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Two Reasons Why It's Wrong to Dress Up Like an Indian

Simon Moya-Smith gives two reasons why non-Indians should skip the feather headdresses and Pocahottie outfits

[The following essay by Simon Moya-Smith refers to the practice of dressing up as an Indian, often a "sexy" Indian, for a Thanksgiving party. For examples of the phenomenon, check out "'Drink Like an Indian' and 28 Other Tasteless Thanksgiving Party Promotions" --Ed.]

It’s 10 a.m. and I’m once again completely stoned on chocolate and coffee. I decided yesterday, for no apparent reason at all, that I would consume dizzying amounts of both before sitting down to draft this piece about the American brain and why dressing up like an Indian is putrid and piercing.

Yes, the American brain – it can’t cope with a lot of things. It struggles with the idea that Christopher Columbus would test the sharpness of his blade on the flesh of any indigenous man, woman or child within reach. It can’t wrap itself around the fact that the high-hatted hypocrite Abe Lincoln is the record-keeper for hanging the most American Indians in a single day. And it certainly can’t begin to comprehend why First Nation folks today rise in opposition every time some college-aged fun-seeker son and daughter don an American Indian headdress on U.S. holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Well, do yourself a favor – print this page. Take it with you to your Thanksgiving din-din, because I’m about to yet again explain, with two specific examples, why it’s wrong and insensitive and offensive and foul to “dress up like an Indian” and why there’s nothing “all in good fun” about this brazenly cutting habit:

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The headdress: A bona fide (and not that awful faux-feather) eagle feather headdress is reserved for our spiritual elders who’ve spent a lifetime earning the right to wear it. Allow me to emphasize again: It’s spiritual. It’s not just some pointless hat for you or your kid to parade around in like a buffoon on holidays and at sporting events. Let me put it this way, if you’re Catholic, it’s the equivalent of seeing a Methodist quaff Jager Bombs while wearing the Pope’s mitre or a cleric’s collar. Maybe if you think of it that way it’ll help. Here’s hoping.

The “Pocahotness” image: One in three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime, and commonly the rapist is a non-Indian, e.g. a white man. So, let’s play the logical game here: how does the hyper-sexualization of our sacred Native women help the campaign to prevent rape in Indian Country? Right. It doesn’t. There are numerous articles written on this subject, both academic and journalistic in nature, so maybe later when you’re sitting at home boondoggling on Facebook you could open another window and Google: Rape in Indian Country. As they say, the more you know.

So there you go. Those are just two of many examples in re: why you and yours should think twice before “dressing up” like an Indian.

By the by, if you see someone foolishly festooned in faux-Native garb at anytime of the year, do yourself and all of us a favor – speak up, because, well, the American brain is a fantastically curious thing, right? And it loves repetition. So if you speak up and if I speak up enough then, maybe in about 10 or 20 autumns, American Indian boys and girls won’t be subject to gross displays of cultural appropriation in their elementary school plays. Here’s hoping. Hoka.