The Annual Halloween PSA to Moniyaw Who Didn't Learn Last Year,
For the most part I have been staying out of the ‘native’ tags on Tumblr because they give me a migraine, but I ventured there and it was a dark pit of racist despair. Then I thought to myself, “why in hell is there such an influx of dumb ass people?” then I remembered, “oh yeah, Halloween.” That special time of year where NDNs everywhere grit their teeth and close the blinds, because it’s just a matter of time before you see some person with a chicken feather headdress and acrylic war paint smeared across their rosy cheeks. Now, dear, Moniyaw, I want to veer away from the usual “wow that’s really racist and disrespectful you really shouldn’t put on that faux buckskin bustier and buy that plastic tomahawk” and I really want you to look at the picture of this woman:
Take a good, long look into her eyes.
Now I want you to look at these women:
The first image of a murdered Saulteux woman named Pamela George, she was dispossessed of her land in Saskatchewan and moved into Regina where she worked as a sex worker to provide for her children. She was brutally sexually asaulted and murdered by two white college aged males. Those other women? Those are some of the missing and murdered Indigenous women who have been assaulted and murdered on the streets of Vancouver. Not pictured here, is a Cree woman who the news papers called ‘A Squaw named Rosalie’. She is another Native woman who was murdered by a white guy.
Now, what do the tragic murders of these women have to do with your Halloween costume?
You see, when you dress up as this:
or even this:
You are not only being disrespectful and racist, you are aiding in the sexualization and devaluing of Native women’s bodies. This is a stereotype Indigenous women have been battling since contact. The bodies of Indigenous women have been Settler men’s playgrounds for centuries, not because Indigenous women wanted it, but because of the power they exerted/exert over us. Historically, governments would withhold rations for reserves until they obtained access to the bodies of Native women, the Northwest Mounted Police (pre:RCMP police force in Canada) would turn their backs when Indigenous women would tell them what was happening, sometimes even exploiting starving families for their own access. You see, the sexualization and devaluing of Indigenous women has been a ploy for dispossession and domination by the Settler-Colonial state in order to gain access to our lands, our resources and destroy our communities. The branding of Indigenous women as ‘whores’, ‘licentious’, ‘squalid’ aided in the formation of the stigma and stereotypes that still haunt and influence the everyday lives of Native women. These costumes are a continuation of this. These costumes are a product of this ideology: the same ideology that allowed white men to have their way with Native girls since the 19th Century. When you put your body into the costume, the identity, of a ‘sexy Indian princess’ you are perpetuating the same idea, you are aiding in the continued sexualization of Indigenous women, the same devaluing. This devaluing of the bodies of Native women is what allowed the murderers of Pamela George to be given a minimum sentence, because they were young white men with a future, and she was nothing but a ‘Native prostitute’. This perpetuation of this ‘squalid squaw’ stereotype, is the reason that those missing and murdered women go unrecognised and unoticed by the general public and the cops that were supposed to protect them. When you wear these costumes, there are real life consequences that effect the lives of Indigenous women everywhere. When you put on those costumes, you are allowing the continued dispossession domination, assault, sexualization, disrespect, racialization, and colonization of Indigenous women and Indigenous communities.
All I am asking you, dear fellow Halloween-goer, is to think critically before you wear your costume. And if you choose to wear your racist costume, when someone calls you out on it, listen. Even if you think it is ruining your night to sit there and listen to a person tell you why you are hurting them. Because I can guarantee that they only ruined your night, but you ruined so much more.
An Open Letter to Eve Ensler
Dear Eve Ensler,
I want to start off by saying thank you. I appreciate the time you took to reach out to me, because I know you’re incredibly busy. I know there are much more important people in this world than myself, so I appreciate you engaging in dialogue with me and my colleague Kelleigh Driscoll.
This all started because on Twitter, I addressed some issues that I had with V-Day, your organization, and the way it treated Indigenous women in Canada. I said that you are racist and dismissive of Indigenous people. You wrote to me that you were upset that I would suggest this, and not even 24 hours later you were on the Joy Behar Show referring to your chemotherapy treatment as a “Shamanistic exercise”.
Your organization took a photo of Ashley Callingbull, and used it to promote V-Day Canada and One Billion Rising, without her consent. You then wrote the word “vanishing” on the photo, and implied that Indigenous women are disappearing, and inherently suggested that we are in some type of dire need of your saving. You then said that Indigenous women were V-Day Canada’s “spotlight”. V-Day completely ignored the fact that February 14th is an iconic day for Indigenous women in Canada, and marches, vigils, and rallies had already been happening for decades to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous women. You repeatedly in our conversation insisted that you had absolutely no idea that these events were already taking place. So then, what were you spotlighting? When Kelleigh brought up that it was problematic for you to be completely unaware that this date is important to the women you’re spotlighting, your managing director Cecile Lipworth became extremely defensive and responded with “Well, every date on the Calendar has importance.” This is not an acceptable response.
When women in Canada brought up these exact issues, V-Day responded to them by deleting the comment threads that were on Facebook. For a person and organization who works to end violence against women, this is certainly the opposite of that. Although I’m specifically addressing V-Day, this is not an isolated incident. This is something that Indigenous women constantly face. This erasure of identity and white, colonial, feminism is in fact, a form of violence against us. The exploitation and cultural appropriation creates and excuses the violence done to us.
When I told you that your white, colonial, feminism is hurting us, you started crying. Eve, you are not the victim here. This is also part of the pattern which is a problem: Indigenous women are constantly trying to explain all of these issues, and are constantly met with “Why are you attacking me?!” This is not being a good ally.
You asked me what would it mean to be a good ally. It would have meant stepping back, giving up the V-Day platform, and attending the marches and vigils. It would have meant putting aside the One Billion Rising privilege and participating in what the Indigenous women felt was important.
At the end of our conversation you offered me the opportunity to join V-Day. Offered me money. Offered me to become a spokesperson for Native American women. These are things I am not interested in. I do not want to be part of the white savior industrial complex, and I never want to duplicate saviorism and colonialism within my own organization, Save Wiyabi Project, and I’m surely not interested in selling my soul and integrity for a bit of cash and perceived prestige.
I’m not here to speak for Ashley and how she felt about her photo being used, and I’m not here to speak for the Indigenous women in Canada. Indigenous women in the United States and Canada have agency, self determination, and are quite capable of telling their own stories, and have been doing so for thousands of years. We are aware of the violence we face, and are also aware this just isn’t about individual acts of violence. We expect not only our bodies, but our agency, work, and contributions to be respected. None of this is new, and we do not need a white person to legitimize our history and existence.
I entered this conversation with uneasy feelings about V-Day and your work, and left feeling completely dismissed – much like the Indigenous women in Canada. You might have been listening to what I was saying, but you definitely didn’t hear me. You dumped all of my concerns onto someone else and did not take personal responsibility for anything. Eve, this is YOUR organization. My hope is that you do some self examination about what’s happening here. You have to see this before you continue doing this work because this is epistemic and imperial violence. Your actions are assisting violence, not ending it.
Lauren Chief Elk
“We have serial rapists on the reservation — that are non-Indian — because they know they can get away with it. Many of these cases just get dropped. Nothing happens. And they know they’re free to hurt again.”—
Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in Lake Andes, S.D.
“It’s immoral that the Congress of the United States would stand there and say that Indian women are less than their white counterparts, that we shouldn’t have the same equal protection under the law.”