How Native American Halloween Costumes are Culturally Appropriated

Alex Indovina
9 min readOct 20, 2020
Chief Hollow Horn Bear, Sioux, credits: @bostonpubliclibrary, unsplash

Halloween is approaching, in one form or another. It’s likely, even amidst the pandemic, there’ll be parties, trick-or-treating, and eccentric costume contests. Some Halloween aspects will probably stay the same — having too much “blood wine,” eating those Reese’s Cups that were meant for the kids, maybe even texting that ex you shouldn’t be texting. Many others will also remain, too, particularly culturally appropriated costumes.

There’s a slew of options for such costumes. From mock gypsy garb to the mustachioed, donkey-riding Mexican , there’s lots of ridiculous choices to get red about when you come across one somewhere. One of the most enduring, though, are Native American costumes. Perhaps with a longer history than any other, Native costumes are also some of the most consistently well-stocked. More deeply, they promote enduring racial stereotypes for one of our country’s most marginalized groups, who daily struggle to reverse a sense of “invisibility” in the U.S.

So how can we change this? What’s all the fuss about cultural appropriation? And what’s the history behind Native American costumes? It’s an important issue that, given our country’s heightened sense of racial oppression, we have a real opportunity to change for good.

So what’s “cultural appropriation?”

The Oxford Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” It’s a term that’s sparked heavy debate among people within the last 10 years since jumping from academia into our everyday lexicon. Folks have argued, for example, Miley Cyrus shouldn’t twerk, Adele shouldn’t twist her hair in Bantu knots, and Selena Gomez’s choice to wear a bindi was outrageous.

Some of these arguments can be trivial and, while well-intentioned, off the mark. Like GQ writer George Chesterson states, “borrowing and, yes, taking from other cultures just keeps rolling on like ‘Ol Man River.’” Part of Chesterson’s worries are that folks are instead “policing the identity of others” rather than making meaningful debates. To him, many arguments are “kneejerk” backlashes, reducing…

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Alex Indovina

Just your average dude with a master’s in history who enjoys writing, huskies, and cheap wine.