A Letter from Native Student Programs for the Fall Season

A Letter from Native Student Programs for the Fall Season

For many Americans, Fall is one of their favorite seasons – October is for dressing up in Halloween costumes while November is for celebrating Thanksgiving with friends and family. But for Native peoples across the nation, the fall months can be a difficult time. A time filled with cultural appropriation, misinformation, and general ignorance. Even November, which is National Native American Heritage Month, can be an exhausting month of constant encounters with fake headdresses and lies about the country’s history.


Halloween, the spooky, end-of-October holiday, has always been an occasion for people to dress up in culturally-appropriative costumes. This is when you see “Indian Braves,” “Pocahotties,” “Indian Princesses” and the like. Those stereotypes further perpetuate the myth that Native people are not real and are part of the past. This allows dominant culture to dismiss and ignore harms against Native people to this day. It makes the sexualization of Native women okay, while there is an epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women are subjected to some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime (National Sexual Violence Resource Center).


“During Halloween season, I would always see other children wearing cheap costume designs of Native Americans. Half the time, if I pointed out that their costume wasn’t okay to wear, the parents would immediately get mad, saying, “You’re wrong! You don’t look Native enough to say this!”  said Berto Dyea, Pueblo Laguna, said.


Right on the heels of Halloween come November and Thanksgiving. The white-washed idea of Thanksgiving as the first dinner celebrating the friendship between the Pilgrims (aka white settler colonists) and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Rock is a myth that many of us grew up with, making paper headdresses and pilgrim hats. However, this narrative is far from the truth. Those settlers stole corn from graves at the beginning to survive harsh winters and “thanksgiving” feasts celebrated massacres of Native people. In fact, Thanksgiving was not established as a national holiday until 1863 by Abraham Lincoln! Schools across the nation continue to spread misinformation about the celebration.


“In my elementary school, the staff would make half the children wear Native costumes with bows and arrows and half the children wear the pilgrim’s costumes. Most of the times, Natives were portrayed as the ‘savages,’ which only strengthened the false story of American history in education and our textbooks” said Berto Dyea, Pueblo Laguna, ‘19.


These incidents are on top of some schools still hosting “Colonial Days,” requiring children to build missions, and telling children their tribal affiliations are not real Yes, it happens! A Native Student Programs student just dealt with this at their daughter’s school.


Between those two holidays alone, it is no wonder that many Native peoples feel drained, angry and frustrated during the fall.


Christina Lara, Navajo, ‘19 said “During this time, non-Native people should listen to Native perspectives rather than become defensive. We are not asking you to fundamentally change Fall/those holidays but simply to respect Native peoples and cultures.”   


So what can you do as a non-Native person?

  •      Avoid culturally appropriative costumes. If you see a friend about to go out with warpaint and feathers on, sit them down and explain!
  •      Go to an actual Native event, such as a powwow or cultural gathering.
  •      Educate yourself! Find out whose land you are on. Learn about those Native Nations. (Hint: Redlands is on Serrano & Cahuilla Land).


      Native Student Programs Staff and Interns