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A Culture Is Not a Costume

A Culture Is Not a Costume

Justin Allison | Staff Writer
Image credit: Ariel Solomon, Merrilynne Harrington, Nathan Thomson, Stephanie Dahle, Alyssa Sorenson, Sean Bauer
 

Recently UVU’s Multicultural Student Services held its Cultural Dialogues where students had the opportunity to discuss culture and cultural issues. The Oct. 9 event was entitled “Culture is not a Costume,” and with help from the Native Wolverine Association, the Native American Club on campus, they discussed the topic of cultural appropriation.

They warn that before starting to plan a costume for Halloween, students should keep in mind the negative connotations that come from dressing in culture-based costumes.

Cultural Appropriation is taking something from a culture, claiming it as one’s own and then subsequently removing all of its meaning. An example of this would be wearing a headdress and face paint with no regard for the meaning behind it.

Club members said that Native Americans were here long before Columbus came in 1492. Over 50 million Native people called this land home. After Columbus came, 80 percent of the Native population died due to disease, torture and murder. Natives were deemed “uncivilized” by those settlers and forced to adopt western culture and leave their traditional way of life.

“There are over 560 Native American tribes today in the United States,” said Sean Snyder, Navajo and Southern Ute President of the Native Wolverine Society. “We see it as a mockery by lumping all of the tribes together into one.”

One problem is that not all 560 plus Native American tribes wore headdresses traditionally. When people dress up “like an Indian” they are generalizing a whole indigenous population into one group.

Many people are also ignorant to the fact that Native American regalia is sacred and that it is considered offensive to use it as a costume.

“You go through a process to earn those feathers on a headdress,” said Jacob Crane, member of the Tsuu T’ina Nation, a First Nations Indian tribe in Canada. “It’s not just given to you. It is a special process to earn them.”

“You will get the people that say, ‘Well, stop wearing jeans’ or ‘Stop speaking English’ that’s our culture. Culture appropriation is more than simply just doing what another culture does, it’s taking those things and claiming them as your own or as white innovations,” said Ken Sekaquaptewa, a Hopi tribal member and director of the Native American Initiative in the Multicultural Student Services.

“I don’t say ‘How,’ I say hello. Once people understand it or are taught that, then they will be more aware that they are offending you,” said Faith Browning, a Navajo student at UVU.

“How” is not how you say hello unless you are a Native American in Hollywood, she said.

Sekaquaptewa said it is ok to learn about and appreciate other cultures, but to make sure the cultural expressions are not taken out of context.

“It’s not a back-and-forth issue where there can be a chance to use these outfits as a costume, because a minority culture is being targeted. If the group is offended, then the conversation ends there, and it should not be done,” Sekaquaptewa said.

UVU has a resource for anyone that wants to learn more about Native Americans. More than 200 Native American students attend school here. The Multicultural Student Services in LA 114 can be a good start to learn about UVU’s Native American Initiative and other initiatives such as the Latino Initiative and the Pacific Islander Initiative. You can also find more information on the UVU Diversity Facebook Page about upcoming Diversity Dialogues and Diversity Lectures.

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Justin Allison

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