Oct 11, 2013 - I am NOT a costume! by Noel Altaha

It’s October, and with it comes the annual Halloween tradition of young and old alike dressing up and going out either door-to-door in hopes of scoring serious candy, or having a good time at a costume party. Unfortunately, some traditions surrounding Halloween are plain racist, such as the marketing and selling of “costumes” that “represent”, however stereotypically, “other” cultures. Stores shelves, sadly, will be lined with fake head dresses, buck skin outfits, and “war” paint (along with kimonos, turbans, and other “representations” of various cultures) for would be costume wearers.

The following comes from Noel Altaha (White Mountain Apache) who made a video titled “I am NOT a costume!”, in response to this racist tradition (see link below) and provides insight to what motivated her to make the video and her feelings towards “dressing” as another culture.

Initially I made the video for a homework assignment in social psychology. Using creative tools to persuade others to agree with your stand was the assignment. My classmates presented great examples, (not texting and driving for example) and I wanted to have others see my view on this holiday. Theories may include self-affirmation theory, central route persuasion, and emotional approach. Myers, D. G. (2010). Social psychology. (10 ed.). New York, NY: McGrawHill. This is my first time editing from my macbook, its fun but time consuming so please have patience as I figure out how to edit. Thanks for your support!

Here is why you should care, whether you are Native or non-Native American. Dressing as someone else’s culture has lasting impacts on everyone’s psyche. Granted it could not be explicitly noticeable but there is evidence suggesting the negative effects on stereotyping in social psychology. My research has focused on Native American Historical Trauma (HT) and unresolved grief. According to this theory due to European Colonization there has been a collective and continuous loss in Native communities. The mourning process continues through one’s lifetime and passes onto the next generations, thus the term intergenerational trauma. The symptoms of HT includes but are not limited to low self-esteem, hyper-vigilance, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, etc. etc. etc. Ignorance of the historic trauma has profound negative impacts on Native peoples suffering or experiencing the historical trauma. So when you wear an “Indian” or “Savage” or “Native American” costume you are basically stereotyping a culture, you are also making their culture a historical reference that sends a message to everyone: Native Americans no longer exist, only in history books and old western films. You are not recognizing the present day Native people who are professors, doctors, actors, and nurses who still identify with their Native culture and are successfully existing in the modern world. This video was made to acknowledge Native people in Indian Country who deserve the respect of not being stereotyped as a costume. I certainly do not dress as a white person for Halloween and have not ever seen the costume “colonizer” at my local retail stores and if it did I would think there would be letters from upset offended white people. I do not want to make this all about a race issue because it more than that. This is about respecting oneself through becoming educated and it is about healing for a people who have and continue to suffer from the impacts of HT.

The response from the media online has been positive. I made this video last year for a class and was excited to see it got 500 views, a year later on Monday of this week I posted and emailed to several pages on Facebook. The views have jumped to 2,000 in three days and continue to increase. There are no negative comments on YouTube or on Facebook. I think people are responsive because of the way it is presented. It’s hard to be angry when there are cute kids in the video sending a message. The youngest girl is my friend’s daughter from Alaska and the boy is my friend’s son from the Navajo Nation. The girl in the middle of the video being interviewed is my younger sister who was 12 at the time and she was not scripted which I was surprised by what she said when I recorded and asked her about her thoughts. All in all I think it was a great outcome and a powerful message for everyone.

I would also like to remind Monday is a national holiday ‘Columbus Day’ which may not seem like a big deal for most Americans except the consumers who shop during any holiday sale, but it is a big deal for some Native peoples because it is founded on a lie. Columbus did not discover America, Natives were already here and the eastern tribes helped many settlers survive off the land. He and his settlers were white men on mission for land and gold but we continue to teach the inaccurate story in schools. I grew up in a different culture and my family always told me about the “Real History of the Americas” on Columbus Day or Independence Day. I also want to make it very clear that I do not speak for or on behalf of all Native Americans that ever exist or exist or will ever exist. I am one person who wants to bring respect, awareness, and education because it could bring healing to a hurt people, my hurt people.

Noel Altaha: Is a member of the White Mountain Apache tribe in Eastern AZ (Eagle ‘tugain’ born of the White Water people). She’s a recent graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado. She graduated in April 2013 with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Native American & Indigenous Studies. She also completed a two year undergraduate research grant funded through the National Institute of Health (NIH) called the MARC U STAR (Minority Access to Research Careers).

Last Real Indians