​Halloween Chain Refuses to Stop Selling 'Racist' Indigenous Costumes

Halloween Spirit stores in Saskatchewan defended their right to sell costumes such as "Reservation Royalty," "Native American Princess" and "Wolf Dancer."

by Creeden Martell
Oct 19 2016, 4:19pm

Photos courtesy Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism

Halloween Spirit stores in Saskatchewan are refusing to pull costumes denounced as racist towards Indigenous people, and say they will not tolerate "defacing" of the attire's packaging.

The stores have come under fire from Indigenous activists the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism and Colonialism No More for the sale of costumes called "Reservation Royalty," "Native American Princess" and "Wolf Dancer."

On Sunday, activists walked into Spirit Halloween's Regina location and tagged warning labels to the costumes.

Along with the warning labels, Chris Kortright, who took part in the campaign, said the groups presented a letter to the managers of the store detailing why the costumes were insensitive and a form of cultural marginalization.

"As part of a public service, we have marked all the items in your store that rely on racist and stereotyped understandings of Indigenous peoples," the letter said in its opening lines.

The letter asserts the costumes promote an unsafe environment for Indigenous women.

"[T]here is no valid justification to be selling outfits of this nature in 2016," the letter said.

"The items contained in this package are offensive and promote the sexualisation of Indigenous women and peoples," the labels said. "Please avoid contact with these dangerous materials."

The warning labels were two-sided and attached to the costumes they felt were culturally inappropriate depictions of Indigenous peoples.

The second side of the label talked about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. A fact sheet link was also included.

"It takes everyone in Canada to fight against sexualised violence. That starts with outfits of this nature," the second side of the label said.

"As an Indigenous woman, early childhood educator and mother of three Indigenous children, I know that it is well documented that these types of images are harmful to children and society at large," said Robyn Pitawanakwat of Colonialism No More in a statement.

Kortright said the labels were removed the next day, Oct. 17, as far as he knew.

"We do not tolerate the act of defacing our products regardless of the theme or culture represented," a spokesperson for Spirit Halloween told VICE News in an email.

"Understanding certain sensitivities, we always strive to present our costumes in a responsible and respectful manner. While we respect the opinion of those who are opposed to the sale of any cultural or historical costumes, we are proud of our costume selection for men, women and children," the spokesperson wrote.

"We have not directed any of our stores to remove Indigenous themed costumes from our shelves, nor do we plan to have these costumes removed," the email concluded.

Spirit Halloween has about 1,100 stores across North America.

The controversy comes as problematic Indigenous depictions receive increased attention in the media. Earlier this month, Zoey Roy, a Saskatoon-based Indigenous activist, was escorted out of a Halloween Spirit store for mentioning the offensive nature of the costume selection.

Just a week before, Roy was in British Columbia where she was invited to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of the British monarchy.

Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal also made headlines this month as he filed a human rights complaint and demanded that the Cleveland Indians be barred from using their name and logo when they visit Toronto to play the Blue Jays. The motion was denied.

Read More: I Give Up: Racists Can Have Halloween

The selection of costumes available at Spirit Halloween are not limited to depicting Indigenous people in what can be construed as an offensive manner either. The stores also include costumes such as "Rabbi" and "Mexican Man" which comes with an oversized moustache and a poncho.

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Creeden Martell
Creeden Martell VICE
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