Aboriginal caricatures, costumes should be relics of the past

It’s the current year. And we still have to have this conversation.

As I write, my Twitter feed is bursting with news that the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Cleveland Indians. Many people are happy about this.

At the same time, many people are not so happy that a judge ruled on Oct. 17 that the name ‘Cleveland Indians’ does not illegally discriminate against indigenous people under Canadian law, thereby allowing the team’s name and its mascot to be broadcasted.

I’m not going to delve into the legal arguments, but as a matter of common decency, the Major League Baseball Association should certainly consider changing the name of the Cleveland Indians (same goes for CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos).

Although Canada’s First Nations individuals are still recognized as ‘Indians’ by the federal government, it’s a term that carries with it the weight of a history of discrimination and injustice. It’s also historically inaccurate. And frustrating.

Which brings me to a decision by costume retailer Spirit Halloween, who on Oct. 18, told a media outlet they had no plans to pull costumes of mock Aboriginal regalia, which have caused a stir in Saskatoon. The costumes, aimed at girls, are made up of tacky faux leather and a mock headdress.

“Understanding certain sensitivities, we always strive to present our costumes in a responsible and respectful manner,” Spirit Halloween said in an email to CTV News. “While we respect the opinion of those who are opposed to the sale of any cultural or historical costumes, we are proud of our costume selection for men, women and children.”

In other words, we know we’re offending people, but our profits are more important than your sensitivities.

As a private company, Spirit Halloween is perfectly entitled to sell what it wants and offend who it wants. But we, as consumers, also have the ability to make our voices heard by putting our money where our mouth is.

Located in Treaty 6 territory, with a strong, proud history of Aboriginal settlement within our borders, it’s all the more insulting to see a retailer peddle a false representation of First Nations people’s ceremonial regalia here.

To make things worse, the outfits weren’t just aimed towards young girls. There are also adult-themed ones, with garish names such as “reservation royalty”. Naturally, like many costumes aimed towards adult women, the outfits are revealing. But to turn a mockery of traditional Aboriginal clothing into a sexualized Halloween costume, especially when our country struggles with the challenge of more than 4,000 missing or murdered indigenous women, is at best in shamefully bad taste. At worst, it’s a validation that our country has made little progress in the continued marginalization of Canada’s First Nations people.

As you go Halloween shopping this year, I strongly urge you to avoid Spirit Halloween, which has five locations in Edmonton and the area. And while we’re at it, let’s consider changing that stupid Edmonton Eskimos name as well.


Speak Your Mind