Halloween, Colonization, and Hypersexualization of Native American Women

As a preface everyone needs to understand that the majority culture is vacuous and this is why this type of assault exists in the world. The colonial culture is incredibly shallow and runs a narrative of strip malls, bad food, homogenization, cultural appropriation, and consumerism. Deep thinking, empathy, listening, and intellectualism is discouraged. In addition to those attributes that are required for true decolonial community work we need to prioritize Native, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit voices. The majority culture doesn’t and has no plan in sight to do so. This work of centering our people comes from us. What is emphasized is a superficial way of life that prioritizes marginalization and oppression of Native people through stereotypes, mascots, systemic racism, settler colonialism, and violent occupation. This is one of the reasons why cultural appropriation flourishes around Halloween because the majority culture system is one of continued assault on our lives and communities. Halloween costumes and racist and sexist. More so, they are continuing colonization through the extremely harmful sexualization of Native American women. Through this another girl, women, or Two-Spirit will go missing and will not get the same attention as a White girl from the suburbs.

October is month that causes stress and anxiety for Native American people. It is a stressful time because misrepresentations of our culture are everywhere. Combatting this doesn’t mean that colonials will listen to us because this is how colonization maintains itself through systemic oppression. Don’t pay attention to the bots in the comment sections in anti-social media. There are supporters but we need more people to make larger national change to end this harmful racism.

Invisible Minority

“A majority of Americans (62 percent outside of Indian Country) reported being unacquainted with Native Americans.” – Report: Reclaiming Native Truth

Over a decade ago when I still had my facebook page my Indian-American friend had a Halloween party at her house in suburban Ferndale, Michigan. When I was scrolling through her pictures I saw her White male friend dressing up as an “Indian,” in the stereotypical brown and fringe garb. I called her out on it and asked her why she didn’t say anything. She wasn’t one to take action and call people out. We aren’t friends anymore because of her refusal to support her friend.

I’ve seen white people and non-white dress up as “Indian.” If you search on YouTube you will find numerous makeup tutorials for Native American Halloween makeup. You can also take your time searching images on the internet and see that it is people from many backgrounds who dress up as the stereotypical Native in fringe, face paint and headdresses. We are rendered invisible which makes addressing the issue of sexist and racist Halloween costumes difficult.

Image created by Danielle Miller - https://twitter.com/xodanix3

Image created by Danielle Miller - https://twitter.com/xodanix3

Hypersexualization and Festishization are Colonization

The majority colonial culture believes that racist costumes honor Native people. White supremacy is the foundation of cultural appropriation. However, please note that this is not only white people who uphold this system. Non-whites are invested in settler colonial cultural appropriation as in the case with my former Indian-American friend who cowed to addressing racism. We are rendered invisible in a colonial system that is obsessed with maintaining a Black and White racial binary for the sake of “choosing one” race. This harms people of all backgrounds who may be very dark or very light and having a few tribes in their ancestry. As a racist social construct we need to move beyond this binary as an intentional social construct to maintain settler colonialism through erasure. How does this maintain settler colonialism? By making Native people hyperinsivible and providing no platform for our issues because… psssht… colonialism never ended.

When Halloween rolls around the corner you can expect racism and that sick feeling in your belly that a vacuous culture creates. Colonials don themselves in racist and sexist Halloween costumes somewhere in suburban sprawl land, urban hipster gentrification land, or white border town near the rez that is incredibly racist. They purchase racist Halloween costumes and go to their really exciting suburban party or college party. It is there where stereotypes abound and racism is rubber stamped okay. A night of fun you won’t remember when you are married with children at age 42 and following the normal life of life, liberty, and the pursuit of colonial happiness.

Costumes have racist and sexist names such as Reservation Royalty and Tribal Princess. Sickening to think of the people who came up with these names have most likely never met a Native person in their entire life. Racist and bigots don’t care to be sensitive our issues and apologize as they benefit every day from settler colonialism. We have had amazing people try to take on the issue and they are ignored or told they will have the police called on them. This is colonialism working to maintain oppression and systemic racism.

Finally, as we exist these sexist stereotypes exist as a form of colonial erasure and domination. Native American women experience the highest rates of sexual violence out of any group of women in the US.

”Many remain ignorant or apathetic towards the disproportionate amounts of sexual violence Indigenous women face, while denying the causation of violence and fetishization. Is the trauma endured by Indigenous women quantifiable? “More than 60% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have been physically assaulted and 1 in 3 have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Nearly all (97%) of these women have experienced at least one act of violence committed by a non-Indian” according to the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice.” - Yandy’s Native American Costumes Perpetuate Violence Against Indigenous Women

Photo credit: America Tonight

Photo credit: America Tonight

All the racist and sexist Halloween costumes contribute to this by normalizing these stereotypes of the “sexy squaw.” We don’t exist to the colonial majority culture. We are their racist mascots, stereotypes, fictional cartoon characters, and burdens.

Concerns Not Take Seriously

Diné Mother, Social Worker, and Writer, Amanda Blackhorse has boldly challenged a disguting company called Yandy. Amanda and many other of our awesome community workers took it into their hands to not only create a petition but take action to directly by going directly to the company headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. She was threatened with arrest when she presented a petition with 14,000 signatures to the Yandy CEO, Jeff Watton. Native women have protested Yandy in previous years and this company maintains itself as a sexist and racist company ignoring the voices of Native American women.

Here is the colonial kicker that shows how settler colonialism and violent occupation is maintained by denial, avoidance, and dismissal by perpetrator.

“In September, Yandy bowed to criticism over its “sexy” Handmaid’s Tale costume — a mini-skirted version of the outfits worn by the surrogate sex slaves in the hit Hulu show — and removed the item from its website. It took only a few hours for online outrage to force the company to pull the costume and issue an apology. “It has become obvious that our ‘Yandy Brave Red Maiden Costume’ is being seen as a symbol of women’s oppression, rather than an expression of women’s empowerment,” the company wrote in a statement. “This is unfortunate, as it was not our intention on any level.”

And yet the company continues to sell costumes that disparage Native women and reduce us to sexual objects, despite protests from Indigenous communities nationwide. A company spokesperson tried to justify this, telling the Phoenix New Times that “the costumes are influenced by powerful fashion elements derived from the culture and are intended to pay homage to the Native American community, not to mock or offend.” – Stop selling costumes that sexualize Indigenous women by Amanda Blackhorse

Beautiful Resistance

Not to mock of offend, eh? Yandy and many other companies perpetuate oppression in the form of costumes as well as headdresses. I have ancestral Chiefs in my lineage and I take being crane clan very seriously. In my Ojibway culture this is about leadership and chieftainship. It is about being speakers for the community. Headdresses should never be worn by non-natives under any circumstance. All headdresses from the 573 federally recognized tribes in the US are different. All have meaning. Each feather has a significant meaning and are presented by either being gifted or earning them. The complete disrespect of hipsters, hippies, and everyone else in between wearing headdresses are “playing Indian,” and contributes to colonial erasure.

Our mere existence is resistance. We are rising and taking action every single moment across Turtle Island. We face daily racism that is all around us and negative stereotypes that perpetuate our pain. However, we are doctors, professors, counselors, social workers, community organizers, construction workers, telephone workers, truck drivers, writers, journalists, poets, artists, and singers. Colonialism wants to paint us in a negative light while we are healing, walking a sober road, attending cultural events, and learning our own languages.

In order to reclaim, decolonize, and create larger social change we need more support from folks in the majority culture to tow the line so we don’t have the burden as the invisible minority to constantly challenge colonialism as it maintains sexualization and festishization of Native American women. We need you do to this for the healing, visibility and voice of our people and communities on Turtle Island.

Resources

An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses

Choosing a culturally appropriate Halloween Costume

Forgotten Women: The conversation of murdered and missing native women is not one North America wants to have - but it must

Invisibility is the Modern Form of Racism Against Native Americans

Native women call for end to sales of 'hottie' costumes

Pocahontas Is Not a Sex Symbol

Report: Reclaiming Native Truth - RESEARCH FINDINGS: COMPILATION OF ALL RESEARCH

Stop selling costumes that sexualize Indigenous women

Yandy’s Native American Costumes Perpetuate Violence Against Indigenous Women


Take Action!

Petition – Stop Yandy From Using Our Culture As A Costume

Petition – The Spunky Squaw Change Your Business Name

Make a Phone Call to Yandy and Clog Their Phone Lines

Article - Indigenous Women and Two-Spirited People: Our Work is Decolonization!

“Be a Good Girl” by Tania Willard
“Be a Good Girl” by Tania Willard

by Chelsea Vowel

Indigenous women and two-spirited people are leading a resurgence movement in iyiniwi-ministik, the People’s Island.  They draw on their traditional roles as protectors of the land and water to inform their work in our communities, and root themselves in their specific socio-political orders to counter colonialism and to revitalize language and culture. Rather than being defined as a struggle against patriarchal gender roles and the division of labour, Indigenous women and two-spirited people’s work combats the imposition of colonial barriers. The goal is not to attain gender equality, but rather to restore Indigenous nationhood, which includes gender equality and respect for gender fluidity.

As I write this I can hear Khelsilem Rivers (Skwxwú7mesh-Kwakwaka‘wakw), a community organizer from Vancouver, pointing out that not all Indigenous peoples have the same traditions, and that to avoid perpetuating Pan-Indian stereotypes, we need to have honest discussions about the diversity of our traditions. This is an important point indeed, as not all Indigenous nations have the same traditions with respect to the fluidity of gender roles. Romanticizing ourselves as a collective unfortunately plays into “noble savage” stereotypes and does damage in the long run. With so many Indigenous people disconnected from their specific traditions, even so-called positive stereotypes are a form of continuing erasure.

Even among nations with traditional binary gender roles or hierarchical socio-political orders, there is nothing that can accurately compare to the system of patriarchy imposed by colonialism which mainstream Settler feminism aligns itself against. Our internal struggles with traditional roles are not analogous to the issues that Settler peoples have with their traditions, and so using western liberal theory to deconstruct them is inherently incongruous.

Indigenous traditions are not frozen in time any more than other people’s traditions are. Our peoples have been trading more than goods for thousands of years, passing along ceremonies, medicines, and ideas just as easily as copper and fish. We are capable of change and have no reason not to embrace it, as long as that change respects our reciprocal obligations to one another and to the territories in which we live. We do not need to look to western liberal notions of individual equality, which so often ignore our communal existence and insist that land and resources must be thought of as property. Instead, we can look to the laws of our Indigenous neighbours if we need to review our traditions. It is precisely this approach that is being taken up by many women and two-spirited individuals in Indigenous communities as they pursue sexual health, revitalization of language and culture, and renewal of relationships with the land.

In a recent piece titled “Beyond Eve Ensler: What Should Organizing Against Gender Violence Look Like,” Cherokee scholar Andrea Smith points out that, “the very category of ‘woman’ has served as a tool of violence… Colonialism has operated by imposing a gender binary system in indigenous communities in order to facilitate the imposition of colonial heteropatriarchy.” She goes on to suggest that organizing around violence against trans and two-spirited peoples is central to any struggle against gender violence. It is important to understand that this struggle against gender violence is central to Indigenous decolonization efforts, and cannot be separated from that context.

The focus on trans and two-spirited people as central to decolonization is incredibly important. The groundbreaking work of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) epitomizes this approach. NYSHN works with “Indigenous peoples across the United States and Canada to advocate for and build strong, comprehensive, and culturally safe sexuality and reproductive health, rights, and justice initiatives in their own communities.” NYSHN provides pragmatic, honest, and clear information on sexual health, and also engages in the renewal and revitalization of Indigenous traditions related to all aspects of Indigenous health.

The barriers currently facing Indigenous women and two-spirited people are severe and informed by the history of colonialism. These barriers include the refusal of the Canadian government to institute an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as the ongoing removal of Indigenous children from their families in numbers that exceed those taken by the residential school system and the sixties scoop combined.  This cataclysmic interference has taken a devastating toll on the health of all of our people, but colonially imposed gender imbalances ensure that Indigenous women and two-spirited people bear the brunt of the consequences. The added marginalization experienced by two-spirited people can sometimes be overlooked because the social outcomes for Indigenous peoples are already, in general, very grim. To look at any of this solely through the lens of Western feminism is to miss the larger picture.

The imposition of colonial patriarchy has marginalized Indigenous women and two-spirited people through Indian Act governance systems, and the Indian Act itself. Until 1985, when amendments were made to the Indian Act, an Indigenous woman who married a non-Indigenous man lost her legal status as an Indian, and was unable to pass on status to her children. In this way, generations of women and their children were denied their identities, and even their homes. The impact of the loss of legal identity is still being felt among Indigenous people through the struggle to reconnect with their families and communities.

Until very recently, two-spirited people were not recognized at all by Canadian law or society. In the eyes of Canadians they do not exist—they are concealed by the gender-essentialized structures of colonialism, which have abolished their traditional places in Indigenous societies. So effective were Church- and government-led erasures of our two-spirited peoples, that reconstructing traditional two-spirited roles and ceremonies is too often seen as peripheral to wider movements of resurgence. Andrea Smith’s call to recenter our resurgence around two-spirited people, and the work of groups like the NYSHN, reminds us that we must decolonize even our priorities as Indigenous peoples.

Structural erasures of Indigenous women and two-spirited people have had a role in shaping their work as agents of resurgence. In a way, the overwhelming masculinization of Indian Act governance systems has ensured that Indigenous women and two-spirited people are less likely to be co-opted by colonial powers, and less invested in maintaining those colonial structures. Indigenous women have continued to exercise power through traditional (and often unpaid) ways, maintaining traditional governance structures in many communities. Two-spirited people have not necessarily experienced the same retention of traditional roles, however, and much work is needed to reconstruct and recenter our two-spirited relations within our communities. Acknowledging and honouring two-spirited peoples is vital to resisting resurgence based on gender essentialisms that purport to “honour women” while simply recreating colonial patriarchal gender roles with a bit of “Indian flair.”

The deliberate exclusion of Indigenous women and two-spirited people from colonial structures of power has meant that almost by default, the work of these people is highly politicized, as it must happen outside those colonial structures. This is not to say that Indigenous women and two-spirited people have absolutely no access to colonial structures of power. In recent years, there has been more inclusion of women, though not necessarily of two-spirited people, in Indian Act governance systems. Yet one has only to do a head count of male to female Indian Act Chiefs to notice this recent inclusion shamefully mirrors the “inclusion” of women in Canadian politics, which is tokenism at best.

Indigenous women and two-spirited people experience all of the barriers faced by Settler women and LGBT people, as well as the barriers experienced by Indigenous people in a state defined by Settler colonialism. These barriers cannot be sifted out and separated from one another. If you understand this, it is much easier to comprehend the work being done by Indigenous people like Leanne Simpson, Cindy Blackstock, Andrea Smith, Christi Belcourt, Lee Maracle, Maria Campbell, Bridget Tolley, Jessica Danforth, and so many others. All of these people root their work in their Indigenous traditions, bringing forth traditional understandings in acts of resurgence so potent, and so compelling, that I urge every single person living in the People’s Island to become familiar with them.

Indigenous women and two-spirited people must bear a heavy burden, working to re-establish and revitalize Indigenous socio-political orders, exercise sovereignty, and live resurgence: indeed it can be very dangerous and draining work. It should not be required at all. We should not have to work so hard to overcome barriers imposed by people who were supposed to share these lands with us, as guests and eventually as kin. Nonetheless, to exist as an Indigenous woman or two-spirited person is an inherently political act. Simply resisting our erasure is part of our work.

êkosi ♦

ARTIST STATEMENT: “BE A GOOD GIRL”

“Be a Good Girl” (2006 woodcut print, courtesy of the Collection of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada) is a reflection on the gendered work expectations and training of women in the 1950s. I have explored this topic by looking at Indian residential schools, and the ways in which young Native women were trained in an effort to transform them into good working-class wives and workers. The Indian residential school system had a half-day labour program for girls, which was abolished in 1952 out of concern that children were not receiving an education, but were only serving the financial needs of the school. Residential schools forbade Native children from speaking their languages or practicing their culture in an attempt to mold them, for their “salvation,” into productive members of white, capitalist society. The residential schools were part of a dark history of racism and genocide in Canada and continue to have negative effects. This sort of gendered work training, however, was not reserved for the assimilation of Natives; training schools like the Ontario Training School for Girls rehabilitated young women with “loose” morals and other traits that were not tolerated in the ’50s. Both white working class and Native girls attended these training schools. This piece is about the conflicts, spiritual paradoxes, and societal expectations of young women in the ’50s.

Tania Willard, Secwepemc Nation, is an artist and designer based in Vancouver. Through her art and design she hopes to communicate the stories and voices we are unable to hear—the voices that are missing and erased from our histories and realities.

“Indigenous Women and Two-Spirited People: Our Work is Decolonization” is from our spring 2014 issue, Women’s Work

Poem: Jingle Dress Dancer

She dances,
Most of the time when she is not dancing,
You see her tending to community,
When community is non-existent,
Broken,

Fragmented conglomerations of identities,
Soul wounding,
Soul trauma,
Across territories,
Times,

She dances,
With beauty,
Praying,
There is a sound,
Of the jingles,
If you listen closely,

There is healing,
Quietly,
Loudly,
Boldly,

She has many gifts,
Often unheard or unseen,

She is cleansing,
Healing,

Stepping through the dark caverns of her soul,
Of her family’s soul,
Of her communities soul,
Red energy,
Clearing the yellow haze of oppression,
She is the heart of our nations,

She deserves respect,
She deserves honor,
She deserves a safe home,
She deserves support in all forms,
She deserves love.

Poem: Domestic Violence Awareness is More Than a Month

Colonial hands reached into the pockets of the young Native girl,
To take her money and she bought her way out of the rez,
To the curbside for work,
Banging on the door when it was locked,

This rez you know there is a lot of violence here,
Every place I lived the previous tenant was abusive of some sort,
That's poverty on the rez,

There was no job to be found anywhere on this land,
Especially for a young Native girl,
Banging on the door when it was locked,

What is culture on the rez if there is violence,
On the rez we left because were "not here half of the time,"

If she turned to what she was given,
This was unsafe,
Even in groups that stated she was safe,

Injustice swallowed in a meal meant for healing,
It was very cold,
And then a crisis came,

Silencing,

One billion rising on February 14th 2013,
And she couldn't rise,
From her house,
And she couldn't rise,
Under the dim light,
Under the bad wiring and flicking lights,
And she couldn't rise,
With snow falling upon the rez,
And she couldn't rise,
Because serving him and healing him became internalized,

This is not traditional,
Patriarchy is not traditional,
Subtle control of her spirit is not traditional,
So she lost herself,
In the maze of injustice,
In making the call,
Silencing,
Silenced,
Truth,
Reckoning,
And she couldn't rise,
Her body was frozen,
Back from the kitchen to the cold couch and to her room,

Healing prayers,
Dissolved,
Tucked into corners,
Cleaned from corners,
Folded into clothes,
As she was ignored,
And remember why she couldn't rise.