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Offensive Costumes a Catalyst for Conversations about Reconciliation

October 31, 2016

Thanks to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, governments, community organizations, and our education systems are promoting the need for reconciliation, harmony and inclusion.

This promotion is also generating interest in the traditional and online media.  An Environics poll released in June found that, “non-Aboriginal Canadians are increasingly paying attention to news and stories, and most express an interest in learning more about Aboriginal cultures.”

Journalists and media in Saskatchewan are also responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Representatives from leading news organizations from across the province gathered at the University of Saskatchewan at the beginning of October, to learn more about their role in informing and educating the public. They also explored the need to educate themselves, about the history and legacy of the residential schools, the Treaties, and Aboriginal rights.

Recent news stories, for example about Halloween costumes that caricaturize Indigenous people and regalia, have resulted in thoughtful conversations on reconciliation and respect. Through these news stories and on social media, Canadians are learning that costumes depicting First Nations regalia, and sacred symbols such as feathers, headdresses, and beadwork are disrespectful to First Nations culture and spirituality.

In addition to trivializing deeply held spiritual and cultural beliefs, such costumes also promote hurtful stereotypes about Indigenous people. Disrespect and hurtful stereotypes, whether through caricature, words, or language can have a negative psychological impact on individuals and groups.  Over time, this can create barriers to participation, inequity, and even discrimination.  

Offensive Halloween costumes may seem like an unusual catalyst for discussing the need for understanding and inclusion.  Respect for cultural and spiritual beliefs matters greatly to First Nations and Indigenous people – as it should matter to all people in our province. This is an opportunity, and a challenge, to become better informed and to participate in a constructive conversation about reconciliation. I ask all Saskatchewan people to accept this challenge.

David M. Arnot
Chief Commissioner

Canadian Public Opinion on Aboriginal peoples: Final Report, The Environics Institute for Survey Research