I am Not a Costume – Native American Halloween Costumes

I am Not a Costume – Native American Halloween Costumes

Posted By Paul G October 17th, 2013 Last Updated on: November 6th, 2018

Halloween is here again!

Time for everyone to start picking out their costumes.

Many children and adults across the country wear culturally based costumes such as Pocahontas, terrorist, and more.

This controversial topic has been discussed many times in the past.

But each year the costumes still remain.

In 2011 students at Ohio University started a campaign – “We're a Culture, Not a Costume“.

They produced a series of posters to help raise awareness of this issue.

I am Not a Costume

Noel Altaha created the video below as part of a class project.

Read more from Noel at Last Real Indians.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Are you offended by Native American Halloween costumes?


Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » I am Not a Costume – Native American Halloween Costumes

TAGGED:    costumes    halloween  

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Virtue signaling at best. Get over yourselves. Native, Mexican, Irish, Black, English, Asian are all american cultures. It’s a melting pot, that is what makes it great. None of you are full blooded anything so stop acting like it. If my wife wants to dress up as a sexy native women and you take offence to that then you can get fucked. I don’t care about your feelings, everybody doesn’t get a trophy.


I agree with the toga party comment. It’s not that you’re dressing up as a Native American, you’re dressing up in the fairy tale style of an ‘Indian’. The whole ‘Cowboys & Indians’ thing is a complete stereotype and exaggerated. It’s okay to dress up like a cowboy in huge boots and a hat and no one from the south is going to get mad at you. But to wear a fantasy native American costume? Oh no. Heaven forbid. By wearing neon feathers and a sexy dress or whatever, you aren’t saying, ‘Hey Look All Native Americans Totally Dress Like This And Look Like This And Are Basically Just This’. No. You’re saying, ‘Hey Look I Put Fun Paint On My Face And Feathers In My Hair Because I Think The Exaggerated Movie Character Persona Of This Lifestyle/People Is Pretty Rad.’ I totally get how it could be construed wrongly, but then no one gets any fun anymore. No more nurse costumes, because hey, that’s offensive. We’re saving lives and you’re hiking up your skirt. Woah, no mariachi band costumes, even though that’s a profession not a race we’re still gonna take offense. HEY what do you think you’re doing in a toga??? The whole point of Halloween is to dress up as something you’re not. No one is making any political statements against Native Americans by going in one of these costumes. Maybe they just think the costume is cool looking and pretty and they aren’t Native American so they’ll never get a chance to wear it so they will just this one night. You know those ‘Sexy Nun’ costumes? Everyone knows real nuns don’t dress like that at all. But no one goes crazy over it because it’s just a costume. It’s just for fun. People dress up as psycho versions of anything you can imagine all the time. ‘Fill In The Blank Gone Wrong’ or ‘Sexy Your Choice Here’ and it’s fine. Why? Because everyone knows that nurses are awesome and respectable people that we need everyday but it’s still a cute Halloween idea. People know that Native Americans are awesome and respectable and of so much value and we wish we could be that cool so we dress up like them. It’s not to make your culture seem irrelevant or arbitrary, we just like your style. Let me rephrase that: We like the style that you’ve been made up to be. I hope no one would ever dress up in actual sacred items, excuse me for not knowing exactly what all that entail. I can see where that would be bad. But you can dress up like a victorian lady or a stripper or a politician or an actress or anything, and people will jab at you. I think everything is fair game for Halloween. It’s a night of saturated, amplified, nonsense that no one takes seriously

louis Schmidt

I grew up playing with my half Oneida cousins. I also collect vintage Halloween. Halloween was a wonderful event at my house. And, yes, my cousins went trick or treating with me. Recently I won an ebay Halloween auction that includes two, very beautiful, Native American masks. These masks are meant to be added to my collection, not worn. But, two of my half Native American friends immediately assumed I was being disrespectful and accused me of insensitivity. Anybody who knows me knows I am a collector. There was no exaggeration on the masks. They were works of art. But, still my friends (who I thought knew me) tried to make an issue out of it. SO, you see, it’s a tricky subject, sexy indian, or sexy anything (if you ask me) for Halloween is not tasteful. But, I do own some ugly witch masks and last year I was the official gypsy storyteller. I did not dress in garish garb but beautiful clothes that recalled nature. Still, I’m sure someone out there would have labeled me racist. My point is, what is the intention and the look of the actual costume? Perhaps they want to honor their own ancestors? Do you know the person well enough to understand where they are coming from? Halloween has many meanings, one being the honoring of the veil between life and death, light and dark. Costumes, in the olden times, were a kind of protection against evil spirits. Halloween isn’t just candy commercials. Modern costumes, I think, have become much less charming and much more garish and grotesque.

Kathleen B

My daughter read a book about Lewis and Clark. She came home an said she wanted to be Sacajawea for Halloween. I said okay. I asked her what made her want to be her, and she said she thought she must have been brave to go on that expedition. I don’t want to offend anyone by my child’s choice of Halloween costume, but she wants to emulate a strong woman. I don’t see how this is bad. We are not painting her face or wearing feathers. I want her to see beauty in all races, and see strength and determination. I’d rather have her aspire to be a brave Native American than Barbie. Am I incorrect?

Lizard Breath

Native Americans are very fortunate in the sense that they have a heritage, and history that is something to be proud of. Other cultures, unless they are mainly based in their country of origin, Have a shameful past, or one that has been lost, and their ancestors of today, have nothing. Take pride in that. Why keep griping about something. Ignore it. The more attention you give it, just like anything in life,…the bigger it becomes. Take these demons, and use them as fuel to light the way into a new future. Be a guide. not a follower. Keep telling the stories, and passing down tradition. And be PROUD! LIKE THE NATIVES THAT WERE HERE WHEN TIME BEGAN. NOT THE ONES WHO CONTINUE TO LET THEMSELVES BE AFFLICTED BY THE “WHITE MAN”. Poison. Topics like these, are a disease.

Rattle Horn

I have followed this topic and argument for overa year. I have reviewed every opinion onthe topic, and feel that some you who read these postings have wandered away from the undunderlying point of all this arguing. It is not a matter of honoring your ancestors that is the problem here it is the images and messages that are sent by contributing to these kinds of things. If you wish to honor your ancestry what ever it may be that is your right as a living being. However that is not why this topic is under discussion. Holloween is a day of fun and celebration for the american population for some it is a sacred night we th deep meaning, for others it a night of indulgence and debauchery. That being said it is a time of release and restoration in many ways but please keep in mind that the tradition of Halloween was started in order to protect ones self from the imagined dangers of the world a time long ago. The costumes then were of beasts and dark. Creature s. Now a days it is completely different, you can be your favorite characters from movies, from cartoons, from history, religion, and much more. That cant be helped I and that is understandable however, ethnic based costumes strip any people of their dignity as a race, culture, and people. By that I mean that the actions you commit while in that costume whether or not it is your intent reflect your views of the peopl you are ” pretending to be” this goes for any person being any other race as a costume. Not just white. I think they become the most targeted because they are ones who stand out in doing such acts knowingly or unknowingly. However I have witnessed other races doing it to other races. It is a common practice due to our eye for an eye mentalities we have come to rely on. The point is thT people have the right as human beings to be outraged and offended by the actions of others who use their freedom of expression to degrade their people’s image, identity and culture. It is not ok and you say it is when you buy these kinds of costumes because it tells the companies who make them that despite the nature of what it is they are doing they will have a market for this product. I dont have a problem dressing up for Halloween but make it a real costume something appropriate to the real spirit of the celebration. Be your favorite hero , be a monster of legend, be a fictional character, or a person from your own people historic renown because then you are paying homage to YOUR ancestry. Then you are expressing your creativity and individuality. Instead of being labeled ignorant, insensitive, or degrading. With that kind of mindset costumes like that will lose their popularity and eventually disappear al together. That is the issue we face, because if we can resolve this problem, than it shows that there is hope for the resolution of other problems as well.

Chris B

I have been thinking about this for weeks on end, have read the many articles and opinions concerning it and have since, changed my opinion on the issue. Where I eagerly agreed with the Native American take on this in the beginning, I am now thinking I was wrong in my opinion. I do understand what you are saying but I never thought about “intent” before. I believe the American white person owes you much by way of respect and honor but I do not believe that they, dressing as a Native American, diminishes you in any way. While I understand your regalia is tribal based and worn with the greatest amount of deference and respect for who you are, I don’t see the white man as disturbing those sentiments. I see it as a compliment just as I do when I see a person dressing in the costume of any ethnic group. There is nothing disrespectful meant or implied…not at all! If you, as a Native American were to dress in the regalia and have it be incorrect in some meaningful way…I could see that as a measure of disrespect because you should know better in what to wear and how to wear it. You might very well mean an error in regalia as a tribal insult…but we, as outsiders, do not mean any such thing! People all over the world dress as other people in and from different parts of the world and they mean it to be complimentary. Nothing else! So, please stop trying to make it something it is not!


Thank you Melissa, a beautiful explanation. Keep dancing proud. I am so glad to hear tif your commitment. Watching a serious dance effort is a moving experience and a priveledge. Hayu masi.

Sue H.

I have read through all these comments and I can see all sides and understand what you all are saying. However, I do have a question. Have you ever run into a person who dresses up on Halloween for a different reason? Like being able to come out of costume and to be who they really are with out fear of prejudice or judgement for the one day a year. yes there are some in the world who would say this is silly or a stupid thing to do, but as many of you have mentioned each has gone through many trials and tribulations which continue on to this day, and there are a lot of people who are still afraid to admit who they really are simply because of the actions and words of another (which I find to be heart breaking).
I am not intending to disrespect any one and hope I have not done so.


Ok, I don’t think there is Native American in my bloodline * there could be, but I don’t think there is. which is kind of sad IMO *

BUT… would it be offensive IF after doing the proper research and making the regalia as true to the history and proper traditions of the tribe that I wanted to honor, for me to wear it, not necessarily on Halloween, * because frankly, unless you are at some kind of party, no one is really going to see it in the dark* but maybe at a pow wow? and what if it was just one piece of jewelry or maybe a pouch? would that be offensive to those who actually have the ancestry that i would be trying to honor?

because, honestly, I really appreciate all the time and work that goes into the regalia and the traditions behind it all. it is very interesting to me and no i don’t think they were done right by the settlers, no one deserves to be treated that way. they were people too just like the settlers. they should have been treated as people not as inferior race.

just asking mind you, not trying to start an argument, i only wanted to know

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