There are many reasons as to why wearing a race as a costume is not a respectful choice. But did you know it might also be perpetuating the sexualizing and dehumanization of indigenous women? The statistics and movement behind #MMIW might have you surprised.
On Friday, October 28, a group called the Bordertown Justice Coalition will host a vigil in Phoenix outside a Mesa community forum called “Conversation with Cops”. This forum is meant to discuss needed changes in policy and community policing. While Mesa looks to increase its policing force, supporters of the Bordertown Justice Coalition gather to demand #Justice4Loreal – and to raise awareness to disproportionate amount violence Native Americans face per capita, but which somehow flies under the radar of national attention.
Loreal Tsingine: A Case of Bordertown Police Brutality
Tsingine was a 27-year-old Navajo woman and mother who was fatally shot this Easter Sunday in Winslow, an Arizona town border the Navajo Nation. It was revealed that Officer Austin Shipley fired five shots at Tsingine after responding to a report of theft at a convenience store. The footage from the body-camera reveals the 5’1” woman did have a pair of scissors, but the brutality of the officer who first threw her to the ground and the number of shots fired at her from close-range leave eye-witnesses, locals, and Natives across the country scared that this is yet another case of exercised excessive force.
Sadly, this is not the only case a Native woman has died at the hands of non-tribal police in a controversial setting. Just last Friday evening, a 23-year-old woman of three was shot to death in her home on Muckleshoot tribal land (Washington State). Non-tribal police were responding a “wellness check” initiated when Renee Davis’s known depression was reaching a level of suicidal thought. The situation is still under investigation, but police report entering her house where she was allegedly found holding a firearm. Davis was five months pregnant when she was killed.
Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial demographic.
Native American Women Face the Highest Rates of Rape and Assault
The US Department of Justice first started paying attention to the high levels of violence against Native women when it released its initial report in 1999. Several studies that proceeded came to the same conclusion: Native Americans are 2.5 times more likely than any other ethnic group in the United States to experience sexual assault and rape. Other statistics cite things Native women struggle to explain to their daughters, such as the statistic: 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime.
Probably one of the more disturbing elements of this crisis is the collective majority of crimes against Native women is committed by non-Indian perpetrators. One-fourth of all cases of spousal violence against American Indians is the result of a non-Indian perpetrator, contributing to a rate of inter-racial violence that is five times the rate of any other inter-racial violence in other racial groups. The majority of victimization against American Indian and Alaskan Native women is committed by whites rather than by other American Indians or Alaskan Natives.
These statistics indicate a dangerous influx of violence from non-Indians to Indian communities. That fact alone is disturbing, but even more disturbing is the fact that, until recently, tribes were legally blocked from persecuting non-Indians who commit crimes on tribal lands. This bizarre and extremely disparaging loophole resulted in countless criminals getting off scot-free for beating and even raping Native women. Until a very recent revision of this jurisdiction law, non-Indians could virtually get away with anything.
How Environmental Racism Plays a Role
As more and more energy companies use eminent domain to build projects on or adjacent to tribal lands, an increase of predominantly white male laborers are housed in local “man camps”. North Dakota has documented the increase of murder, aggravated assault, human trafficking, robberies, and rapes related to these Bakken oil camps. This has resulted in years of crimes committed by non-Indians in Indian Country, and all without consequence.
Tribes therefore have a justified fear in allowing these companies to encroach on their territories. This is a fear that goes far beyond protecting water or cultural sites: It’s about protecting mothers, sisters, and daughters. Furthermore, many tribes have been subjected to the empty promises of wealth from energy companies. Instead, they are often left with the burden of cleanup and reclamation after a disaster. I guess the same can be said for the wellbeing of their women.
How Mascots and Halloween Costumes Relate to This
I am a firm believer that, when a person is able to dress up as another race, that person is incapable of respecting that race. Stereotypes are Dictionary-defined examples of racism. Any time you can lump together an entire collection of cultures and represent that collection by a single set of characteristics, you are reinforcing a stereotype of that race. There has never been a time in American history, since this country was called “America”, that Native peoples were depicted in a widely-accepted and accurate way.
If mainstream society truly understood how to “honor” Native peoples, we wouldn’t have mascots that misrepresent what it is to be Native. We wouldn’t have fans desecrating sacred objects. We wouldn’t have to tell people at Halloween parties their costumes are degrading. In fact, when people choose to dress up as “sexy Indians”, they are not simply contributing to a stereotype of what modern Native people look like. They’re also reinforcing the “exoticness” and dehumanization of Native people. It’s sickening, but these mistakes feed the fantasies of criminals. And who pays for it? Not the Pocahottie with the hangover.
I wanted to share this story at a time when far too many people will dress up like an “Indian” anyway. I wanted to share this story because I would like to view myself as something more than the statistic I have become.
Photo: Getty Images