I really just need to talk to someone about "Indian Costumes"

Dear Auntie, I really just needed to talk to someone who could understand about this. I have an older Native Woman I really respected comment on a post of mine about “Indian costumes.” She told me she thinks there is nothing wrong with them and it isn’t fair for me to think people shouldn’t wear them. I wanted to personally tell her why I was against them but I am scared she won’t care. What should I do?

First, know there is a team of people behind you who are working on this same issue. We’ve got your back and together we can make a difference!

As strongly as I can say this, “There is no circumstance where dressing up like someone from another culture is okay.”

Why is it not okay to dress up as a Native American?

  • It hurts Native:
    • Youth by directly impacting low self-esteem, mental health, and feelings of inadequacy. This matters when suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native youth ages 15-24.
    • Women by perpetuating over-sexualized stereotypes. Don’t believe me? Just Google ‘Indian Halloween costumes’ and see the first thing that pops up.
    • Men by perpetuating the misconception that all Native males are brave, stoic, ruthless savages.
    • Our culture because we are already largely misrepresented by what is being taught in schools, adding Indian Halloween costumes and sports mascots to the mix only makes this worse.

Times they are a changing – there was a time when it was okay with society to use racist terms and slurs for all minorities. But over the last 50 years, things have changed, though not everyone’s mindset has. This might explain why your elder has yet to move on. Perhaps she just needs a little encouragement and a youth’s perspective. 🙂

How to talk to your elder:

  • Write down all the reasons you believe Indian costumes to be harmful. Are there any reasons that might be positive?
  • Pick a quiet place to talk to her; someplace that is semi-public like a park, or a low-key coffee shop…maybe offer to buy her coffee.
  • Tell her how you feel. You can start by saying something like, “I want to let you know I have always had a lot of respect for you and that’s why I feel it is important for me to tell you how I feel about Indian costumes.” From here, you can talk about the reasons you wrote down earlier.

Things to keep in mind while talking to your elder:

  • She has a right to her opinion. Give her space to explain why she thinks it’s okay for non-Natives to dress up like American Indians. Listen respectfully and she will likely do the same.
  • You have a right to your opinion. Like your elder, you have the right to explain your views on Indian costumes. Keep in mind it is not your job to change anyone else’s mind; that is the other persons responsibility. However, it is your job to listen to your gut and respect yourself and your opinions.

I thank you for writing in and I’m already proud of you. You’re going to do great.


Auntie Manda



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