Rez Natives love us some Halloween. I mean, what’s not to love about a pagan holiday involving carved produce, telling scary stories, and free candy? It’s like it was created with us in mind.
We really get into it. NDNs are out here making full blown head-to-toe costumes from scratch. A relative once made an entire fancy dance outfit out of Budweiser boxes, bustle included. Tribal casinos and community centers put on costume contests and masquerade powwows. Carloads of cousins make trips to haunted house and corn mazes. We go Trick-Or-Treating, and every Rez has that one elder whose entire lawn becomes a montage to All Hallow’s Eve a month ahead of time, complete with inflatable ghosts, floating skeletons, and Styrofoam tombstones.
It’s my favorite holiday, too—even more than the average bear because I consider myself somewhat of a Horror aficionado. Alas, it hasn’t been easy to hold onto my Halloween spirit. Thanks to glaring cultural appropriation, rampant redface and ugly, inaccurate, homogenized cliché caricatures of Natives, the Struggle is Real.
Case and Point: It shouldn’t surprise you that since I like horror movies, I’m a fan of Eli Roth. Wait, let me correct that. WAS a fan. Like every other Native who isn’t living under a rock, I heard the hubbub about his latest project, “The Green Inferno.” Native activists, upset over his negative depiction of Indigenous people, were up in arms, brandishing figurative online torches ready to chase down Roth like he was the Frankenstein monster.
“Boycott!” They shouted.
Normally, I’d be amenable to such an outcry. But I like Eli. Eli and I go way back. Cabin Fever and Hostel were gory, blood-soaked masterpieces.
So with my reusable plastic popcorn bucket in tow, I went.
Initial gag-worthy moments like the film’s hipster white savior declaring “Have you ever fantasized about saving a dying Tribe?” (to which I responded, “Save this,” with a little one fingered salute to the screen) paled in comparison to the barrage of damaging imagery about Indigenous people that followed.
He painted the Native people red, literally. This fabricated Tribe of, dare I say, redsk*ns, didn’t have a Chief or medicine person. It’s limb-severing, eyeball-chomping leaders were what appeared to be stereotypical Hollywood contrived witch doctors. Huh? Did I travel back in time to 1955? Where’s Marty McFly and Doc Brown at? Great Scott!
Enter every played out, hostile, degrading savage trope imaginable. We’re naked. We’re stupid. We’re inarticulate. We’re either hapless victims incapable of defending ourselves, or wild flesh-eating cannibals. This is what The Green Inferno would have you believe. The film even manages to use genital mutilation to glorify white women while simultaneously fetishizing Indigenous virgins.
I felt like a local outcast who got invited to prom by Mr. Popular, only to have a bucket of pig’s blood dumped on her head in front of the entire school.
Eli Roth’s false representation of who Native people are exemplifies everything that’s wrong appropriation, mascots, redface, and wearing Indian costumes. When I go to the Halloween section of stores and see fake headdresses, plastic tomahawks, and skimpy buckskin bikinis alongside werewolf and zombie masks, it’s disheartening.
Is this what society thinks we are? That we’re monsters? Figments of the imagination? Kith and kin to Dracula and the Wicked Witch of the West? Talk about dehumanizing. News flash: we’re not extinct and the ‘Indian’ costumes people are wearing are insulting, offensive, horribly inaccurate, and further cultural genocide. You’re committing erasure of over 566 unique and beautiful Indigenous Nations and we are the original titleholders of these lands.
Pocahottie costumes are the worst. Real Native women are out here running Indian country, playing for the WNBA and winning Mrs. Universe pageants while bratty sorority girls and thirst-trapping celebrities are bouncing around in plastic breastplates made in China, faux leather panties and warbonnets meant to be kept sacred and reserved for those Native leaders who’ve earned each feather through great acts of valor. Being an attention whore doesn’t excuse encouraging the hypersexualization of Native women when 1 in 3 are the survivors of rape and the sexual trafficking of Indigenous girls continues unchecked.
I can’t lie. Sometimes I’m tempted to snatch headdresses right off their heads, and I know I’m not the only one. Call it righteous anger, or a reckoning.
If you ever get too comfortable in your Native skin, let’s not forget that Halloween is sandwiched between a holiday that honors a greedy, lost, European slave trader who’s largely responsible for the annihilation of millions of Indigenous people (Columbus Day) and another based on a heartwarming myth that should be called Thanks-taking instead of Thanksgiving.
Natives have been disrespected for way too long, so watch us make Halloween our own, Columbus Day fall to Indigenous People’s Day, and Thanksgiving become a day when real history is acknowledged and children are educated about it, while Natives hold feasts of harvest with all of their extended family. This is it, The Return of the Living NDN.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton & Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, biologist, activist and judge.