But no really: We need to talk about the cultural appropriation of headdresses on Halloween
There’s a lot going on right now with Native Americans and their determined and absolutely necessary fight for water preservation as they take a stand at Standing Rock in North Dakota. That’s not to say, though, that there isn’t always a lot going on with Native Americans throughout, well, history.
The Indigenous people of North America have fought a long and brutal battle against Western society. Amidst their rich culture, protected lands, strong family bonds and long lineage, they are fighting for survival.
The oppression of Indigenous people has been happening for a really, really long time. Mainstream society has just gotten too good at ignoring it and too good at assuming that Native American mascots, fashions and costumes are considered “honor.”
An issue that arises year after year during Halloween time is the cultural appropriation of Native American headdresses. Many people, including celebrities, are still “playing Indian,” and that’s something the Indigenous people much prefer stop happening.
We spoke to Lummi Native and American Indian Studies Scholar, Temryss Xeli’tia Lane to clarify exactly what wearing headdresses on Halloween symbolizes to the Indigenous people and the rest of the world and why it’s not okay to wear them. Lane is of the Golden Eagle Clan from Lummi Nation, she’s an Indigenous Football Scholar and former professional soccer player who earned her Masters in American Indian Studies.
For starters, she’s not a fan of the term “Indian.”
"The word 'Indian' is a reflection and creation of whiteness," Lane tells HelloGiggles. "The original term comes from the time when Christopher Columbus came to America and called the Indigenous people 'Indians,' because he mistakenly believed he had found India. Different communities have since reclaimed the word and now refer to themselves on occasion as American Indians."
As for the term we should be using, Lane explained.
"People prefer different terms. Tribally specific terms when possible, but the word Indigenous is probably the most appropriate general term."
Lane believes that Halloween is a really sensitive time for Indigenous people in the U.S., and her reasoning makes complete sense.
“During Halloween, a lot of people wear headdresses accompanied by hyper sexualized costumes for women, or worse, accompanied by gore and blood that represents death. By doing this, people are perpetuating ideas of Indian genocide. The problem is, land removal and genocide are far from history. Take a look at what’s happening in Standing Rock, North Dakota.”
Whether people are aware of the negative impacts of dressing like an “Indian” or not, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s derogatory and continually causes harm for Indigenous people.
“Not all Native Americans wear headdresses,” Lane explained. “Out of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States, headdresses are specific only to to a handful of Native tribes in the Great Plains — and they are reserved for Chiefs or men and women of honor. Every single feather on a headdress has been earned, and every single bead has an intention. It’s a matter of respect. In the Western world, it could be compared to someone in the military who has earned medals of honor and only they can wear their specific badges. Medals of honor aren’t worn for vanity, but they are considered sacred as a dignified sign of respect and accomplished honor.”
Lane makes a really great point. It would be highly unlikely for an American civilian to wear a Purple Heart as a Halloween costume.
"A lot of Americans don't know that respected scholars estimate that we went from anywhere from 10 million to 40 million Native Americans to around 250,000 after contact with Europeans," Lane said.
“Every Native American today, and every Native American child born, is a survivor of genocide. Enough has been taken from our people — including our land, our languages and our ways of living off the land,” Lane adds.
It’s time that Western society understands the implications of wearing headdresses as Halloween costumes.
“Appropriating regalia like headdresses or the sexualization of indigenous women contributes to taking from and the dehumanization of the Indigenous people of the North Americas. If someone wants to use Native or tribal attire or gear as a statement of style or fashion, then it’s important for them to give something back in return,” Lane tells HG.
And right now, giving back means doing all you can to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. After all, the water protectors aren’t just standing up for their way of life, they’re standing up for yours and your grandchildren’s grandchildren.