As the leaves change colour and most people are stuffed with turkey, I am hopeful for coming winter months, the promise that a new year brings and the opportunity for renewal. But before we get there, we must cross the most contentious time of year – a time not of innocence, but where casual racism is often condoned and celebrated. You may think I’m referencing the current climate south of the border but no, I speak of Hallowe’en right here in Canada.
This year more than ever, important discussions about Canada and its relationship with Indigenous people have been at the forefront. The ongoing staffing drama around the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Canada 150, continuing discussions on reconciliation…. these times force important conversations about history, recognition, celebration, and colonization. Even those that aren’t tuned in to mainstream media could not avoid these conversations, and as uncomfortable as they may be, it honestly needs to happen.
Despite all this attention, there will be young people amongst that will make poor choices when it comes to choosing a Hallowe’en costume. Someone will wear a headdress, someone will dress up like “savage” or “Indian princess” or “Eskimo in a miniskirt”, someone will claim not to understand the implications of their choice. Someone will say “I didn’t know what’s the big deal… I was just trying to have a little fun.” This year we cannot accept that answer. In an age where information is available 24/7 and research can be completed in the palm of your hand rather than in the depths of a library, we can no longer accept the excuse of ignorance. To dismiss an uninformed choice as “just a little fun” devalues Indigenous lives and culture. Mocking someone’s culture by way of Hallowe’en costume, sends the message that the celebration and collection of candy is held in higher esteem than the self-worth of fellow citizens. Indigenous people deserve so much more than to be treated like disposable costumes on November 1 morning.
Some might argue that the ignorance of youth is real and therefore, teens and young adults should not bear the responsibility of having to know about the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous people and land or the meaning and symbolism of Indigenous regalia; they do not have to know about Canada’s REAL history. If the responsibility is not to fall on our youth, then we must look at ourselves. What of the school systems that fail to teach the truths of colonialism? What of the parents who say nothing against the acts of racism they see being committed against Indigenous people everyday? Others might argue that the truth challenges the sensibilities of those too fragile to understand systematic racism, and the marketing of Hallowe’en is too strong to offset. But that’s yesterday’s argument, and we are well past the time of allowing this to continue. Every one of us has responsibility to learn more about the environment in which we live and the land on which we share. Expertise isn’t a requirement, but effort definitely is.
There are many ways to take action, some of which I’ve referenced in my previous blogs. Add to that list one more request as a Canadian citizen: use your buying power in making informed purchasing choices. Ask retailers to discontinue selling costumes that denigrate Indigenous people and culture. If they refuse, then shop elsewhere. If you see these kinds costumes, use it as a starting point for dialogue with the young people in your life. There are many ways to engage children of all ages in dialogue about racism – these conversations could prove valuable in later years.
Have a happy and safe Hallowe’en and don’t get caught wearing the worst costume of all this year: uninformed Canadian.
BOOK When We Were Alone (2016) – David Alexander Johnson & Julie Flett
MOVIE Zootopia (2016) – Byron Howard & Rich Moore