and maybe don’t go with that choice. It’s 2020, and it’s now common knowledge that culture NEVER equals costumes.”