Voices of Native Youth

Why You Shouldn’t ‘Dress up Like an Indian’

Danny is proud of his Native heritage, and he'd like to urge non-Natives to think before they dress up like an Indian. Find out why. #Regalia #costume #Nativeyouth #nativeamerican

Our Tradition is not a Joke

Have you every dressed your kid up like an Indian for Halloween because it looked cool or funny? The problem with dressing up like a Native is that most Native American kids get confused about who they are when they see white people trying to pretend they are Indians.

Danny is proud of his Native heritage, and he'd like to urge non-Natives to think before they dress up like an Indian. Find out why. #Regalia #costume #Nativeyouth #nativeamerican

What you don’t understand is that it’s very offending and disrespectful to Native Americans. When non-Native people dress up like Natives it causes identity problems for Native Youth, it perpetuates the problem of distinguishing between a costume and regalia, and it makes Natives feel like they are the butt of a joke.

When non-Native people dress up as Indians, it causes identity problems. According to Jovannah Poor Bear-Adams, her son experienced an identity crisis when he attended a Vacation Bible School program where all of the kids wore headbands and feathers as part of the ‘Indian’ theme. Danny questioned his identity as an Indian because he never dressed like that.

This story notes that one Native American boy felt confused when he saw non-Natives dressing up as Natives, but he knew he was Native and didn’t dress like that. Therefore, if one Native American boy question if he was Native, imagine how many other Native boys and girls question the same thing. 

In fact, on western T.V. shows, Indians are always the people stealing and killing people. Therefore, Native kids may not want to be an Indian because they probably think that all Indians are bad. As a result, people will think that all Indians are bad guys. As you can see from these examples, when non-Native people dress up as Indians it causes identity problems for Native kids.

There’s a Difference between Costumes and Regalia

When non-Native people dress up as Indians they might not know that Natives consider their traditional dress to be regalia. You dress up in a costume to become something else. People wear regalia, on the other hand, as a part of important ceremonies. Indians do not wear regalia every day. Therefore, if non-Natives wear Native-looking regalia, people will think Indians dress weird and do it for fun, when in fact, we don’t. 

According to an article in HuffPost by Robbie Couch, “Most cultures prefer not to have their rich history reduced to drunken pageantry.”

George Nicholas, in an online article for The Conversation says, 

“For me, as an anthropological archaeologist whose career is very much focused on heritage, I draw the line when the use of an aspect of someone’s heritage is used without permission, or in inappropriate or unwelcome ways that cause cultural, spiritual or economic harm.”

George Nicholas

When I dress up in my regalia, I wear it to honor and represent my culture. Selling ‘Indian Costumes’ can cause cultural harm. Therefore, people should not wear Indian costumes because it puts a bad reflection on our culture and heritage. People shouldn’t dress up like an Indian when they don’t know the difference between regalia and costumes.

My Heritage is Not Your Joke

When non-Native people dress up like Indians they think it’s a joke. Take, for example, the costumes you can find on Amazon. Native Americans respect their regalia and traditions. In other words, Native Americans don’t like when their culture is shown as a joke.

Native Americans get offended when people call their regalia a costume. My uncle tells about an experience he had in college when some classmates dressed up as Indians and ran around with bows. The college thought it was funny, and everyone laughed. They didn’t know the students’ actions were disrespectful. People shouldn’t wear “Indian Costumes” and make fun of our regalia when it’s not a joke.

These reasons explain how we feel when non-native people dress up like Indians: We feel the disrespect. When non-Natives dress up like Indians, it makes Native kids question if they are really Native Americans. Companies need to stop making “Indian” costumes because it very offensive to Native people. 

Now you know. Native Americans don't like it when you dress up like an Indian. It's disrespectful. Click To Tweet
Danny takes pride in his Navajo heritage. When he’s not in school, he enjoys bull riding.

3 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t ‘Dress up Like an Indian’

  1. I have always felt that our nation should respect Native Americans more.
    But I never really thought about how dressing up like an Indian could cause identity issues. Thank you for sharing this.

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