This weekend was Siblings Weekend, as you may know, and my younger sisters were here. On the way back to our room from a light show on Saturday we encountered girls dressed as Native Americans for a cowboys and Indians party.
The girls had feathers in their hair and paint on their bodies, and they wore mock buckskin clothes. My little sister was deeply hurt by this, as we are Native American. She has had to deal with teasing in school and this was just another brick in the wall. She asked the girls why they chose to mock her in this way and they simply scoffed at her and complained about her ruining their fun. They insisted, as many people do, that they weren't doing anything wrong and that they didn't mean anything by it.
But no matter what the intent is, the act is still hurtful. They are stereotyping more than 500 tribes from all over the country and making them into the image of a savage who has painted skin and wears buckskin. I usually shrug off the ignorance but I couldn't ignore this; it is unfair that my family should have to encounter that kind of offensive dress-up on a weekend when I wanted them to enjoy sisterly bonding.
When people play native it is called redface, and many people think it is very harmless. We beg to differ: it is racial drag and it is just the same as blackface. Feathers that people wear mock us because feathers are sacred to us, and when people wear things like headdresses it simply mocks the religious significance of them. When people dress up this way, it enforces terrible stereotypes like those of savages, braves and the sexy Indian princess. People often talk about blackface and are quick to say that it is wrong, but no one cares about the American Indian.
Every day, millions of fans cheer on stereotypical Indian mascots: the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, FSU Seminoles, UND Fighting Sioux, and others. Tens of thousands of corporate logos, advertisements, statues, paintings, movies and TV shows proclaim that all Indians are "chiefs" or "braves." Thousands of children, partygoers and hipsters dress up as faux Indians for educational or entertainment purposes. And yes, these stereotypes are harmful because they control how people see the world. When I see people play Indian it makes me feel erased and it makes Native Americans out to be something they are not. When people learn that I am Native they ask if I like nature, they make jokes about drinking problems, my temper and gambling. These are all things that control how people see Native Americans and they come from the hurtful stereotypes that are accepted by society.
The fact is that these themed parties show how ignorant the attendees are. You can say that you respect and honor Indians, but that is not respectful at all. If you admire Indians' culture and aesthetics, you can learn about them, and help out on reservations.
Instead of taking our cultural items out of context and dressing in racial drag, why not have a different theme party? I beg people to take this into consideration. I do not think that the girls I encountered were racist, but the act in itself is unacceptable and I'm sure that it was just something they had never thought about seeing as people rarely meet Native Americans, and it is something our society doesn't generally have a problem with.
- Jessica Jonasse, ‘14