Halloween and Native American Costumes


Cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution (copyrighted)

American Indians are a diverse and heterogeneous lot.

But one thing many of us agree about is our traditional regalia.

Native regalia aren’t costumes.

Every year as Halloween approaches, I remind folks that wearing war-paint and chicken feathers is insensitive.

The clueless can buy a costume called “Indian Princess” or “Chief” on Amazon or Pinterest or eBay.

Fake outfits made in China with fake fur can still be purchased for trick-or-treaters and bar-hoppers.

Today friends have been posting photos of non-Indians dressed in fake costumes, ranging from fringed bikinis to head-dresses.

Native American activists have made some headway: muggles are more aware that the Chief Wahoo cartoon depicting the Cleveland Indians and that the Washington football team’s name (R**skins) are insulting to many Indigenous peoples.

My friend and scholar Dr. Cornel Pewewardy captures the sentiment well:

I am not your mascot, he says.

How can we better share our stories with folks who may not understand our traditions?

Maybe we should wear our regalia on Halloween.

That way, we can explain that our garments are special, historic, meaningful and sacred.

For example, it takes hours for some of us to get dressed: Sometimes an entire afternoon.

Each garment has a story, and as we tie on a legging, or smooth a ribbon shirt, we remember who wore the garment before we did and recall who stitched the fabric.

I have unpacked cedar-chests and unfolded shawls the night before an event, and spent hours re-stitching a hem or ironing a piece of ribbon.

I have watched mothers and aunties dress sons and grand-daughters to get ready for grand entry.

I have listened to fathers remind their sons how to care for bustles and fans.

And I’ve been scolded when my skirt was tied on the wrong hip, and facing the wrong direction.

Better than shaming folks who mindlessly mimic American Indian traditions.

Maybe it is more thoughtful to be pre-emptive and explain how our traditions emerged.


24 October 2018












About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in nativescience. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Halloween and Native American Costumes

  1. Ashana M says:

    Maybe someone should try dressing up as a white person…

    Liked by 1 person

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