Imagine having to remind people every October that your culture is not a costume and that your traditions are sacred and not to be taken lightly. Sadly, this is the reality for myself and many other minority populations. Many people think it’s harmless to dress up as another person’s culture but fail to realize the consequences of this appropriation.
During Halloween, I’ve seen costumes appropriating Native culture such as Reservation Royalty, Sexy Indian Woman, Pocahottite, Native American Seductress, Sexy Cherokee Warrior, Tribal Temptress, Chief Hottie Body, Native Maiden, and Cherokee Hottie. Just google “Indian Halloween Costume” and you’ll see numerous pages of White people dressed as Native Americans. Go to a Florida State football game to see hundreds of people dressed in headdresses. Coachella and New York Fashion Week are just a few other places where headdresses are worn. Just recently the theme for 1st birthday party for Kevin Hart’s son was “Cowboys and Indians”. And let’s not get started on the long history of the Redskins.
I recently had the opportunity to co-facilitate a workshop at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) with the Carolina Indian Circle, Carolina Women’s Center, Safe at UNC, and Alpha Pi Omega Sorority, Incorporated. With October being Relationship Violence Awareness Month and November being National Native American Heritage Month we wanted to bridge the two and address stereotypes, identity, and violence against Native women.
Since the true story of Pocahontas is seldom told, we thought it was important to share what actually happened. Her real name was Amonute or Matoaka and she was only 11-12 years old. Disney portrayed her as 18-19 years old because of their discomfort for a narrative where an adult has a romantic relationship with a child…can you already see why this is an issue?
“When you can’t see the humanity in people who are different from you, you find no fault in treating their sacred cultural symbols as something to be worn and discarded.” – Teen Vogue
Not only does the movie portray that Europeans are more dominant conquerors, but also hypersexualizes Native women. The hypersexualization contributes to degradation and objection which directly leads to violence against Native women.
- Native women are more than 2.5x more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in the US in general.
- 1 in 3 Native women will be sexually assaulted in thier lifetime.
- As of 2016 there are over 5,000 known incidents of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
- Homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among Native adolescents and young women.
The next time you think about dressing up as Pocahottie, remember these disturbing facts and the following quote.
“I am not in a position of power. Native people are not in positions of power. By dressing up as a fake Indian, you are asserting your power over us, and continuing to oppress us. That should worry you.”