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all things LOVE, fashion, family, food, and home decor since 2009

My Culture Is Not A Costume

30

Oct

2020

Jillian Harris

Me & Cultural Appropriation

Image Credit: Soni López-Chávez

Good morning everyone! On this site, you can find everything from delicious recipes to fashion advice to family, lifestyle, and motherhood content … I share it all. However, since March I have made it my goal to create more discussions around specific topics that sometimes are uncomfortable to discuss such as injustices, polarizing topics, politics, and racism. These topics usually involve stepping outside of my comfort zone, but I am totally okay with that! Today’s blog is no different, it’s actually really scary for me to write and share, but I am hoping that this story will be a learning opportunity for those reading it!

For those of you that are new here, I was born and raised in Northern Alberta. Growing up in Peace River, a community rich with First Nations peoples, I honestly thought that I understood and respected Indigenous culture. Like I have mentioned before, I grew up eating moose jerky and bannock, we would often visit the Sagitawa Friendship Center and loved seeing all of the Indigenous artifacts, regalia, and art. 

As time went on, I left Peace River and moved to the big city.  I LOVED to shop (some things never change! LOL!) and I’ve always had a soft spot for my home roots. Whenever I came across clothing or decor that had an Indigenous vibe, I would always make a mad dash to purchase. But I assure you, 99% of these purchases were made from large box stores or not made from Indigenous Peoples. This is cultural appropriation. This included suede jackets with tassels and beadwork, moccasins, costumes, headdresses, mukluks, jewelry, and the list goes on. 

Cultural Appropriation Halloween Costume

Image Credit: Feminist Disney

About 10 years ago, I proudly blogged (so embarrassed now!) about pulling off the best Pocahontas costume for Halloween. After I posted the blog, a friend of mine mentioned that I was being spoken about on an Indigenous Appropriation Facebook page. I found this post, and to my surprise, a long time friend of mine (our parents were also friends), Tanis, was engaging in this conversation and also pointing out that my blog post was inappropriate. After seeing her comments, I reached out to her to try and have a conversation about it. It turns out the conversation was really one sided.  Instead of listening to what she had to say and trying to learn, I was very defensive during our conversation. She was very kind and patient with me, but I just didn’t understand. What could have been an amazing learning opportunity turned into “let’s agree to disagree.” Ultimately, at the time, I didn’t understand and clearly was too stubborn to grow. Of course, I am so disappointed when I think back to that experience, but I am also so grateful for where I am today!

Since then, almost every Halloween, I would think back to that conversation. Deep down in my heart, I would realize more and more each year, how wrong I was and how right she was. I would find myself going to her Instagram page to check in and see how she was doing (Tanis is an accomplished actress in NYC and is doing amazing things!). I always wanted to reach out, but my pride always got in the way and I didn’t know how to tell her I was in the wrong.

With all of the work that I have been doing lately surrounding diversity and racism,  one evening, I had an extreme panic attack thinking about this conversation with Tanis from 10 years ago. This conversation has haunted me until now, and I feel like my journey is incomplete until I share it with you.

Recently, I put my pride aside and reached out to her, apologizing for how our conversation ended. It was okay if she never responded (I don’t blame her!), but I wanted to apologize for how I handled the situation and let her know that I was really working hard behind the scenes to make it up to the Indigenous community. She did end up responding, and she forgave me. Thank you, Tanis!!

We discussed sharing this story with all of you, hoping that it would be a good learning opportunity. This story is not complete by only sharing one side of the story. Tanis is an artist, a great communicator and still a dear friend. I wanted to take this opportunity to share this space with her, and any other details I have may have missed or any other learning lessons she would like to share with me moving forward! Of course, I once again want to thank Tanis for her grace and kindness in hearing me out, and I am so grateful for this learning opportunity!

Lastly, before I hand over the stage to Tanis, I want to apologize to the Indigenous community and my Indigenous friends, if I hurt or offended any of you by sharing that blog post. I am still working so hard behind the scenes to grow, learn and unlearn and share that growth with this community!

Take it away, Tanis!

Image Source: Printerest

Tanis Parenteau

Image Source: Tanis Parenteau

Tansi everyone, my name is Tanis Parenteau, I am a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta from Region IV in Peace River. Well Jillian, I actually think you summed it up pretty good! Thank you for making the decision to share this publicly on such a grand scale. I think it’s important for public figures like yourself, who have such a vast audience, to share experiences of personal growth because of the important conversations it can start and the self-reflection it can ignite in others. In my opinion, it’s an admirable quality to admit a mistake, apologize, and take steps toward making things right. I know it’s not easy but I do know it will resonate with a lot of people and that is why I encouraged you to share your story:)

Part of what I remember about our conversation back then was me trying to point you towards resources about Native Appropriation and why “playing Indian” is problematic for actual Native people which resulted in you defending your choice by claiming Pocahontas is a Disney, kids-fairytale character. And therein lies the root of the problem—the misinformation that Pocahontas was who she was in the cartoon. Her name was actually Matoaka and she would’ve been about 10 years old when she met John Smith. Disney hijacked her—they took her tragic, heartbreaking story and turned her into this mythical, unrealistic, problematic cartoon character, thereby erasing her truth and lived experience as a real Native person. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/the-true-story-of-pocahontas-historical-myths-versus-sad-reality-WRzmVMu47E6Guz0LudQ3QQ

This misrepresentation of Native people is still rampant today in media and the invisibility it causes for Native people has real negative effects on our people and communities. Imagine being a Native youth and watching tv and movies and hardly ever seeing yourself accurately represented nor seeing anyone you can really relate to and instead seeing these constant misrepresentations telling people that is who you are. https://illuminatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/illuminative_Entertainment_Guide_B3_C4.pdf 

Image Source: Highland Support Project

Another part of your argument was that you think our culture is beautiful and you have a deep appreciation for it and while I don’t doubt either of those things, a Pocahottie costume is not our culture. The further sexualization of the already problematic Disney Pocahontas as a Halloween costume has real, harmful consequences for our Native sisters. For context: 1 in 3 Native women will experience rape and sexual assault in their life which is twice the national average in the US and 97% of Native women have experienced violence by non-Native perpetrators, according to the DOJ. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/249815.pdf. It’s dehumanizing being called Pocahotness or any other version of that, I can tell you first hand. http://www.anishinaabekwe.com/blog/halloween-native-women https://www.csvanw.org/mmiw/

If folks truly want to honor and uplift Native people and our culture, there are countless ways to truly do that (and none of them have to do with racist Halloween costumes). You’re actually doing some of those things now—uplifting Native voices, speaking up about our issues, buying from Native designers/artists/businesses/filmmakers/musicians, listening and engaging in conversation in-person and online in a respectful way. https://illuminatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/MessageGuide-Allies-screen-spreads.pdf

Speaking up about this is a step in the direction of no longer contributing to erasing and whitewashing our history, no longer contributing to perpetuating stereotypes and harmful tropes, no longer contributing to the erasure of who we are today and dehumanizing us, and no longer contributing to silencing our voices and suppressing our truths.

Hiy hiy, Jillian for creating this space and taking the first step towards healing our relationship.


Kindest regards,

Tanis Parenteau
Website & Instagram

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  1. Catherine says:

    This was a really great read, thank you to you both for sharing your story.

  2. Breeana Dennis says:

    This was emotional and insightful on so many levels. Thank you both for opening our eyes wider on such an important issue.

  3. Jennette says:

    This sounds like myself 10 years ago – I too have grown a lot and learned. Hopefully more of society will as well. Thank you for sharing this.
    Jenn

  4. Erin says:

    I grew up with both of these ladies. We all have to continue growing and learning. So glad you shared this story Jillian and Tanis.

  5. Jenn Mellors says:

    Hi there, I have never read this blog before but I saw the post on Instagram. I think this is an extremely important conversation and I am so glad that it is taking place. I hope this is a learning opportunity for everyone. Good work!

  6. Michelle says:

    Thanks for the links and sharing.
    Great job jillian and team and friends for keeping this conversation in the light for all of us. Its so important to all of us.
    ❤️

  7. Erin says:

    Jillian, I have been very impressed over the past several months about how you haven’t shied away from tough topics and have given over your blog to under-represented voices. Whatever flack you might get from the outside, it’s worth being true to yourself. You are not responsible for making other people feel comfortable with their own prejudices. It’s still scary, but you are such a great example of how we can all learn/unlearn and grow. Thank you!

  8. Heather says:

    So I have Native Americans I. My family history. Most were not raised on reservations, some were even sent to schools in the States to basically undo their heritage. How would I go about researching their heritage and honor it without it coming across as cultural appropriation? I understand that it’s technically my family’s history, but we weren’t raised surrounded with true Native American culture. I feel like it dies with my great grandparents.

  9. Joanne Holt says:

    What a wonderful conversation! White privilege is something I thought I have understood for many, many years but this year I found out just how unconscious an attitude it is. I had given up the hope that individuals & our societies could change in my lifetime, so while I mourned tragedies experienced by people of color I didn’t really understand that people’s souls were literally being crushed by their collective abuse at the hands of white people, including me. Thank you for publicly sharing both your perspectives & your growth as human beings. It does help stir that introspection essential to change.

  10. Linda says:

    Beautiful. Thank you Tanis

  11. Laura Bryant says:

    Love this thank you both for sharing your story, your journey of overcoming this conflict and shedding light on cultural appropriation. It definitely made me think back on my own Halloween costumes.

  12. Bee says:

    I appreciate that you posted this. I had no idea about the true story of Pocahontas. It truly is an appalling story and makes me even reconsider letting my daughter ever watch it. When I first read your post I kinda rolled my eyes being like where is the line drawn etc but reading this made me change my mind. I learned a lot and it makes much more sense to me why these costumes can be offensive and culturally insensitive/ cultural appropriation

  13. Colleen says:

    Thank you for this post – both of you’. What a powerful contribution to see respectful dialogue, thoughtful consideration and patience in learning (for ourselves and others).

  14. Jaclyn says:

    Jillian and Tanis,
    I love how you both spoke about this. It really makes me believe in humanity, and that we all have something to learn from one another. I know I have lots to learn as well, and unlearn as you say Jillian. Thank you for keeping these conversations in the forefront of your social media, it’s so important to see.
    Xo from the east coast! – Jaclyn

  15. Margo says:

    Son true…. “My culture is not your custom”
    In another label…. It come to my mind what is happening in France…. How in the name of “Free of speech” some people offend other’s people culture… The extrinist reaction if course is wrong! But for a minute the creators of those drawing took a time to think am I doing wrong satirizaing the Muslim culture?? We all have to learn for once and ever to respect each other in this globalized world! Thxs Jill and Tanis ❤

  16. Emily Honeycutt says:

    Thank you for this post, I learned so much!

  17. A.B. says:

    Thank you for all of this.

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