'Indian Princess' Halloween contest photo removed after protests

Saturday , November 11, 2017 - 12:00 AM25 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The sponsor of a Halloween costume contest took down a photo of the winner, a woman wearing a Native American headdress, after several people called the regalia racially and culturally insensitive.

“It’s historically inaccurate, a romanticization of the American Indian,” said Joslyn Oakes, of Kaysville, who was the first to protest after she saw the Alleged bar’s Facebook gallery of contest winners. “The stereotypical indigenous person lived in tipis and wore war bonnets and moccasins.”

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The imagery is a persistent prime example of insensitive stereotyping of Native Americans, Oakes said.

“I’m Navajo,” the 31-year-old Weber State University student said. “We don’t like tipis; we live in hogans. It’s like me saying everybody in Europe is German. It’s all mushed together and that’s part of the stereotype.”

But some criticized Oakes and others for questioning the costume, which was labeled “Indian Princess” by the bar. 

“Everything is not a mockery just because you are a minority,” said a Facebook user named Rob Cunningham. “if somebody dresses up like you or your culture, then take it as a compliment.”

Added Tayea Pearson, “Would you go and call the racist card on a child for dressing up like that or any other costume? That's why society is the way it is today, because nobody can have fun even on a holiday because you all throw that card out there.”

But another, Laura A. Wilson, asked, “So if someone came as a black-faced slave but had the most votes, it would not make you think maybe this isn't right?”

Alleged determined the top five costumes by numbers of votes received. Initially, Alleged debated Oakes’s assertions on its Facebook page, but later removed the photo and posted an acknowledgment that the costume was offensive to some. The Standard-Examiner obtained a screenshot of the photo from Oakes.

The owner of the headdress costume, who was not identified by the bar, will still receive the first-place prize. “But whereas the photo has been deemed culturally insensitive, we have removed it and will adjust our costume contest policy going forward to exclude similar costumes from being considered,” the bar’s post said.

Oakes described the headdress costume as cultural appropriation, and she said the wearer’s race did not matter.

“A headdress is a war bonnet; every feather is earned,” she said. “A medal in the Army — is it acceptable to go around wearing a Purple Heart if you didn’t earn it? It is not. It is very disrespectful.”

Efforts to reach Jared Allen, a co-owner of Alleged, were not immediately successful. But in a Facebook post in response to Oakes and others, he said, “I’m fine with not allowing any culturally appropriated costumes in the contest next year, but I’m going to be so frustrated when we get called racists for excluding certain costumes. We’re often damned either way.”

Oakes said she did not ask Alleged to take down the photo, but she felt justified in calling out a local business for in effect condoning cultural appropriation. 

“I stood for what I believe in,” she said, adding she hoped that spotlighting ignorance may lead to more people being sensitive to one another.

As for those who criticized her? “They’re failing to have empathy for others,” she said.

“For a very long time, Native Americans could not be Native Americans,” she said. “We were forced into schools, we were forced to cut our hair and told not to speak our native tongues. Yet it was OK for other cultures to take on our culture and use it as they saw fit, without any thought about what it meant to those people.”

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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