Halloweens engenders talk, tweets and op-eds about costumes.
What’s appropriate? What’s insulting?
When I arrived in the US for college, after living overseas for my primary-grade schooling, I discovered parties: Halloween was an excuse to kick back, drink cheap wine, and wear a costume.
At my first college Halloween party in the ‘States, one of the women college students—an Hispanic whose parents migrated from Mexico—was dressed in full Aunt Jemima countenance, right down to the blackface.
I was simultaneously repulsed and intrigued: Is it OK in American culture to don the persona of Aunt Jemima on Halloween?
Our social mores have since adjusted, and folks who wear blackface are criticized ferociously.
At least on social media.
But what about wearing war paint, feathers, and pretending you’re an American Indian?
My relatives get incensed at fake Indian dress, tomahawk chops and imitation war chants.
And Halloween costumes.
My guess is that most folks don’t know that our Indian regalia arise from long-held traditions and are treated with reverence.
Each piece of wool, each link of silver, and each inch of ribbon has a story, packed with meaning.
For example, the Osage men and women—and many other tribal folks—wear cotton shirts made from calico fabric resembling cotton brought by settlers.
Today we add ribbon to the calico to distinguish our look from the settlers’.
During the time of our removal from Indian Territory—including the Trail of Tears—Indians were deprived of their knives and shears, and had to rip cotton fabric to make clothing.
Shirts were named “tear shirts” because they had to be ripped apart without the luxury of scissors.
When making ribbon shirts for relatives I tear the fabric rather than slice it, in deference to our stories.
Women wrap wool fabric around our hips: skirts fashioned from Pendleton blankets.
The Osage men wear a length of animal hair—often porcupine—safely locked within a silver barrette on top of his head, giving a look settlers mistakenly call a Mohawk.
And there’s more: plain and beaded moccasins, fans made from turkey or eagle feathers, a shawl with your grandmother’s or auntie’s ribbon work, German silver buckles looped to the front of your shirt, a long ribbon that hangs down your back and descends from your necklace…and every single item of clothing has a history.
That’s what bother my relatives when an innocent Halloweener wears faux feathered head-gear or dresses like a Disney Pocahontas.
Missing is the backstory that got sliced away from an outfit meant to symbolize a prodigious culture that represents the backbone of North American society.
Instead Halloween ushers in an imitation of a great people in the form of a cheap outfits made in China, bereft of background or story.
No wonder my relatives are pissed.