My Culture is not your Costume

My name is The Raven Shall Speak (Tsimshian hereditary name); I am a First Nations woman. However, I was born and raised off reserve. Incidentally I grew up in a neighbourhood where the local native band had their own school on their land. My brothers and myself were the only natives attending the nearest public school. Growing up my mother did not emphasize out native ancestry. I did not know I was native. I only felt different by the way I was mistreated by my peers and the authority figures. This created an anger in me because I did nothing to provoke this treatment. Growing up I learned more about the intricacies of human nature and the historical backlash. I understood the ripple effect that I was helplessly forced to ride, to try and maintain a stable and healthy mind, while walking through life with so many negative variables that are going to be there just because of the color of your skin.


Present day this topic was bought to my attention because my nieces are all young impressionable women now. Social media, such as Facebook, gives us all a proverbial soap box to announce our feelings and opinions. This topic came up from a post my niece added to her Facebook wall stating her disgust at the selling of Stereo typical Aboriginal costumes for Halloween. My nieces were born and raised on reserve, took part in tradition and have been taught our heritage. I had to ask myself what this meant to me. Did this anger me the way it upset them? I have to admit, the image of a woman in a headdress looked beautiful, but I was being told it was wrong for me to think so. Why? I watched a few videos of First Nations individuals speaking of the ignorance of this act, I was under the impression that all these members were born on reserve and active in their cultural practice. Is this why I had to ask myself?


Media has had its part to play. It has become a household term of children playing ‘Cowboys and Indians’, and to see this played out on our televisions in our homes, where the cowboys are the good guys and the Indians are bad. Did this somehow desensitize or dilute these images as being wrong? My local dollar store sell packages depicting cowboys and Indians figures to this day. Secondly, in school I remember our teacher putting a craft project together to commemorate Thanksgiving. We put a band around our heads and stuck some feathers on it. Are we being taught in schools that it is okay to play dress up with other peoples’ cultures? Lastly, what hit it home for me was remembering what I learned when I took a couple First Nations courses at the University where I lived. The horrible history of my people, what my mother had to suffer while she attended one of the many residential schools that were scattered across our country. The genocide my people suffered brought tears to the eyes of every student who attended the class. It changed my perspective of ‘the drunks’ I see on the streets; they lost their culture and were abused physically and sexually on a daily basis. They are just trying to survive one more day, without the culture that was ripped and beaten from them. How dare anyone wear the culture that was forbidden to them, and prance around laughing while looking the other way.

The Truth and Reconciliation is a topic that is new. People are just learning about the horrors the First Nations people suffered. First Nations elders are coming forward and giving their  testimony of their personal experience behind the walls of the Residential Schools. It will take time before the cowboy and Indian toys are removed from the shelves and people think its not alright to play dress up with a culture that suffered genocide. It will take time for the truth to build up enough to leave a bad taste in their mouth.

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