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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘My Culture is Not a Costume’ event returns to campus

    An organization on campus has taken its voice out on to the UA Mall to raise awareness and educate people on stereotypical Native American costumes some may wear for Halloween.

    The “My Culture is Not a Costume” event was led by Native American Student Affairs, which was inspired to put on this event after observing nationwide protests across campuses beginning in 2011, according to USA Today. The organization will demonstrate its protest on the Mall both today and Thursday.

    Royale Billy, the co-vice president of the IndigiCat Student Association, said she first became aware of the event in her freshman year at the NASA Center.

    Billy, a junior studying natural resource management and water shed management, said she decided to bring the event back this year after observing how using cultural clothing as costumes has become an issue again.

    “I think it’s just because we’ve been quiet too long,” said Kierstyn Tsosie, president of the ISA and a junior studying public management and public policy. “And our voice needs to be heard on campus. No one is saying anything, no one is speaking up, so they assume it’s right.”

    Tsosie said the reason for the two-day event is to get people’s attention on this issue before they bought an Indian costume for Halloween. Billy said everything they wear in their traditional clothing has a meaning, and for people going out and wearing a headdress and buckskin makes their clothing meaningless.

    The NASA Center and the ISA work together to build a community and support center for Native American students. They also work to raise awareness for those in non-Native communities, educating about what a Native American is aside from what they may have learned in school.

    For Billy and Tsosie, being a Native American stems from identifying themselves as Diné — the Navajo word for their tribe — which involves knowing where they come from, practicing the teachings of their culture and eventually returning home with new knowledge to help the community.

    “It’s like living in two worlds,” Tsosie said. “You come to the city, but you have to respect your values and traditions, even though other people don’t understand that, and that’s kind of hard, too.”

    The ISA and NASA Center have worked all month long to get this event going. Billy said the process of getting the event ready has been more than just taking pictures and putting up posters. It’s become more than telling people that what they think or do is wrong.

    “It’s like killing them with kindness,” Billy said, on organizing the event. “That’s basically what this is, and it’s a lot of work.”

    Billy and Tsosie both said that in preparing for this event, they were also mentally preparing themselves for the backlash they might get from the UA community.

    A huge concern with stereotypical perspectives is how tribes are grouped together under one headdress. By seeing a variety of different traditional dress, it is hoped people will learn that not all Native Americans dress in the style of a headdress and buckskin. Only one tribe is represented with that stereotypical clothing, Tsosie said, and, like people in Europe, Native Americans also have different groups of people.

    According to Tsosie and Billy, at the NASA Center, there are diverse tribes currently studying at the UA. The Oglala Lakota, Hopi, Navajo, Laguna Pueblo, Apache (San Carlos, White Mountain and Chiricahua), Paiute, Tohono O’odham, Pascua Yaqui, Yurok and Ak-Chin are all some of the tribes that make up the UA’s Native American student population. Tsosie said she wanted people to know that Native Americans are with them in classes, walking down the Mall, and have a community here at the UA, even if they don’t recognize them as Native American.


    Follow Ivana Goldtooth on Twitter.

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