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

Poem: Colonization

Right now colonization has battered a woman,
Colonization has forced relocation of the Indigenous mind to bottle,
Casino only employer around this place,

Right now colonization has neglected a child,
Cold-shaking-fear but smiling in front of a heater,
Dim light flickering,

Right now colonization has made you feel like a patriot or a brave,
And she is sitting in a closet with cut arms,
Hungry and ignored,
Because Native women can't have eating disorders,

Right now colonization is dividing my being,
My legs are Anishinaabe,
My hands are French,
Compartmentalization makes me run away,
Hiding identity in shame,

Right now colonization has discriminated a Two-Spirit,
A "traditional healer," laughs in this Two-Spirit's face,
This Two-Spirit has no community resources,
The Two-Spirit was a revered community resource,

Right now colonization has headed up your tribal government structure,
The epidemics all around have you ignore domestic violence,
Sex trafficking,
Addiction,
And your colonized Christ is judging the actions of many,

Right now colonization is not breaking news on the news,
There is no Native news on the news,

Right now colonization has ran out of tissues,
Tears,
Surviving everyday discrimination,
Heartbreak syndrome,
Ghost sickness is enough for 500 plus years,

Right now 97.7% of the land is occupied,
We get 0.3 % of the land,

How do you map "de-colonization," when there is very little room for us?

Poem: I am the Un-Feeling Man

I am the manufactured heart unfeeling man,
Let me be the un-feeling man,

In brown boots,
With hairy legs,
With a mustache,

My heart is closed accordingly,
Un-tender,
Un-dainty,
Your judging it,
Saying I need to open it,
Feel it,
Open up to this idea of "romantic love,"
What about platonic love?
Aromantic love?

"Sweetness" sidetracked,
I've got everything together,
Everything is in perfect order,
Do not move that plate or napkin out of place,
As a woman should,
Have everything in order,
If not then discard me,
Discard my heart,
Discard my belongings,

I am the un-feeling man,
Running fingers over my mustache,
Let me not feel,
My emotions,
Or heart.

Poem: “All One” Is Colonization and Violence

The hippie movement is exclusive,
“Environmentalists” are discriminatory and racist,
Your culture is so vacuous,
That you fall in love with someone’s facebook profile,
You want to lure these men into your bed,
And pour alcohol down their throats,
This is not love,
This is enabling the addiction,
This is superficial,
And you have no idea about real Native love,
And you forget how many Native women are alone,
Cast out by their own tribe’s,
Cast out by the men in their communities,
Stop colonizing,
With your privileged Prius,
And your nasty hippie-dip garb,
You’ll never get it as much as you say you are “sensitive,”
To our community and culture,
That love for a Native woman to love a Native man is rare,
We are pounding on the lid,
Of the bottom of the barrel,
You’re stepping over us,
On us,
On our backs,
Your behavior is colonization,
Your behavior is violent.

Privilege in Activism - Ego is Not a Clan

"The denial of Native womanhood is the reduction of whole people to a sub-human level.  Animals beget animals.  The dictates of patriarchy demand thatbeneath the Native male comes the Native female.  The dictates of racism are that Native man are beneath white women and Nativefemales are not fit to be referred to as women." ~ Lee Maracle, from I Am Woman (1996: p. 17-18)

I've pretty much left much of my former activism behind but I am not saying I am leaving activism behind completely.  I am redefining activism by broadening the definition from sign carrying and so called "front lines," activism.  What I was given and dealt with in the past few years included - lateral violence, bullying, male privilege, counter organizing, favoritism, huge egos, sexism, ageism (from older activists) and more.  It is important to point these things out because we can't create a better world by oppressing others in work that is supposed to be "liberating."  My vision of a matriarchal and non-hierarchical model has been rarely honored.  I am finding that it is honored in small and appreciative spaces from elders, youth or close friends.  I constantly see people uplift others who have been openly abusive to others and in front of people in their community.  We need to stop doing this.  We need to stop uplifting people who bully, ridicule and hurt others.  While toting your pride, toting about how much you do "out there" while oppression reigns on others inside the community.  These activist's are full of pride, full of ego.  And folks, ego is not a clan!

I've been an activist in many ways, shapes and forms since I was 12 years old.  Whether I fought against gentrification in my hometown, worked on various environmental issues, mentored a youth and more.  I don't need to boast about it nor post about it constantly like others on facebook.  Look at me, look at what I am doing.  Activism is not just carting a sign and posting about it on facebook, while your life is completely different behind the screen.  Activism is so much more.  There are many activists who don't even identify as activists.  Then tend and care for the land.  They tend and care for an elder.  They support a youth, in being a positive role model.  They help someone who is in recovery from an addiction heal.  They offer prayers to the land daily.  They make a meal for a friend.  They donate their time quietly to a soup kitchen.  They try to change the dynamics of the family system they were raised in.

Activism is so much more that the limited definitions it has been given.  Survival is resistance.  When someone who is labeled "at-risk" survives and thrives this is a form of activism and should be applauded but rarely is.  Personal healing is also resistance.  Healing intergenerational trauma is resistance.  Additionally, personal healing requires that one looks inside themselves instead of focusing on the problems "out there."  This is the "activism" that gets little to no recognition because of the limited and narrow definition of activism.  As the old saying goes the personal is political.  But I'm saying that one must make a commitment to inner work and outer work in a circle but ah-ha... this is a life long process.  

"Our work towards liberation challenges us to think and rethink our approaches to change.  Revolution requires that we continuously ask ourselves what it would take to stay here, to work toward the liberation of the person across the room, across town, across the globe.  Such revolution does start at home, where our beliefs are formed by the daily practices of our lives.  At times, this work feels overwhelming: how can we transform a violent world, call mighty governments to account, and repair generations of injustice when we are still unable to stop activists committed to liberation movements from abusing their partners, sexually harassing their comrades, or otherwise harming people in our communities?  Accountability, understood as a human skill, offers each of us a path forward when we miss the mark." - The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities (2011: p. 278)

Then there is hierarchy in activism.  This hierarchy can include males who never check their male privilege or boasting that you have a degree from an Ivy League school.  In this hierarchy you may see someone hog the microphone and never allow anyone else up on the stage because of unchecked privilege.  This is not community work nor it is activism at all.  It is self promotion, plain and simple.  True community work is letting everyone speak in their various identities, life experiences and fully hearing them out.  Being a community worker is having a deep understanding of the multiple ways people have been oppressed as well as the privileges they might have.  A community worker sinks their feet down in the soil and is right there.  A community worker doesn't stand on a pedestal and promote, promote, promote!

Let me reiterate that ego is not a clan.  I am disheartened by being sidestepped, trampled and pushed aside.  I am disheartened that I am one of few people who holds onto a non-hierarchical and matriarchal vision of how things could be in the world.  Particularly regarding decolonization in the Native community and how our individual lives, families and communities could look like if we fully commit to decolonization. 

My journey has led me to humbling myself in the eyes of the Creator - Gitchi Manitou.  I will continue on my path as a word warrior through poetry and writing!
 

"I have my books,
And my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, 

Safe within my womb..."

 ~ Simon & Garfunkle, I Am a Rock

 

Resources

This link explains historical trauma, historical unresolved grief, disenfranchised grief, internalized oppression, survivor syndrome and more.

A Letter to Male Activists

Aboriginal Communities Are Breaking Down

Bullying and Lateral Violence

Lateral Violence in First Nations Communities

Lateral Violence on the rez

Wawatay News - Ending the cycle of bullying