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This Store Refused To Remove Their "Native American" Costumes So Activists Added Warning Labels

"Warning! The items contained in this package are offensive."

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Spirit Halloween has more than 1,100 locations across the US and Canada that pop up for the season. Their stock includes Indigenous outfits like "Reservation Royalty" and "Wolf Dancer." They also sell accessories like headdresses.

Spirit Halloween

Indigenous communities have complained for years that these costumes are offensive, culturally appropriative, and that they sexualize a group of women who experience above-average levels of violence.

So on Sunday, Chris Kortright and other members of the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism went to a Spirit location in Regina with the labels and scotch tape in hand.

The labels read: "Warning! The items contained in this package are offensive and promote the sexualization of Indigenous women and peoples. Please avoid contact with these dangerous materials."

Chris Kortright

A message on the reverse mentions the inquiry into the thousands of Indigenous women and girls in Canada that have gone missing or been murdered.

"In the store when we were actually putting the labels on, a handful of customers came up and said they appreciated what we were doing," said Kortright. He added there's also been a huge reaction online, and people are asking for copies so they can put the labels in their local stores.

The group also presented a letter to the Regina location's manager asking the costumes be removed.

"One can still have fun, one can still express their sexuality, without belittling other people’s culture," said Kortright.

The group was inspired by Zooey Roy, an Indigenous woman in Saskatoon who was asked to leave a Spirit location after complaining about the costumes.

sweetmoon

She'd gone to the shop two weeks ago with her family, including her young niece. She was actually commenting on how happy she was to see there weren't any Indigenous costumes when she finally spotted them.

"I went to the children’s section and one of the first things I see is a little caucasion girl dressed up like a romanticized version of an Indigenous person," Roy told BuzzFeed Canada.

"She had like a little headband on and what was supposed to be a leather dress with fringes at the bottom and fringes over her chest. It was all lined with what would be replicating the beadwork that we put on our clothing."

"I looked at this image, and I thought, my niece is right here, I’m an educator, I have a responsibility to say something even though I don’t want to be political when I’m out shopping on a Sunday afternoon."

Spirit Halloween / Via spirithalloween.com

Roy pulled a clerk aside to ask if she saw anything wrong with the costumes. The clerk said she saw nothing wrong with the costumes.

"I said, do you see that this can be problematic for Indigenous people considering where we are and what we’ve been though? She was like, no, no," said Roy.

Roy added that the clerk then went on to suggest the pug dog masks Roy and her family had been trying on could be offensive to pug owners.

"I was like, excuse me, did you just compare us to a dog breed?"

At that point, Roy says the clerk suggested they should leave and opened the door for them. Not wanting to embarrass anyone, Roy left, "basically escorted out" by the clerk.

Later on, she spoke to a VP at Spirit who seemed to empathize with her frustration, but dozens of Indigenous costumes are still available online and in stores from Spirit.

"I want them to meet me in the middle," said Roy. "To see that if you’re putting on a costume, you’re offending someone. If you’re making these costumes you’re offending an entire race that has been the victim of cultural genocide for 500 years on this territory."

Chris Kortright

Roy said the warning labels are "a great way to inform the public about the harm that these costumes are doing to the community."

Lisa Barr, the deputy vice president of marketing and creative for Spirit, told BuzzFeed Canada in a statement that they stand by their products.

Chris Kortright

"Understanding certain sensitivities, we always strive to present our costumes in a responsible and respectful manner," she said. "While we respect the opinion of those who are opposed to the sale of any cultural or historical costumes, we are proud of our costume selection for men, women and children."

"We have no plans to remove Indigenous themed costumes from our shelves."

"Even though there’s outcry in the US and Canada for these costumes as well as others, they’re standing by it," said Kortright. "In solidarity with Zoey, we did this action."

Chris Kortright

Roy said that it looks like it may take legal action to finally get Spirit to budge. In the meantime, she's encouraging people to take their business elsewhere.

"I am going to continue to encourage people to boycott Spirit Halloween. Not because I’m upset, but because it’s the right thing to do."

Lauren Strapagiel is Managing Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Contact Lauren Strapagiel at lauren.strapagiel@buzzfeed.com.

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