How to Be Respectful of Indigenous Culture During Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner! And while we love spooky season as much as the next person, there are a lot of costumes out there that make us shiver a little too much—but we don’t mean the traditionally scary kind!

Cultural appropriation has become a big topic around Halloween, and for good reason. Visit any traditional Halloween store or costume aisle of a big box store and you’ll see ready-to-wear costume options that play off popular stereotypes of a variety of cultures, including Native American culture.

We understand that most people don’t choose to wear culturally inappropriate costumes because they want to be offensive. In most cases…it’s just because they’re lazy! Costumes that play on cultural stereotypes are an easy option. They don’t require much thought or creativity, they’re quick and easy to assemble, and they are instantly recognizable so their wearers don’t spend the whole evening answering the dreaded question “so what are you supposed to be?”

My Culture is Not a Costume

Although we appreciate that most people don’t intend to be offensive, the truth is these costumes are. A “Native chieftain” or “warrior princess” costume misrepresents Native culture, often includes racist stereotypes, and treats culture as some kind of relic of the past. Some costumes even incorporate religious designs or motifs—not fitting attire for a night on the town hitting up the bars! Instead of celebrating Native peoples, these designs water down living cultures to create one pan-Native culture that fits nicely in a plastic costume bag, stripped of meaning and respect.

Cultural appropriation happens when we borrow elements from a culture outside our own, strip them of context and meaning, and use them to our own advantage. While we often talk about cultural appropriation in terms of an economic advantage at Eighth Generation—how non-Native companies will lift Native designs and use them to make money—this advantage doesn’t always have to be monetary. Sometimes it might be about popularity—such as getting lots of compliments on your outfit or winning a costume contest. (Though let’s be honest, you’re not going to be winning any costume contests with an out-of-the-box, pre-made outfit that plays on cultural stereotypes. You’ll have to get more creative if you want to really grab attention!)

How to Be Respectful of Indigenous Culture During Halloween

As you are picking outfits for you or your children this spooky season, here are a few questions to ask yourself to help keep your costume choices within culturally appropriate boundaries. 

  • Will you alter your physical appearance? Darkening your skin is an obvious no-no, but consider too that donning the hair style of another culture can also walk a fine line. While most adults (hopefully!) understand this concept, children may not yet understand—so you may have a great educational opportunity on your hands!
  • Is your costume “sexy”? There’s nothing Halloween stores love more than taking literally ANY costume idea and putting a sexy spin on it. While this might be within culturally acceptable boundaries for certain costumes (sexy garden gnome, anyone?), it’s certainly not appropriate in the context of Native culture considering the major issue in the U.S. and Canada of violence against Native women.
  • Does your costume include clothing traditional to Native culture? For many Native peoples, traditional regalia is sacred and holds deep significance. To those from that culture, these clothing items would never be considered a “costume.” So to wear any of them outside cultural context in the form of a costume…well, it’s just not very appropriate.

Don’t Wear “Native-Inspired” Costumes—Support Inspired Natives® Instead!

If it seems like these guidelines are prohibitive…it’s because they are! In a world of limitless options for Halloween costumes, we know you can easily find a better option. 

Even if you think you are approaching it from a respectful standpoint—you choose a specific Native culture and take the time to educate yourself about those people and traditions—there’s no respectful way to to make someone else’s culture your costume. 

If you want to honor Native culture, take the advice of our Native-run and Native-owned business and do thinks like sharing your favorite Native artists with friends and family, educating yourself on Native issues, and shopping from authentic Native businesses.  

At Eighth Generation we believe in Inspired Natives®, NOT “Native-inspired.” Every artist we work with is authentically Native and highlights traditions and themes of their own tribal community in their creative practices. When you learn about and buy their work, not only are you helping to support Native artists, but you’re helping to expand cultural awareness of authentic Native art—and there’s nothing scary about that!

Celebrate Halloween With Eighth Generation

Join Eighth Generation at our flagship store in Pike Place Market from 12–2pm on Saturday, October 22 for our free, family-friendly Halloween Celebration with costumes, candy, performances, and more! Native youth performing artists from Red Eagle Soaring will open the celebration with drums and song at noon, and perform their short original play “Dracula Spectacular.” Then, we’ll have a spooky photo booth in our gallery plus candy for shoppers in costume until 2pm. Get spooky, silly, and pumpkin-spicy with Eighth Generation—Seattle’s Native-owned lifestyle brand and home goods store!