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Costumes and Indigenous Cultural Appropriation

Repost: Culture is not a Costume

This is a repost of a 2021 blog post.

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Cultural Appropriation In Halloween Costumes

The highly anticipated month of October is here, and as you plan out your costume for Halloween; there are some things to be mindful of to ensure that your costume does not fall into the realm of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation in the context of Halloween refers to wearing elements of a non-dominant and often marginalized culture as part of your costume, particularly if you do not identify as a member of the culture yourself. Although this is often unintentional, it is inappropriate to wear other people’s culture as a costume since it is a  form of racism.  

There are many reasons that wearing cultural attire as a Halloween costume is racist, although there are a few notable reasons worth emphasizing. Firstly, oftentimes  appropriative Halloween costumes are based on traditional clothing worn by historically oppressed cultural groups which portray a lack of consideration and disrespect. For example, the Native American costumes are rooted in a historically violent past; where the styles used in costumes were worn during the 19th century as white settlers displaced Indigenous people on their land.  

These types of Halloween costumes can reduce traditional clothing to a simple aesthetic, which is a privilege that the members of the oppressed cultural group don’t have. For example a non-black person wearing the dreadlock hairstyle may be celebrated and complimented, whereas black people have continuously faced racism due to this hairstyle being seen as unprofessional by the western culture.



BIPOC Costumes as Well That are Inappropriate

In addition to the Native American costumes and dreadlock hairstyle, other BIPOC costumes fall under the umbrella of cultural appropriation. Two examples include the thobe and keffiyeh, which are common cultural attires worn in the Middle East. Wearing it and calling it a terrorist costume is problematic and inappropriate,as it reinforces the racist ideology that all terrorists are Muslims, implying that all Muslims are terrorists.



How to support Indigenous People Without a Costume

If you’ve made it this far, you may be wondering whether there are ways to support Indigenous People and culture without engaging in cultural appropriation on Halloween. The good news is: there are a plethora of ways to show appreciation and respect to the culture all year round! Here are some fantastic opportunities:

1. Buying From Indigenous Entrepreneurs

Purchasing from Indigenous artists and business owners is an incredible way to support the healing process and self-determination of Indigenous communities. It’s as simple as buying Indigenous-made products rather than mass-produced ones when able to. This is a way to vote for sustainable and local economic development with your dollar and create a tremendous impact on the people who sell them. A quick Google search on Indigenous businesses local to your area should reveal plenty of options to choose from!


2. Listening to Indigenous Ran Podcasts

Listening to Indigenous ran podcasts is a great way to support the Indigenous community through learning about Indigenous history and experiences. Storytelling has been and continues to be the backbone of Indigenous societies and by listening to Indigenous podcasts, you have the unique opportunity to amplify voices and support the platform created by these artistic storytellers. A personal recommendation is the “All My Relations” podcast ran by two Indigenous hosts; where they explore what it means to be Indigenous and its complexities in society.


3. Donating to Indigenous-led Organizations

There are plenty of Indigenous-led organizations, with various missions ranging from empowering Indigenous entrepreneurs to supporting residential school survivors and their families. This is by far one of the most impactful ways to support Indigenous People as you are directly funding projects that create a real change in the lives of Indigenous youth and adults. One incredible organization is the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, which provides financial, therapeutic, and other forms of support to survivors of residential school systems.

If you’re interested in supporting Indigenous charities, check out Canada Helps where you will find a vast array of organizations spread out all across Canada!


 4. Read Books written by Indigenous Authors

What better way to learn than by picking up a book written by and Indigenous author. Stepping into the shoes from another’s perspective and learning through their life experiences and practices. Reading a book can create meaning of your world, become more empathetic and gives you an opportunity to experience different times and cultures.

Here is a list of some of Nicole’s personal favourites:


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