Earrings, Winnie’s Native Design
LEGAL SUIT AGAINST OTTAWA’S CHILD WELFARE SERVICES
"Our children keep being taken away from First Nation families in even greater numbers today than during the residential school era,” said Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations.
What’s happening? Experts estimate there are at least 27,000 aboriginal children who have been removed from their immediate families.
Legal action started in 2007, arguing child-welfare services on reserves received 22 per cent less funding than off-reserve services, even though the need was far greater. - The Canadian Press
VERY SIMILAR to what is currently going on in South Dakota and other states.
HELP LAKOTA PEOPLES PROJECT BY SIGNING THE PETITION TO INVESTIGATE SOUTH DAKOTA. HERE!
For such small objects, the child’s handcuffs are surprisingly heavy when cradled in the palms of one’s hand. Although now rusted from years of disuse, they still convey the horror of their brutal purpose, which was to restrain Native children who were being brought to boarding schools. “I felt the weight of their metal on my heart,” said Jessica Lackey of the Cherokee tribe as she described holding the handcuffs for the first time.
Lackey, an alumnus of Haskell Indian Nations University, was working at the school’s Cultural Center & Museum when the handcuffs were unwrapped last spring after being kept in storage for several years. I had heard rumors about the existence of the handcuffs during visits to Haskell over the years and had made numerous inquiries to school authorities about them, but people seemed very reluctant to discuss this touchy artifact. This past summer, however, Haskell agreed to allow a public viewing of the handcuffs. Andy Girty, one of the elders who first blessed the handcuffs when they were given to Haskell in 1989, helped unwrap them for me.
Known as the Haskell Institute in its early years, the school opened its doors in 1884. It was originally founded as an instrument of the final solution to this country’s “Indian problem”; Haskell Institute’s mission then was embodied in the now infamous motto of Captain Richard H. Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” This mind-set led to decades of forced acculturation through brutal military-style incarceration cloaked as education in U.S. Indian boarding schools.
Although begun as a model for assimilation, native students have, over the years, transformed Haskell into a model for self-determination. The school’s early curriculum featured training in domestic and farming skills but has since evolved into four-year university.
Haskell’s Cultural Center & Museum, located on campus, tells the full—and often cruel—story of Haskell’s painful past as well as providing a venue to showcase Native art, culture from the past and present. Opened in 2002, the center features the permanent exhibit Honoring Our Children Through Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration, featuring artifacts, photos and letters from the school’s early days.
Among the artifacts currently on display is
a heavy iron lock and key for the school jail, which held unruly students. Letters, photographs, copies of early school newspapers and daily menus are among the more commonplace artifacts of early daily life displayed at the museum. One display includes a heavy lock and key from the small on site jail used to punish unruly students. Soon, perhaps, the handcuffs will be included among these artifacts, adding its chilling testimony regarding the practices used by early educators to kill the Indian and save the child.
Not much is known about the diminutive handcuffs, which were donated to the Cultural Center in 1989 by a non-Indian man who described their use to Bobbi Rahder, former director of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum. “He told us they were used to restrain captured Indian children who were being taken to boarding schools,” says Rahder. The middle-age white man said his father had the handcuffs for years but that he no longer wanted to have them in his possession. “He seemed relieved to get rid of them,” Rahder recalls.
I made many phone calls, but was unable to track down the man, who is said to have lived in Lawrence. According to Rahder, he failed to respond to messages they had left him over the years, and he has not been seen at Haskell since the day he brought the handcuffs to the Cultural Center. “It was all very vague. He didn’t tell us how his father came to have the handcuffs. He showed up one day and donated them to the Center,” she says.
Mysterious donations are common at the Cultural Center. Rahder has witnessed scores of non-Indian donors dropping off important—and often poignant—historical artifacts relating to Haskell. Last year, Roger Bollinger of Pennsylvania donated an 1880s leather-bound photo album containing photos and corresponding identifications of Haskell’s very first students in 1884. This album represents the only known identifiable photos from that inaugural class. Bollinger knew little of Haskell and had no idea how the album came to be in his family’s possession. A supporter of education and cultural understanding, he decided tom donate the album to Haskell.
The handcuffs, however, were different, notes Rahder, who took them from the man. “I was shocked and afraid to touch them,” she recalls.
She says she immediately contacted administrative and spiritual leaders at the school for guidance on handling the handcuffs. Leaders at Haskell were overwhelmed by the brutality of the tiny handcuffs, she noted.
Girty, of the Cherokee Nation, who is a Cherokee language instructor at Haskell and a number of other elders and leaders, conducted a modest ceremony the next day at the school’s medicine fire. His wife, Frances, of the Creek and Choctaw Nations, provided a tiny handmade quilt in which the handcuffs were reverently wrapped before being stored in the Cultural Center’s archives. The handcuffs remained in storage for more than 20 years.
Although the Cultural Center displays a number of artifacts related to the harsh treatment of early Indian students at Haskell, the handcuffs were simply too painful to be addressed, opined Rahder. She says elders blessed the handcuffs and instructed her to put them away. She did as she was told, trusting that students and faculty would one day decide on the appropriate treatment of this painful artifact. The handcuffs languished in the archives of the center until this past summer.
As word of the handcuffs began to leak out over the past few years, students and faculty began discussing the importance of acknowledging their existence and putting them on display. For whatever reason, no one at the school has been willing to take the lead in the handling of this powerful artifact, but with the approval of Haskell administration, Girty agreed to unwrap them for ICTMN.
For Lackey the handcuffs are a tangible example of the painful history between Native people and the U.S. “The history of our genocide has been so swept under the rug by the mainstream. People need to see the impact that these policies had on us,“ she says.
According to Girty, who was a student at Haskell in 1959, there are many stories of the brutal means used by authorities to bring and keep students at school in its early days. For instance, reservation authorities would hold back Native families’ food rations if they refused to allow children to be sent to early boarding schools, he noted. “If those handcuffs could talk, they would tell some terrible stories,” he says.
Steve Prue, spokesman for Haskell, says there are no immediate plans regarding how the handcuffs will be presented to the public, nor how they will be displayed. He agrees with students that the handcuffs are an appropriate item to be included in displays of other Haskell artifacts at the Cultural Center. “It’s good to have these sorts of things on display in the Cultural Center,” he says. “They tell the story of who paid the price for us to be here now.”
Canada’s closed it’s boarders to us so that Native people cant go to aid First Nations people in #idlenomore.
But we ought to be putting pressure on the United States Government to get Harper to cease with bill C-45.
Folks in other countries ought to be doing this as well.
Split Feathers… Adult American Indians who were placed in Non-Indian Families as Children
By Carol Locust, Cherokee Nation [Reprinted with the permission of the National Indian Child Welfare Association Inc., published in Pathways, September / October 1998, Volume 13, Number 4.]
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was designed specifically to stop the wholesale removal of Indian children from their families, which had contributed to the destruction of the traditional extended family structures and Indian community life for over a century. A follow-up study in 1980 by the Colorado Indian Law Review revealed that the Act only slowed the removal of children but did not stop it as the Act was intended to do. Tribal leaders called upon the Supreme Court to assure enforcement of the ICWA until amendments could be made to the Act to tighten loopholes through which many Indian children are still being snatched. At this writing (1998), the amendments have not been made.
The pilot study conducted by this investigator indicated that every Indian child placed in a non-Indian home for either foster care or adoption is placed at great risk of long-term psychological damage as an adult. There is, however, a lack of sufficient research dedicated specifically to the investigation of this issue. Data supporting the statement of at risk adult American Indian adoptees come from the Congressional Hearings pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978). Essentially, the issue of the adult Indian who was placed in a non-Indian home as a child has not been addressed. The literature that does exist on adult Indians who have experienced out-of-culture placements as children, including the preliminary study conducted by this investigator on which this article is based, indicates that nineteen (19) out of twenty (20) Indian adoptees have psychological problems related to their placement in non-Indian homes.
The study determined that there are unique factors of Indian children being placed in non-Indian homes, that create damaging effects in the later lives of the children.
This study has revealed that:
• placing American Indian children in foster/ adoptive non-Indian homes puts them at great risk for experiencing psychological trauma that leads to the development of long-term emotional and psychological problems in later life
• the cluster of long-term psychological liabilities exhibited by American Indian adults who experienced non-Indian placement as children may be recognized as a syndrome (Syndrome: a set of symptoms, which occur together. From Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, 24th edition, 1965.)
The Split Feather Syndrome appears to be related to a reciprocal-possessive form of belongingness unique to survivors of cultures that have faced annihilation.
The Split Feathers themselves have identified the following factors as major contributors to the development of the syndrome, in order of their importance:
1. the loss of Indian identity
2. the loss of family, culture, heritage, language, spiritual beliefs, tribal affiliation and tribal ceremonial experiences
3. the experience of growing up being different
4. the experience of discrimination from the dominant culture
5. a cognitive difference in the way Indian children receive, process, integrate and apply new information—in short, a difference in learning style
Other contributing factors included physical, sexual and mental abuse from adoptive family members; loss of birth brothers and sisters; uncaring or abusive foster/adoptive families; not being told anything or being lied to about their adoption; not being given advanced notice of moves; too many moves; nobody to talk to; loss of personal property.
The following sections will explore the five major factors listed above that contribute to the development of the Split Feather Syndrome.
The Loss of Indian Identity
The loss of American Indian identity appears to be one of the most important factors in the development of the Split Feather Syndrome. The data indicate that the loss of the Indian identity is not the same as the loss of personal identity, although it included the personal aspect. Additionally, however, is the loss of belonging to one’s real culture.
Almost all of the respondents indicated a defiant, almost fierce pride in being an American Indian. When questioned about what the Indian identity was, the responses repeated most frequently were “I belong to that tribe;” “That is my tribe.” The individual belonged to the tribe, and the tribe likewise belonged to him or her, a reciprocal possessiveness of cultural identity which may be found in members of other cultures who have undergone great grieving, such as the survivors of the Holocaust.
The belongingness of tribal identity also seemed to embody the reason for one’s being “different,” the roots of ancestral pride, the foundations of mystical beliefs and tenets and, as one respondent wrote, “the drums that thunder in my blood.” The Indian identity, in those terms, meant much more than personal or family identity. It became the totality of the person’s existence without which he or she was nothing.
The Loss of Family, Culture, Heritage, Language, Spiritual Beliefs, Tribal Affiliation And Tribal Ceremonial Experiences
The reciprocal possessiveness of the factors listed above (loss of family, culture, heritage, etc.) indicated that Split Feathers not only felt a loss of these “possessions” because they were his or hers by birthright, but also that the individual was the “possession” of the things identified here. For example, not only did the individuals mourn the loss of their families, but they also mourned their families’ loss of them as well. The loss of their biological family, extended family, clan and tribe was an unending grief for the respondents, a grief that spawned deep-seated resentment and hatred for the adoption system.
Their biological relatives belonged to them, and they belonged to their relatives, a belongingness that connected the adoptees with relatives, clan members and tribal members. They could see in other Indians a reflection of themselves, a fact that satisfied the human need to be like those around them.
The loss of culture, heritage and language seemed to encompass the total lifestyle that the respondents had missed. One said, “I was supposed to have a naming ceremony when I was two years old, and I didn’t get it. I don’t have a name. How can I go back to my tribe if I don’t have a name?” Another wrote, “Somebody said that we could learn all we needed to learn about our culture and heritage from books and videos from our school. What a laugh! What we got was a watered down, Indian-style-Sesame-Street version of what some white person thought all Indians were like.”
All of the Split Feathers said they read books, watched TV shows and saw movies about Indians when they were children. No matter what the plot of the story, they championed the Indians, even when John Wayne was on the winning side, even, the majority said, when the Indians were portrayed as brutal savages, drunks or dirty thieves. Their feeling toward real life Indians was not any different.
“They told me my parents were alcoholics and that I was lucky to be out of the home,” one respondent said. “But I don’t feel that way. Poor Mom, poor Dad, maybe I could have helped some way. I’ll never know. I never had the chance to find out. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to stay or not, they just drove up one day and took me. My mother had this horrible, disbelieving look on her face. I never saw her again.”
Despite the negative portrayal of Indian people in the media and in most non-Indian people’s minds, the respondents were proud to be Indian.
Many of them had been told horror stories about their birth families, which always ended with “aren’t you glad you came to live with us?” The fact was that most of the stories expounded on the negative aspects – rather than the positive aspects – of the biological families and were twisted versions of the truth or were outright lies. None of the respondents said they were “glad” about their adoptive placement.
Tribal spirituality seemed to transcend the adoptive experience. All of the respondents regarded themselves as being spiritual, either in an organized church, a personal religious way or in their tribal belief system. Of the twenty respondents, Fourteen reported having extrasensory experiences from childhood, ranging from knowing about things before they happened, having dreams that came true, knowing what someone else was thinking and being able to communicate with animals. Seventeen of the respondents said they had actively sought more information about their tribal traditional beliefs, hoping to find explanations for the mystical experiences in their lives or learn more about their own tribal beliefs.
Most of the respondents viewed tribal ceremonial experiences as an integral part of spirituality. While eleven of the twenty had been able to experience at least one tribal ceremony, nine had not had the opportunity. Thirteen of the twenty had attended at least one Indian pow-wow or celebration, while seven had been denied the privilege but expressed optimism about attending one in the future. Four of them had taken part in sweats. One of the twenty said he was allowed to attend Indian celebrations as a child.
Re-entry into the culture took place after the Split Feathers had reclaimed their Indian identity. Sixteen of the 20 respondents said they were ignorant or knew very little about traditional ceremonies that they’d missed over the years, although four of them knew about several of their tribal customs and traditions associated with ceremonies. All of them felt they had been robbed of the ceremonies that other tribal children were given but that they had never experienced. All 20 of them said they had several pieces of Indian art, such as jewelry, pottery, basketry or such that held a ceremonial meaning for them.
One individual had been given a ceremonial eagle feather. Tribal affiliation – being enrolled in a tribe – was a serious subject for all 20 of the Split Feathers. Sixteen of them had had their enrollment cancelled when they were adopted into non-Indian homes. The names of four had remained on tribal rolls. At the time of this study, six of them had two sets of birth records, one of Indian ancestry bearing their birth names and family names, and another set bearing their adoptive names. The one respondent who had not yet found his Indian identity had been searching archival records for years trying to locate some clue to his tribal affiliation.
“Those pieces of paper – the adoption papers – took away my Indian rights,” another respondent wrote.
“Those papers took away my entitlement to my land settlement money, my right to live on tribal land, to vote in tribal elections, to apply for tribal scholarships, my right to be an Indian. My birthright was stolen from me. But they could not take away the fact that I was an Indian. I burned those papers. I hated them.”
Growing Up Being Different
In describing what they meant by being “different,” the Split Feathers used such words as dark skin, black hair, dark eyes and “the Indian look.” Besides physical differences they also included having different philosophical concepts, even though most of them had been adopted too young to have learned any tribal philosophy. The fourteen respondents who said that they had extrasensory experiences felt that this ability made them even more different. The differences made them feel alienated from other people. All of the Split Feathers said that they were extremely self-conscious. Some were painfully shy and withdrawn as children; others became belligerent and aggressive. Being different also included the concepts that non-Indians had of them, e.g., Indians had certain traits (stoic, brave), behaved certain ways (never showed emotion, spoke very little), had certain knowledge inherent in their blood (when it was going to rain, herbal remedies). These imposed expectations were burdensome to most of the Split Feathers, who felt guilty because they could not fulfill them. One respondent said it made her feel like a “fake” Indian because she could not fit the stereotype of “Indian”. Nine of the twenty respondents said that they felt frustrated and angry because of the unfair expectations placed on them, while the opportunities to be all that was expected of them as “Indians” had been taken away.
One respondent wrote, “Being different was horrible, like being a freak. At the same time I was proud. Feeling horrible and proud about the same thing splits your brain apart. You hate what it does to you.”
Although being different created major psychological problems for the Split Feathers, it was also a source of intense pride.
Experiencing Discrimination from the Dominant Culture
All twenty of the respondents in the random sample experienced some degree of discrimination. Words used to describe the cause of discrimination were “being dark,” “being Indian,” and “not being white,” discrimination came from adults as well as children and occurred within the adoptive families; from relatives and neighbors; and at schools, churches and social functions. The average age when “knowing I was different” began at three years of age; the average age when discrimination began to be a serious problem for the respondents was 11 years. Puberty was a traumatic time for all the respondents when they learned that their limited acceptance in the non-Indian world did not include dating white youth. Thirteen of the 20 reported some amount of alienation from their adoptive families during this period, from hostility to acting out rage and running away. The estrangement increased as the adoptees reached young adulthood. “I asked a girl to dance with me at a junior high party. Her brother dragged me outside and beat me up, told me no dirty Indian was going to get close to his sister,” one respondent wrote. Another respondent wrote that as a young girl she never got asked out on dates. Her adopted mother told her to “go find yourself an Indian.” That was the first time she realized that she was not being asked out because of her race.
Discrimination was also felt in the work force as well as in the social realm when “Split Feathers reached adulthood. Jobs often went to less qualified non-Indians. Promotions were slow in coming, infrequent or denied. One respondent stated that he felt employers never really trusted him because he looked so “Indian” and that his appearance was against him in obtaining employment. Another wrote, “I had just gone through the alcohol rehab program. I was pleased that I had been sober for three months. In the program I had the opportunity to do a sweat, and I really hung on to that experience, to that little bit of the Indian world. Then I went to the state VR office to get help in finding a job. They told me to cut my hair. My long hair was the only part of me that I could claim as my heritage. I said I wouldn’t cut it. They said forget about working, no one would hire me looking like a wild Indian, only if I looked tame.”
Cognitive Differences in the Way Indian Children Receive, Process, Integrate and Apply New Information (A Difference in Learning Style)
Based on the Split Feather testimonies, it would appear that American Indians have a cognitive process different from non-Indians. While all 20 of them said that they felt that they were average or above in intelligence, half of them had spent time in remedial education programs in school. Five respondents had been labeled as Learning Disabled.
Two were classified as “slow learners.” All of them had failed at least one grade in school. The reasons for academic problems were given in episodes. “I just couldn’t learn like all the other kids. The teacher talked too much, too many words. I learned better through my eyes.”
“When I was in the fifth grade I got punished in front of the whole class for not remembering the capital city of Wyoming. That’s when I decided to learn my own way, not theirs. I worked out my own strategy all by myself. My adopted family didn’t know what I was doing so they couldn’t help me…I kept thinking either there’s something wrong with my brain or theirs, because our brains don’t work the same way when it comes to learning. And since I was the only Indian in the class, I figured out that there was something wrong with my brain. It was frustrating; I hated school. I could learn okay, and fast outside school, but in my school lessons I had to do it their way, not mine. And I failed.”
Reading was the most difficult subject for the Split Feathers. Surprisingly, math was not that difficult.
“Numbers are logical,” said one respondent. The overall picture of the educational success of the Split Feather group was rather dismal, however. The inability to absorb information in the same manner as the other children engendered failure for them, and failure begat more failure, poor self-esteem and often either withdrawal or aggression. Frustrations in elementary school led to difficult junior high school years and early drop-out rates in high school. Of the 20 respondents, only five completed a high school degree. Of the other 15, one went into the military, three were in correctional facilities, four got married and the other seven entered the job market with little or varying degrees of success.
Later in their lives, six of them had either taken college courses or attended advanced training for job placement. None of them described themselves as a success. Although one respondent said he was “doing all right.”
The Effects of Reclaimed Indian Identity on the Split Feathers
For nineteen of the 20 individuals in this preliminary study (one had not yet found his tribe nor his tribal identity), repatriation or reclamation of their tribal identity was described as a rebirth experience. Although fear of not being accepted was a major personal problem, and threats of being disowned came from adoptive parents, all of them said they were glad they had pursued their quests to find out who they were.
Descriptors used for the experience were: “I felt whole for the first time in my life.”
“Thank God I finally know who I am!” “I finally found what I am, what is part of me, what I am part of.” “I found the missing part of me and put it back in place. Now I can really be alive.”
“I found where I really belonged, my place, my home, my true identity.”
When asked how they felt about rejoining a cultural group that was frequently described in degrading terms (drunk Indians, lazy, dirty, stupid) and against which there were many racist, bigoted and prejudiced people, not one of the Split Feathers said they would change their minds. From their responses, it appeared that social, economic and cultural labels had no impact whatever on their repatriation decisions. Most of them said they began helping their birth families and relatives as soon as they found out who they were.
They received tribal teachings in return, a reciprocal process that satisfied the needs of the whole family.
Eighteen of the nineteen respondents who had reclaimed their Indian identity said their personal lives had changed dramatically for the better after the reclamation. A good description of the change, written by one respondent, reads, “The weight of hurting, loneliness, anger and sorrow I carried all those years was dropped, and my soul could soar.”
Another said, “It’s like I was blind, stumbling through life looking for myself, and now – now I can see.”
The respondents used the following statements to indicate the profound change in their psychological health, in order of how often the were repeated
• decrease in depressive feelings
• decrease in alcohol and drug abuse
• decrease in aggressive behaviours
• increase in self-esteem
• feelings of love, joy, generosity, sympathy, understanding
• feelings of finding a purpose in life
• increase in spiritual activities
increase in days worked (working more regularly, finding a job, and getting a better job)
Other changes mentioned were
• spending more time with my own family
• spending leisure time constructively
• making a commitment to carry through with my responsibilities
• paying more attention to the needs of other people
• learning more about my tribe and my spiritual beliefs
• going back to school to get my GED
• taking care of myself
• looking at the sky instead of the dirt (dreaming dreams again)
• smiling a lot more often
About the author: Carol Locust is Training Director for the Native American Research and Training Center at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Her work involves counseling and employment issues with people with disabilities. She also works with traditional medicine and ceremonies as a part of current healing practices. Carol is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation.
In their own words… What Split Feathers say
“They gave me everything a child could ever ask for, except my Native American identity. All my years growing up in school I was cut down and made fun of because I was Indian. I was darker, had dark hair, and I was ‘different.’ I grew up resenting who I was, what I was; of course I kept all the shame to myself, therefore building resentment. I am waiting now for enrollment in my tribe and waiting to establish contact with my biological family. I wish I had grown up being proud – like I am proud today.”
“My foster mother was very abusive. She always said we were dirty because we were dark. She beat us often, made our noses bleed. But the worst thing she did was denying us our Indian heritage. Courts should never let anything like this happen. Indian children need to be with Indian families, not white families that are so different from Indian.”
“Adoption causes such intense inner pain that you do anything just to get away from it. No one understands you, you are different, and there’s no one to talk to. You withdraw into yourself, keep it all inside. That’s how I got into trouble with alcohol: it was pain medicine.”
“I was adopted at age four, started school just before five, grew up in a middle class family that was okay. But I started having dreams about age five about being taken away (from the adoptive home), taken back to my family, by Indians. My family didn’t pay much attention to the Indian spirit within me, or to me, either. I communicated more with animals than I did people. In the sixth grade I started having problems with the other kids. Whites, Mexicans and others didn’t like me because of being Indian. I got into lots of fights and became a loner.”
“I am 72 years old. I was adopted into a white family at age one-and-a-half when my mother died. I realized I was different before I ever went to school. When I asked, my foster parents told me I was Indian, and from that day I identified with Indians, because that was what I was. I didn’t know who I was, and that heartache and anguish has been with me for nearly 70 years. I hope your study can help me find out who I am before I die. I don’t want to die not knowing my true identity. They (the government) sealed my birth certificate so I could never find my identity and never see my blood relatives. The pain of this is never ending.”
For the most part I have been staying out of the ‘native’ tags on Tumblr because they give me a migraine, but I ventured there and it was a dark pit of racist despair. Then I thought to myself, “why in hell is there such an influx of dumb ass people?” then I remembered, “oh yeah, Halloween.” That special time of year where NDNs everywhere grit their teeth and close the blinds, because it’s just a matter of time before you see some person with a chicken feather headdress and acrylic war paint smeared across their rosy cheeks. Now, dear, Moniyaw, I want to veer away from the usual “wow that’s really racist and disrespectful you really shouldn’t put on that faux buckskin bustier and buy that plastic tomahawk” and I really want you to look at the picture of this woman:
Take a good, long look into her eyes.
Now I want you to look at these women:
The first image of a murdered Saulteux woman named Pamela George, she was dispossessed of her land in Saskatchewan and moved into Regina where she worked as a sex worker to provide for her children. She was brutally sexually asaulted and murdered by two white college aged males. Those other women? Those are some of the missing and murdered Indigenous women who have been assaulted and murdered on the streets of Vancouver. Not pictured here, is a Cree woman who the news papers called ‘A Squaw named Rosalie’. She is another Native woman who was murdered by a white guy.
Now, what do the tragic murders of these women have to do with your Halloween costume?
You see, when you dress up as this:
or even this:
You are not only being disrespectful and racist, you are aiding in the sexualization and devaluing of Native women’s bodies. This is a stereotype Indigenous women have been battling since contact. The bodies of Indigenous women have been Settler men’s playgrounds for centuries, not because Indigenous women wanted it, but because of the power they exerted/exert over us. Historically, governments would withhold rations for reserves until they obtained access to the bodies of Native women, the Northwest Mounted Police (pre:RCMP police force in Canada) would turn their backs when Indigenous women would tell them what was happening, sometimes even exploiting starving families for their own access. You see, the sexualization and devaluing of Indigenous women has been a ploy for dispossession and domination by the Settler-Colonial state in order to gain access to our lands, our resources and destroy our communities. The branding of Indigenous women as ‘whores’, ‘licentious’, ‘squalid’ aided in the formation of the stigma and stereotypes that still haunt and influence the everyday lives of Native women. These costumes are a continuation of this. These costumes are a product of this ideology: the same ideology that allowed white men to have their way with Native girls since the 19th Century. When you put your body into the costume, the identity, of a ‘sexy Indian princess’ you are perpetuating the same idea, you are aiding in the continued sexualization of Indigenous women, the same devaluing. This devaluing of the bodies of Native women is what allowed the murderers of Pamela George to be given a minimum sentence, because they were young white men with a future, and she was nothing but a ‘Native prostitute’. This perpetuation of this ‘squalid squaw’ stereotype, is the reason that those missing and murdered women go unrecognised and unoticed by the general public and the cops that were supposed to protect them. When you wear these costumes, there are real life consequences that effect the lives of Indigenous women everywhere. When you put on those costumes, you are allowing the continued dispossession domination, assault, sexualization, disrespect, racialization, and colonization of Indigenous women and Indigenous communities.
All I am asking you, dear fellow Halloween-goer, is to think critically before you wear your costume. And if you choose to wear your racist costume, when someone calls you out on it, listen. Even if you think it is ruining your night to sit there and listen to a person tell you why you are hurting them. Because I can guarantee that they only ruined your night, but you ruined so much more.
And my all time fav Sho Sho Esquiro dress (so far)
Inspired by a Kaska Dene Legend “The Girl who Lived with the Salmon”
Salmon Skin with Glass Cut Beads, Sequins and over 1000 hand sewn Rooster Feathers
SALMON SKIN.. Girl is cray talented to be working with Salmon skin…