To the Native people in “Indian” Costumes

In Long form essays, Uncategorized by Adrienne K.56 Comments

sitting bull rebecca mcloed

It’s Sunday, November 1, and I’m scrolling through my various social media feeds, looking at the adorable, creative, fun, and smart costumes of all of my friends (and their babies) from Halloween last night. I’m heartened and happy by the series of texts I received, and the tweets and status updates I was tagged in, talking about confronting cultural appropriation in costumes. But I also am noticing a troubling trend, one that I have always noticed, but seems more prevalent this year: there are far too many people using their Native ancestry as a defense for their Pocahottie or Indian warrior costume. So I decided we need to have a conversation about the complexities of this, and the reasons why this is not ok. 

I want to start with a story. I’ve talked many times about how I grew up in very suburban white southern California, and Native peoples and my own Native community were completely absent from my schooling experiences. We did the dreaded Thanksgiving Pilgrims-and-Indians activities every year, complete with construction paper headdresses and brown bag vests. In second grade, I have a distinct memory of our Thanksgiving pageant, because I was allowed to wear my mom’s “Indian” dress from when she was in a Thanksgiving pageant in her southern California elementary school. It was a brown fabric dress, complete with fringe, red fabric trim, and beaded accents. To add to all of it, it was handmade by my Cherokee grandma. I remember being so excited, because to me it was a “real Indian” dress, and it was so much better than my classmates’ paper outfits. I ran around proudly all day.

Adult Adrienne can think through all the layers of complication that went into that moment–the government policies and laws meant to erase my grandmother’s Native identity, and the internalization of white supremacy and ideals of assimilation and an “American” identity–but young Adrienne would have easily proclaimed that my outfit was ok because I was Indian.

I tell this story because I want to offer my empathy and understanding to those who have grown up away from their communities and are unsure of how to connect and honor their heritage. I’ve moved past feeling shame over that experience, because I know it would never happen now, and my future fictional children will never be put in a similar conundrum (oh how elementary schools will tremble at the wrath of Dr. Native Approps). I can think of many situations where it might feel necessary to take on the stereotypical Indian role–A group costume of the Village People? Better be the Indian, so someone else isn’t. Disney Princesses? Pocahontas, same thing. There are schools with Indian mascots where the mascot is actually played by the lone Native student at the school, and I bet the internal rationale is the same. Better me than someone else. At least I’m actually Native. I’m Native so it’s ok. I want people to see me and my heritage. At least I’m not invisible.

But it’s not ok. And the benefit of growing older is that you can grow in your thinking. Mistakes of youth shouldn’t haunt you forever. It’s ok to learn and do better.

There are two camps of folks who use the “But I’m Native!” defense for their costume choices. Those who genuinely think their costume is “honoring” their heritage, and those who only use a distant ancestor as an excuse for their racism. The later category seems to be the more common, and I see Cherokee great-grandma’s popping up all over the internet*. A Native friend chronicled his encounters with “Indians” last night on his FB, and this interaction stood out to me:

This white dude was dressed as an Indian. I told him it was fucked up. He said I was the third person that told him that. He came up to me 20 minutes later to tell me his grandmother who was 100% Choctaw & wouldn’t be offended cause she knew his heart. Dude. I’m not your grandmother.

Then this one kind of broke my heart. I’m not going to link to the actual post on FB or put the picture, though it is public, but I want to share her words:

As some of you know about me I am native. Metis to be exact. This is something I am very proud of. Yet last night I have never been made to feel so ashamed of who I was or what had any control over being.

I was working and wore my Indian Chief costume (which includes a beautiful big headdress as I have in the picture) just as I did the year before at my other place of employment. In no time, I hear consistent comments of “ignorant” “disrespectful” “you’re disgusting” “rude bitch” and trust me there were far worse terms I can see people mouth as they hate stare at me from all over the room. Some customers had the nerve to come up to my side bar to give me a “piece of their mind” to only interrogate me immensely when I announced I am native myself. “What tribe are you from? Where’s your card?” Where the main ones but many more questions were to follow.

Now I understand that this costume of mine is touchy subject considering everything going on lately but this was ridiculous. I don’t see anyone ridiculing any of the Caitlin/Bruce Jenner costume or the countless abortion costumes or God know what other boundary-pushing outfits we’ve ALL seen over the years.

So here’s to the people (surprisingly mostly women) who shamed me:
I hope you’re proud you left me in tears. You made me feel like I should be ashamed to be native which I have NEVER felt once in my whole life. Your negativity IS the reason why we are so oppressed and have to fight tooth and nail for all of these related occurrences you JUST USED as your reason to ridicule me. And as a human being where do you get off treating anyone as so?

Don’t you remember growing up knowing Halloween to fun and looking forward to to wear something that you’re hero wore? Because I do. I was able to wear that costume because I am proud to be Metis. End of fucking story.

Who are you to take that from anyone?

This posting hurts my heart not because the young woman was subject to harsh questioning of her heritage, but that colonization at times is so deep and so complete that a proud Metis woman has been taught through hollywood, the media, textbooks, and a multitude of other messages that true Native heritage is displayed through a warbonnet and skimpy dress. I understand the desire to identify with the only images of Native peoples that we see in mainstream society, because when you’re the only one, it can seem like that is the only way to get people to recognize and see you as Native.

But to these two Halloween revelers and the thousands more, let’s talk.

As a Native person, or a person with Native ancestry, you are not somehow excused from criticism for a racist, stereotypical costume. The costume has no connection or relationship to actual Native regalia, and pieces like the headdress actually have deep meaning that you are mocking and erasing by donning them on a night made for make-believe. You are reifying stereotypes, collapsing hundreds of tribes into a set of characteristics that don’t represent the vast, vast diversity of Indian Country. Your tribe has it’s own distinct culture, regalia, and cultural practices, and chances are they look nothing like the mess you’re wearing for a party.

Halloween is also the exact worst time to honor your heritage. Halloween is a time for people to dress up as characters, as fantasy creatures, and play pretend. Your culture is not pretend. It is real, and vibrant, and deserves respect–not for you to stand in faux-regalia with a red cup of halloween punch drunkenly dancing to Monster Mash.

I also support the harsh questioning from Native peoples you may have encountered, and believe their tone, anger, and dismissiveness is completely justified. When we angrily demand to know your nation and your connection to your community, it’s because we are asking ourselves, How could this have happened?? Who are you accountable to?? 

The anger of Native people should be a signal to you. If you are a Native person, this is the community you are part of, and the relationships that you held are accountable to. If they are telling you that your actions are harmful, it would behoove you to listen.

So while I offer you my empathetic understanding that it is truly difficult to be a Native person growing up without close ties or cultural groundings, I’m telling you now that it’s time to listen and learn, and to grow. Reflect on your choices, own up to your mistakes, swallow your shame and embarrassment, apologize, and move forward. If you are going to claim your heritage, do research. Find out what nation you are actually from (chances are, it’s not actually Cherokee), what your regalia actually looks like, and when the appropriate times and spaces are to wear it. Be humble, listen, and take small steps. Heritage is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Native identity is responsibility, pride, and accountability, and Native cultures are beautiful, complex, and again, deserve respect–which doesn’t and can’t come from a costume shop headdress and striped warpaint.

I hope you’ll listen, not be afraid to admit you were wrong, and next time will do better.




For those of you who still need the breakdowns of why dressing as an Indian is bad: “Step Away from the “Indian” Costume!”  (8+ posts covering every angle of costume choices from the archives of the blog)



“I regret my Naughty Native Halloween Costume” By Elissa Washuta (Salon)

(Awesome Sitting Bull Pumpkin by Rebecca McLeod, via Last Real Indians. I’ve decided we don’t need to see anymore Pocahottie Costumes–you all know what we’re talking about here.)


* A few folks are frustrated with my inclusion of this. I clarified in the comments, but this is to reference the folks who pull out a ancestor, and more often than not, it’s a Cherokee great-grandma, to excuse their racism or as a convenient way to dismiss or win an argument. As a mixed person from a tribe that doesn’t use blood fractions for citizenship, I don’t believe in blood quantum as a marker for identity. You can have a Cherokee great-grandma and still be Cherokee. I hope that is clear from my body of writing and work on here. As a Cherokee woman, this is one of my pet peeves. It’s often used to dismiss my identity–“oh I’m Cherokee too,” or as a stand-in for folks who think all Natives=Cherokee. Identity is complicated, and I hope to continue to illuminate some of those complications.

  • Jessica Hinton

    Miigwech for this post, and for all you do to raise awareness on these issues!

    I do have a question, though. In the past, I’ve read your writing about how problematic blood quantum is, how it’s not traditional, how it’s an imposition by settler colonial governments, and how we should not support it. However, in this post, you seem to reference it: “…those who only use a distant ancestor as an excuse for their racism. The later category seems to be more common, and I see Cherokee great-grandmas popping up all over the internet.” Maybe I am interpreting it incorrectly, but it seems like you could be saying that just because someone has a Cherokee great-grandma, does not mean they themselves are Cherokee. If that is what you are saying, is this a statement in support of blood quantum? That as Indigenous people “marry out”, we lose their identity? We are “bred out”?

    Miigwech again!

    • Adrienne_K

      That’s a great question, and I don’t believe we are ever “bred out” (definitely a colonial concept). But the Cherokee great grandma is a trope that has become so commonplace it’s a bit of a joke, I’d say 8/10 times when I tell someone I’m Cherokee, the person I’m speaking with will tell me that they, too, have a Cherokee ancestor. So, given that, over 80% of the population of the US is actually Native. haha. The problem comes when the ancestry is used as an excuse, or to invalidate a Native person’s opinion (“Well my great-grandma was full blooded Cherokee Indian and I’m not offended”), only when convenient, or it’s family lore without any substantive connection. I never fully dismiss those folks, just encourage them to do actual research into their family, and think critically about the ways they use their connection. In the case of the Halloween costumes, the Native ancestor usually only comes out when challenged on a costume, not as a everyday point of pride or connection. So it’s not about blood to me at all, it’s about how one carries that connection. But I do want people to stop using “Cherokee” as a stand in for a Native ancestor of an unknown tribe. Wado for the question and for letting me clarify!

      • herthoughts

        Yes, the fabled Cherokee grandmother is rampant. I do think people who like to toss that phrase around should avidly investigate their genealogy. It is incredibly easy nowadays on the internet, and very easy to get a DNA test. Here is a thought though, this often wishful thinking is actually a compliment to the NA cultures. Yes, it may very well be an unfounded appropriation, but not with evil intent. Strangely, they admire the cultures of the past while they resent the tribal citizens of the present. We must politely push them to verify their family lore.

        • Cheyenne Petersen

          We were talking about this in my anthropology class, Native American Identity and Adaptation. My professor speculated that people claim the ‘Cherokee grandma’ because 1. the Cherokee people were one of the 5 ‘civilized’ tribes and therefore less negatively stigmatized and 2. claiming a grandmother sounds better than claiming a grandfather, who was more likely to have killed someone (i.e., a white man). It was very interesting to me because I had never heard of people doing this before.

      • Jessica Hinton

        Miigwech for answering :)

        True. I’m sure the vast majority of us have heard the “My great-grandma was full-blooded *insert Tribe/Nation here* and this is my opinion!” comments. I know it’s a running joke in Indian Country, and it can be tricky encountering people who claim Indigineity (whether it’s a legitimate claim or not). Sometimes I just worry that joking about it could discourage off-rez “low-blood quantum” youth – who truly care about honouring their heritage and even hope to raise their own children within it – from coming forward and being involved with their communities and learning more about themselves. I don’t want to make anyone feel excluded or unwelcome, as I have felt that in the past, and know so many others who have too :(

        And I agree with you completely about connection and pride being far more important than BQ.

    • herthoughts

      I recently read some research from 2005, which said that there were just under 2 million officially enrolled members of Native American tribes. But it said that in the U.S. Census there were more than twice that amount of people who “claim” Native American blood. I think if one wants to claim it, one should verify it, which is not that hard in this information age. The Cherokee Nation has the largest or second largest official membership, which is probably why it is the easiest target for so many claims. Also, there is the factor that we want to believe the stories mother or grandmother told us. Who could blame a person for that.
      As far as blood quantums go, I think one would be hard pressed to find many in North America that approach near 100%. It is just a sign of the passing of so much time and of American culture. But unless a tribe is near extinction, their enrollment requirement is often 25%. A percentage though, has nothing to do with a person honoring their ancestors.

      • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

        Blood quantum is part of the white supremacy system.
        It was a way of assigning bogus racial categories, to segregate and divide people, similar to the one drop rule. If my wife says she is part Malisset, the usual response from the white supremacy natvs, is that she needs to get a blood test, to confirm the white surpemacy system. In order for any apartheid system to work you have to get people to believe in it. It is so insidious. Thats the culture.
        Its always about money, thats why dissenrollment is becoeing a problem on someof the rez.

        • herthoughts

          Yes, limited money pot being divided by fewer people is the disenrollment goal, sad to say. Greed is apparently the scourge of all races. I was reading about my tribe back in the old days (1850-1890 or so), and the question was how were mixed blood people regarded by the full blood people. The answer given was that if the mixed blood person could speak Lakota well, they were regarded as tribal members. I thought that was a reasonable criteria for that time and place.

        • Good-digger

          If the kids’ mommas were black, then the kids were not white.

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            Thats right. So today even many black people follow the same racist caste system and assume because a person has a little bit of African this makes them black, because of the one drop rule. This is assimilation into the system. Likewise part of white supremacy is assuming because a person is light complected this makes them white as well. If a person has to choose their race (because they are ostricized by the opposing race), they are not really free. People should be able to live who they are not what the government based archaic racial caste system told them they have to be. Its bigoted. Same way on many reservations. You either tow the line and be an Indian (per the apartheid blood quatum), or be a white or black etc. person. Its all about blood worship.
            Some people see it, but the majority do not.

      • hereinWA

        There are many reasons some may not be enrolled, though. Someone who is willing to mark “Native” on a census, etc, is likely someone more in touch with their roots, enrolled or not. Many of those who claim the Cherokee Great Grandma generally otherwise identify as white, and frequently use this supposed ancestor as a justifier for their behaviour, words, etc. They usually have ZERO knowledge of the culture to which they claim to belong.

        I cannot enroll. I have Cherokee, Choctaw, Mvskoke, and Chickasaw, among others. My grandparents were in Oklahoma at a time they would be forced to enroll. In order to disenroll, as I understand, they’d have to leave the state, and it is likely their records were destroyed. Two of my grandfather’s sisters did enroll, so I do have proof, but, can only enroll through a direct ancestor, not a lateral one.

        • herthoughts

          The lesson for me here while I sit and hypothesize about who should do what, is that life is not always that neat and simple. Thanks for sharing yor example.

  • Steely Dame

    Thank you for the post. I saw something I wonder if you might comment on: my Indigenous friends wearing costumes or something that belonged to another Indigenous group: a Mohawk wearing paint that signified “maori” and my maori friend wearing day of the dead face paint… I just wonder what you think about this! thanks :)

    • This is a curious question. I’m Māori, and I’d be as insulted by anyone painting on a fake moko kauae for a party as a Native American would justifiably be if I wore a war bonnet. Sure, context makes a difference (as ably discussed in other comments), but “indigenous” isn’t a universal oppressed-minority get-out-of-jail-free card. Heck, this whole article is about how it’s possible for someone to misappropriate *their own* culture.

  • ffhdez

    I have a question, but i don’t know how to phrase it: I live on a reserve in Canada, i am not First Nations, I work at the cultural centre. Last year, the cultural centre had a halloween costume contest for ‘traditional outfit’. everybody came dressed in their grandmothers/grandfather’s outfits (zero headdresses), and there were some extra outfits that were costumes from a play that were brought out for us non-Cree staff. It was a good play, not a pilgrims/indians play. My first instinct was a definite No. no no no i can’t wear a fake native outfit from a culture i am not from, and halloween isn’t the time for this, and honestly i was scared the pictures would turn up on facebook because my social justice friends would jump on me. But at staff request and fear of being a party pooper I wore the outfit (made out of felt that kind of looked like hide, beading, ribbons, it imitated some traditional Cree clothing shapes but by no stretch was it the real thing) and we took pictures and it was fun. Everyday is a day for honouring Cree heritage at the cultural centre, so halloween was just a more fun more playful day for it, and a day to invite non-natives to participate. In contrast, this year my non-native friend went as the safe option of Wednesday Adams and was asked more than once in offended tone if she was trying to be a girl from a residential school (major unexpected blunder costume). These articles seem to address urban situations where native people are away from their community and their roots. Though i wouldn’t say that we are exempt from colonialism on a reserve by any means, the mainstream dialogue is very different here, so i wonder if the rules of appropriation are different? What are your thoughts on indian or ‘traditional’ costumes in places where people do have very strong ties to their heritage? In your opinion, should we not have done traditional outfits for halloween? is it ok if the outfit is authentic (already that is such a charged term), or is it ok because a native entity organised the event? How do you reckon non-native people can be good allies in a situation like this?

    • herthoughts

      About 25 years ago, my workplace had a Western costume party. So I braided my hair and wore beaded earrings and a necklace that my mother had given me (yes, I am part NA). I actually felt good about being the only one at the party who wasn’t dressed as a cowboy or a saloon maid. And I won a bottle of wine to boot! I actually don’t feel bad about this memory. I think the millennials have a bad case of political correctness that is confusing to many.

      • ffhdez

        your outfit sounds like fun times, way to represent at a Western party. Don’t see the connection with stereotypical crummy costumes being worn on halloween. I am mexican, and find it important to wear mexican (or closer to what people expect from mexican) outfits every once in a while or for certain occasions to remind people of our cultural presence. Outfits have cultural power, it feels awesome to use them in your favour.

        • herthoughts

          Just replying to the seemingly guilty feelings expressed by ffhdez above. Yes, historically accurate cultural outfits, worn by members of that culture, do have a power to remind others that the history of that culture has not disappeared, and will not disappear.

          • ffhdez

            yep, still the same ffhdez of both comments. haha, in that case i was wearing a questionably historically accurate outfit, and i am not from that culture, so yep, i felt guilt, well, not guilt, apprehension. Not for political correctness but to make sure i was being respectful to native people whom i have to share a work environment with so it would be pretty awkward if i didn’t take the time to think things through.

    • Adrienne_K

      I think your critical thinking about it is exactly what I hope for from folks, and it’s definitely an issue of context. People often throw back at me the case of South Asian weddings, when non-Indian attendees wear saris and bindis, but the difference is the invitation from the community. This is all about recognizing power imbalances, and giving power to marginalized communities to choose representations. So in your case, you followed the cues of the community, and participated in the ways they set out for you. Most of my posts do address the urban context, since that’s where I am and my experiences, and reservation/reserve contexts are very different in many ways. When you are in an environment that is predominantly Native, there are many positive counter-representations to the stereotypes that folks off rez just don’t have access to. So, yep, I think it’s different. and definitely no hardline or easy yes/no in any situation regarding appropriation.

      • ffhdez

        thanks for taking the time to answer. the idea that there are things out there, like positive counter-representations, that aren’t accessible to all is something i am still getting used to living far from an urban centre.

      • Gothar Richard

        damn, you’re a dumb mouthy bitch

        • Your mother must be so proud

  • herthoughts

    This is such a complicated issue and does not just apply to holidays and celebrations.
    1. Is there a litmus test as to who can don NA attire? Must one carry his/her tribal enrollment card around? What degree of blood must one be? I must say that Dr. Keene doesn’t look any more NA than myself, and I am just 10%. The question follows, who can rightly put themselves out there as a spokesperson for NA issues? I have written several essays on NA issues, but put them out there only as my personal opinion.
    2. We can’t have it both ways. In my neck of the woods, when there is an issue concerning a local tribe, all of a sudden whoever is being interviewed by the press is wearing braids and NA jewelry. I cringe. I know that’s not their daily attire.
    3. What I do really agree with is the issue of respect for our cultures and histories. That cannot be cultivated by anyone wearing cliche costumes.

  • I’ve never worn a “Indian” costume however… as someone named Hontas. That name passed down from my father and grandfather, given to grandfather by his grandmother who was from Virginia and identified as an NDN even though her people were known to be mixed with black and some white. I think I ought to be able to dress as the historical Pocahontas would’ve. The problem is if I dress the way she did I would get arrested. The historical Pocahontas likely dressed much the way the Algonquian Indians of North Carolina did lots of beads no top.
    Your average “pocahottie” costume is in fact a bit more modest by our standards than what women of Tidewater/ Chesapeake bay area wore. These days however, and since at about 1720’s those peoples have been so acculturated that what Euro/Afro Americans wear is what they have been wearing.
    This posting isn’t meant to refute what you have said. If we insist on authenticity to ones ancestry, culture, etc…many of those early EARLY contact peoples, right on the east coast, dressed in ways that just won’t do in the modern world.

  • Rightflanking

    Sorry, but I think people need to climb off their high horse. Not everything Indian is sacred, not everything needs to be taken so seriously. If dress bothers you so much why not ask why most Indian youth today dress and act like Gangland gangsters. Should those groups be offended by this, by your logic they should.

    • herthoughts

      I agree. It is 2015, not 1880. We should understand the cultures of our ancestors and honor that. But there are a hell of a lot of contradictions to be seen. If NA’s revere Mother Nature, why do so many areas around reservation towns look so dumpy? Why do some NA people stay living on reservations that are poor and desolate, and were originally drawn by the U.S. Government, not being their original native lands? It is amazing that the descendants of our 19th century great grandparents are still torn between two worlds. One isn’t dishonoring the ancestors by living a successful 2015 life, striving to leave behind poverty and substance abuse.

      • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

        Because its about money. Thats the honest to goodness truth about it. More natives on the rez means more opportunity for monies / grants etc Got nothing to do with traditonal culture really. The apartheid system was set up this way, the rez system depends on the stereotype, complete with assimilation into the white surpremacy thinking. How many natvs have you heard talk about physical blood? How many think a persons color or complexion determines who they are. They look white so they are white? Thats white surpremacy. You look dark so you must be black? You look Indian, so you must be an Indian. Your never Indian, white or black etc.enough in America.

        • herthoughts

          Thanks for letting me know that a reason for staying is that grants etc. are based on population numbers. So leaving would make one feel like they were betraying those left behind? Like Dr. Keene, I grew up in Southern California, only hearing about stories of the impoverished life in South Dakota from my mother who grew up there. Sounds like an insidious system.

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            Its the same with soverignty. The Nation can be soverign (which in itself is another Moses and promised land thing), but the PERSON IS NOT. Thats how lack of civil rights are hidden on some reservations. Just my opinion on a few things. Take what I say with a grain of salt so to speak.

        • Rightflanking

          Sorry, what?..? I can’t follow your argument.

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            I am just speaking from what I see involving my family. You don’t have to agree. Just because you have a degree in Native Studies, doesn’t mean you actually see it, or are exempt from being an enabler.

          • herthoughts

            Fine to disagree, but waving academic degrees – eeew. May as well be stating rez or no rez, or state BQ numbers. Those things don’t matter in earnest, even if heated, discussions.

            • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

              It can all be part of the myth system. One myth is that the US Government set up reservations in part to “protect” Indians, even though Hitler got some of his ideas for concentration camps from US Government encampment and relocation of Indians and the English treatment of Boar prisoners (see John Toland’s biography on Hitler or David Meier’s Rise of Hitler.
              There is a racial caste system even within some reservations. The pecking order goes something like this; Tribal Nationalism, degree of physical blood, degreee of mixed blood, and presumed white or black. This primitive system is based upon physical blood, a take off of the now going extinct white supremacist racial caste system.

              As far as money. Many reservations would be devistated by the loss of grant funding. Within the system of grants and add ons, there is what is known as “supplanting”. Its illegal to supplant federal funds (using them for purposes non related to the original). But as long as the grants are used for some “related” scope, then the funds can be moved around. Everyone once in awhile you read about a tribe who has supplanting problems.

            • Rightflanking

              The point I was trying to make is that a diatribe of nonsense from unreliable sources does not help a person make their point. I don’t care if you have a degree or not, there is no reason people cannot be clear in what they write or use reputable sources.
              The reason I brought up my degree was to point out that the situation is not as presented by the other commentator.
              Besides this is not a heated discussion, it is simply a discussion.

              • herthoughts

                Ok, a healthy discussion. Our posting friend here leans toward a conspiratorial bent on NA history. Just because it doesn’t fit into current academia format, doesn’t mean there aren’t grains of truth in it. His/her passion about the subject deserves a sounding board, although I think we’very strayed afar from Dr. Keene’s original topic. Sorry about that, doc. It does show that a lot of nerves are being touched, and a lot needs to be expressed.

  • herthoughts

    Are we too sensitive? What about all the guys wearing Hawaiian shirts, the custom of giving leis to graduating students, the tiki bars and luaus? Granted, the government didn’t send troops out to slaughter the Hawaiians, but their culture got pretty quickly diluted and totally appropriated. Why the different reaction?

    • hereinWA

      Because this is a Native American blog, about Native American issues. I’m sure elsewhere on the internet, there are plenty of other blogs, sites, etc, dedicated to other cultures and misappropriation.

      • herthoughts

        Got it. Stick to specific subject.

    • Auryn

      Native Hawaiians do not appreciate faux grass skirts or plastic leis. Their culture wasn’t diluted, it was almost entirely wiped out by the Missionaries. Other Polynesian cultures have suffered similar fates. You just might not have heard of their movements, but we’re alive and well.

  • Kyle Mays

    Dr. AK: big shout and chi-miigwetch for writing such a complicated, thought-provoking blog. As always, you are very much appreciated :)

  • Candice M

    Very well reasoned and articulated. Learning, appreciating and respecting our individual cultures, traditions, ceremonies and values are life long endeavours.

  • Reese

    i never thought to wore an indian costume because it didnt interest me until people like this decided to get overly sensitive about it…now me smoke em peace pipe.

  • Steve Weinstein

    The entire point of subversive holidays like Halloween, Purim, Lent, etc., is to allow suppressed people to re-appropriate their identity by subtly making fun of the way the oppressors have portrayed them. In other words, someone of Native American heritage dressing up as a stereotypical “Indian” is making fun of the way Europeans have portrayed them.

    But that’s too subtle for the people here, I guess.

    • herthoughts

      That would take a lot of nerve and constant explaining of the ironic joke of the costume. Doesn’t sound like a fun party to me. I know, I’m not invited anyway!

    • herthoughts

      P.S. You sound like a New Yorker magazine subscriber. The superiority òf subtlety is just a game.

  • Auryn

    Thank you for this. This is why I continue to follow your blog — you’re able to explain these complicated issues that I’ve been unable to articulate. And I’m not Native American. I’m half Samoan. We Polynesians struggle with very similar issues. Thank you again.

  • Shelly

    Omg! I thought it was just something in Oklahoma but all of my life I have heard white people say they can say/ do whatever racist act they want regarding Native Americans because they had a Cherokee grandmother (who was usually a Princess) and I always wondered, How many princesses did the Cherokee’s have and why/ how did she have so many kids? I’m glad to hear that seems to be a nationwide excuse.

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  • Noura Al-Jabeli

    Hello Adrienne! I really hope you get to see this message!
    I have been seeing posts about Cultural Appropriation on Instagram for a few months now and I learned a lot about insulting it can be for other cultures to belittle cultures different from theirs by using elements of those cultures as props.
    Most of those Cultural Appropriation posts were geared to White people who may or may not have had any idea that they were harming ethnic cultures by using important pieces (such as bindi, henna, dream catchers, feather headgear … Etc. as silly costumes).
    Well, right here in the MIDDLE EAST we have idiots who try to act like Westerners by taking on what some ignorant westerners do.
    I have been following a local shop on Instagram called @eternalifeshop which has been selling Native American accessories like dream catchers and have been a great success here.
    They were planning on selling NATIVE AMERICAN HEAD GEAR for over $100 and when I nicely asked them to reconsider I got blocked from their account.
    They have never replied to me nor have they given me an explanation as to why they were selling Native American inspired items if it had somethings to do with them having any Indian blood in them … Nothing!
    I hope you would write to them and encourage your writers to message them on their account (they have a Twitter account with the same name) and let them know what they’re doing is ridiculous.
    (Please keep me ANONYMOUS if you decide to post my message.)

  • holly.h

    I’m white and British, and I would never wear a Native American style halloween costume because I have followed Native Appropriations for years and I understand how detrimental it would be for a white person to appropriate Native American culture in this way. In fact, if I see anyone wearing headdresses or “indian” costumes, I have told them how offensive and ignorant this is.
    BUT If i called someone out who turned around and said ” I am Native American, so I can wear this” as a white person, I don’t think I would be able to then challenge them further, because wouldn’t this just end up with me belittling and criticising a Native American person for what they see as their culture? Surely I don’t have the right to do that. I don’t know what the right thing to do would be in that circumstance – what do you think?