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Costumes or Charicatures?

By Alicia Frosch, Racial Justice & Public Policy Program Coordinator, YWCA of Minneapolis
November 5, 2012
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Halloween has always been one of my favorite events. As a child, there was nothing better than dressing up as one of my era’s heroes: Alf, E.T., Jem & the Holograms, Pound Puppies and, of course, a dancer from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Each year as an adult, I have the enjoyment of watching my children go through the same painstaking question, “What are you going to be for Halloween?”

This year, I was able to ask myself that same question since I was invited to go out with friends for Halloween. Once I got my Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance” costume together, I was looking forward to seeing what other adults would be. One of the first costumes I came across was a woman dressed as what she called a “sexy Indian.” Her costume consisted of lingerie-like, faux-suede bra and short skirt, a head piece, a pair of tan knee-high fringe boots and a tomahawk. Her costume made me think, how do we celebrate Native American culture without reinforcing stereotypes?

Dr. Anton Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, once said, “It’s the idea that native people are frozen in time. . .That there is a real authentic Indian and he looks like one of the guys who just steps off the set for ‘Dance with Wolves.'”

In recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., November is known as Native American Heritage Month. There are many resources, events and ways we can learn and celebrate Native Americans without stereotypes. A quick Google search gives you an overwhelming number of workshops, films, books, activities, Pow Wows, and speakers series that honors Native American culture. This year also happens to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a war that has had a profound impact in shaping Minnesota.

I truly believe each of us has a role to play in eliminating racism. As an ally, I will make a commitment to take responsibility for learning more about Native American heritage, culture and experience, and how oppression works in everyday life. Then, from what I have learned, by acting and speaking out against social injustice. What action will you take?