October 20, 2009

Indians, wizards, fairies, and ghouls

Blogger Brooke does a good job of deconstructing Halloween for Natives:

My Identity Is Not A Costume for You To Wear!Now, what twists my trick-or-treat bag in a bunch, is where the heck Native Americans fit in all of this! Why is it socially acceptable to dress like the stereotypical Indian: "Brave," "Chief," "Princess," "Squaw," "Maiden"? Pardon Moi, but when did the Native American enter the realm of Wizards, Fairies, Super-heroes, Goblins, or Ghouls? When did it become ok to reduce the diversity, language, and culture of nearly 500 different Indigenous tribes into a tacky "costume" of cheap suede, colored feathers, plastic beads, and fringe? Who decided that the history, identity, and lineage of Native Americans could be easily put on and taken off like greasy Halloween face paint?And:As a Native American, I am utterly appalled to see my culture lump[ed] together into some stereotypical Pan-Injun image, shipped and sold for the American masses to mimic my people and culture. I find it insulting my identity and heritage as a Native American, as a Navajo, is as easily acquired with few bucks, some nasty grease paint, and a loin cloth. That history of genocide and forced assimilation of Native Americans people in the US is not even an accessory to these supposed costumes! It's not important or even a consideration!!! What a privilege it must be to take the imagery of a people or culture without the social or historical baggage that goes along with it!Comment:  When did Indians enter the realm of Neverland? There's actually an answer for this. It began around the end of the Indian Wars--the 1890s. Americans assumed that Indians were vanishing into the mists of time. They started romanticizing them--placing them in a mythic past where they roamed with the deer and the buffalo.

Because we'd vanquished them, we could stop tearing them down and start building them up. We could change them from "dirty redskins" into "noble savages." That way, we'd look great for defeating our impressive enemy. And they'd still exist in our memories, so we wouldn't have to think about all the massacres and corpses.

For more on this subject, see The Political Uses of Stereotyping.

Back to Halloween. Go to the original posting to see examples of pseudo-Indian costumes. Alas, there seems to be an endless supply of these stereotypical outfits.

For more on that subject, see Trick or Treating Indians.

Below:  Liv Tyler as an Indian maiden. "It's okay. My 'Mexican' friend is as stereotypical as I am, so no one will notice."


Chance said...

This has to be one of the most racist things that people get away with. If someone ever in life TRIED to make a Black African American costume for halloween, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton would have that crap burned before anyone could think of selling it. not only that, but most retailing companies would never even sell them. I dont understand what the differance is, why do people feel like they can disrespect Mexican, Native American, and Hawiian cultures in this way???

dmarks said...

1) They even sell several Indian costumes for dogs. Yes, dogs. I've seen photos.

2) Kmart tonight on TV advertised that they have a thousand costumes offered online. So I checked, and looked for indian costume.

I found 8 entries

There's smart, and there's Kmart smart. Which from this, doesn't look like any kind of smart at all.

Indian princesses on Leg Avenue!

dmarks said...


Walmart, often maligned as the epitome of retail evil, has nothing show up on an indian costume search. I page through a few pages the list of entries it showed instead, and found some cowboys, but no Indians.

A search on just "Indian" comes up with some dubious stereotypical things further down the line. The first three entries, curiously enough, are movies. Two of them about Indian-brand motorcycles.

A Sherman Alexie novel comes in #6 on the list.

Anonymous said...

From ebay (where else)

* 2009 sexy indian halloween costume! *DREAM CATCHER* $31

*Ladies Indian Squaw Costume/Halloween Embellished OSFA
Item condition: Pre-Owned
Time left: 1h 43m 47s (Oct 22, 200906:25:38 PDT)

Bid history: 0 bids[Refresh]

dmarks said...

There are about 40 or so squaw costumes for sale on eBay now.

One is part of a "Pirate Fairy Squaw" bargain pack.

Brooke W. said...

Thank you for the blog-very insightful!