Montreal protester forced to buy $1,500 worth of indigenous costumes
A Montreal protester was left with $1,500 worth of Indigenous costumes this Halloween after her group put “harmless” stickers on one store’s products.
The Kahnawake Youth Forum has been campaigning against cultural appropriation for the last three years. This year, the campaign focused on what they call offensive Halloween costumes that stereotype and sexualize indigenous groups.
On Friday, members of the First Nations group split up across Montreal visiting costume stores and trying to get them to stop selling indigenous costumes. Some store managers were receptive but things didn’t end well for a group led by organizer Jessica Deer.
Deer said an employee called the police when her group started putting “we’re not costumes” stickers on costumes in plastic bags.
“We were arrested for putting stickers, harmless stickers,” Deer, who is also president of the Kahnawake Youth Forum, told CTV Montreal Saturday.
“The police told us either we had to pay for everything that we damaged or face charges for vandalism or mischief,” she said.
Deer said she took responsibility for the $1,500 bill for the costumes tagged with stickers. She said she has not been allowed to return the costumes despite the fact that the stickers were easily removed from the plastic packaging and the products weren’t damaged.
The store manager did not wish to comment on the ordeal.
Still, the protesters say they’re glad that the costumes are off the shelves. Deer said the group was trying to raise awareness about costumes they say characterize ceremonial attire or hypersexualize and objectify indigenous women.
“They use words like ‘Indian princess,’ ‘Indian maiden,’ it's just really offensive,” Deer said.
“These costumes contribute to that culture that normalizes violence against indigenous women and girls.”
A number of groups have joined the forum’s call for an end to indigenous Halloween costumes
“These costumes depict indigenous people in a very dehumanizing way,” Stacey Gomez, a coordinator at Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy told CTV Montreal.
“They are very racist and dated representations of indigenous people that’s just not very accurate.”
Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations spokesperson Fo Niemi compared the costumes to blackface.
“It promotes racial stereotypes and it does influence the way people treat (others), so that’s why it’s important to send a message,” he told CTV Montreal.
Meanwhile, Montrealers seem to have mixed reactions as to whether indigenous costumes are inappropriate or just part of the fun of Halloween. While Deer is tired of having to defend her stance, she said she’s happy to see a slow shift in the right direction.
“You know we're not going to convince everyone overnight but that incremental change and having that dialogue out there that is really good,” Deer said.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Aalia Adam