You Indians Need to Worry about More Important Things than Halloween Costumes
By : Chase IronEyes
Every year there should be an awareness campaign about the practice of Americans appropriating and unwittingly mocking Indian identity by donning an “Indian costume.” And by the authority vested in me as the Self-Proclaimed Head Chief of… oh I don’t know- just roll with it, we will do this yearly education campaign to end Red Facing or Dressing up Indian. We have been; we will not let our people be mocked. What do “they” get out of playing Indian? They say they are just having fun. Probably, it fills some psychological-spiritual void that is created by the separation of man and nature, the latter to be exploited (toiled) in the bible and/or the separation of man from himself via the scientific method and the Western academic tradition and now corporate media; but, that would be stereotyping on my part. “Their” institutions and corporate media attempt every year to make caricatures of Indigenous peoples. They still sell Indian Halloween costumes everywhere but everywhere we go you can bet they will know our disgust. Whether by intention or not, the American Indian, by and large, has been made out to be something other than a fellow respectable human being on this earth journey. The reasons for this phenomenon are not hard to imagine when one considers the inter-generational conditioning Americans are put through via school and pop culture.
Because most Americans see American Indians as a conquered and disappearing race or because we are not highly visible to them, they see no wrong in playing Indian dress-up, particularly in social situations which do not include Indians. When in fact there is definitely a wrongful appropriation happening, this is the same as little black sambo and blackfacing. Members of the mainstream- historically of Euro descent but now of many “races” subscribing to Western world-views- have crafted 500 years of institutional paradigms that most always include depicting the Indian as noble, savage, bloodthirsty, lusty, and/or fierce. More importantly, mainstream is convinced by centuries of brainwashing that Indians, having not figured out how to exploit the earth properly, were and continue to be impediments to “progress”; of course as that term is used in “modern” financial-industrial civilization. These collective paradigms see us as relics, as interesting little bits of history –that go well with White heroes as the protagonist in our stories, well their stories like Dances with Wolves and Avatar.
Consider these questions: Can I touch your hair? Are you a real Indian? Do you live in a tipi? I have personally been asked these questions in real life. Can I put your living culture in museum? Can I withhold sacred items for scientific inspection? Can you be our specimen? Can we track you based on pedigree as we do our dogs and horses? Can we enforce our imaginary Christian dominion over you without you even questioning its legitimacy? These questions are sometimes not even asked or fail to raise a brow on most Indians.
Thus, I can understand why the average American would not care to consider whether his or her action in dressing up as an Indian for Halloween is offensive. I have said before that no longer are we living our identity; we are looking at it through a lens created by the European — a lens in which Indians are inferior and whites are superior. We are looking through a lens created and shown by such ongoing practices as Indian Halloween costumes, countless Hollywood “Indian” cameos or Indian oriented material, phony commercialized “Indian” products, and the use of Indians as team nicknames and mascots. Whatever the market (sometimes called “society”) demands, the market will produce. Right now, we are seeing what the mainstream market demands, the aforementioned.
This society will tolerate Scott Brown (US Senator) staffers doing the tomahawk chop and making the mock war cry of “woowoowoowoo” with hand batting over mouth. This society produces and tolerates the GAP clothing company and designer Mark McNairy recent release of a t-shirt line which simply displayed the words “manifest destiny” on the chest –essentially celebrating genocide. This society allows Dr. Phil to condemn our people for protecting our rights under ICWA to raise our children in our ways and to stop the loss of our kids to the social services system. This society bans “ethnic” studies and censors the education its students receive. This society destroys our sacred sites and threatens our waters. The Indian Wars Never Ended!
And yes, Indians should be worrying about more important things like substance abuse, poverty culture, suicide, motor vehicle deaths, sexual abuse, and the constant mind-theft being perpetrated upon us by mainstream media and the Church ( Is Tekakwitha’s Sainthood anything for us to celebrate?). We are worrying about these things in our homelands, but mainstream doesn’t showcase that. However, I know and studies have shown that our own perception of ourselves is affected by how others view us so time is not wasted in securing our self-esteem. Those who would tell you to stop trying to change the outside world’s view on Indigenous peoples have either given up hope, become too lazy to continue the effort, or are possessed by the devil –maybe even literally (that’s a joke, kind of). It is obvious that the advancement of our own lot is priority over how others view us but we need warriors on all fronts. When the movers and shakers of Indian Country come to town for revolution, protest, rally, media conference or a wine and cheese social mixer, let them move. Like my gramma used to say “make yourself useful sonny”, in other words do something, at the very least don’t try to make an obstacle of yourself when change is coming, and it surely is if by force or inertia.
Speaking of force, I don’t encourage people to physically accost those they may see wearing “Indian costumes” but I would personally do like Brother Martin Luther King and “turn the other cheek” if I witnessed one in Indian costume getting what’s coming to them, in a good way. More effectively though, we need all of our non-Indian allies to educate themselves and help us out. If you’re at a party or other social setting and you see someone dressed up as an Indian please verbalize your disapproval; your kids and my kids will thank you for it. We are constantly changing minds by engaging discussion via LRI social vehicles or with neighbors (I live in a mostly “White” city) and friends of our children, who seem to all congregate at our house making my little Indian kids the minority:)!
Our self-esteem is at stake here. There are some of our people who grow up speaking their native language in their homelands, practicing their ceremonies and are generally living “decolonization” without having ever even learned the word “decolonization”; our self-esteem is greatest in a situation like this. However, even then we must contend with the outside world’s view of us. Inevitably, we judge our own “Indianness” based on the whole of our life experiences and learning. Largely, the whole of our learning consists of foreign perceptions learned in schools, internet, TV and other outlets. My fellow Indians and forward thinking Americans, we are in for serious challenges with respect to changing the current tide of the market and multi-media with respect to its treatment of Indians. However, with ever-changing media, including the internet and television, I am genuinely hopeful because American Indians are taking over the telling of their own stories. It remains to be seen the level at which we break into the “mainstream” to affect near incorrigible minds but LRI will always be on the front line.
We are beginning to own our image and remake it in a manner that suits us, the real Indians. I say that we are facing a lifetime challenge because we have so much unlearning re-learning to do. Ours is a society that denies its own holocaust. Few are the people that actually want to come face to face with the real America. But we have to; and we must forgive.
Sometimes, change is hard to come but its gon’ come.