Warning labels briefly appeared on packages of select Halloween costumes in a Regina store on Sunday, warning shoppers of “offensive” products that promote the “sexualization of Indigenous women and peoples.”
“Please avoid contact with these dangerous materials,” they read.
Two groups, the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism and Colonialism No More, visited the Spirit Halloween store with 60 paper labels. They taped them onto the front of costumes including ones named “Reservation Royalty,” “Native American Princess,” and “Pocahottie.”
There were more costumes in the store than labels in their hands.
Robyn Pitawanakwat of Colonialism No More explained in a statement that they want “all children to enjoy Halloween and not be bombarded by these harmful images,” She added there’s “nothing fun” about costumes and accessories based off riffs of cultural stereotypes.
“As an Indigenous woman, early childhood educator and mother of three Indigenous children, I know that it is well documented that these types of images are harmful to children and society at large,” Pitawanakwat said.
Label action a ‘public service’
In a letter the groups shared with store management, they called the costumes disrespectful after the launch of a long-anticipated national inquiry into Canada’s murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.
Each label included a mention of the inquiry, and provided a link where shoppers could find out more information.
“As part of a public service, we have marked all the items in your store that rely on racist and stereotyped understandings of Indigenous peoples,” the letter reads. “It takes everyone in Canada to fight against sexualized violence. That starts with outfits of this nature.”
Activists asked the company to immediately stop selling the items.
All the warning labels were removed by the next day.
The groups were motivated to do something after Saskatoon-based activist Zoey Roy called for a boycott of Spirit Halloween stores earlier this month, over its stock of Native American costumes.
Spirit Halloween has store locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Removed costumes back in store
CBC News reported a Saskatoon store removed the costumes following Roy’s complaint.
But according to Chris Kortright with Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism, the costumes were soon back on shelves.
“One day after they had told the media they had taken down the costumes in Saskatoon, they put the costumes back up,” Kortright told The Huffington Post Canada.
The labels follow a recent petition launched by an Ontario woman asking Spirit Halloween to pull its “derogatory” products depicting Indigenous women and girls. An #IAmNotACostume campaign has also been launched asking Halloween shoppers to be more cognizant of their costume ideas.
“We are proud of our costume selection for men, women and children.”
— Lisa Barr, Spirit Halloween spokesperson to CBC News
Spirit Halloween did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment. But the company told CBC News in a statement that while they understand “certain sensitivities,” they have no intention to pull the costumes.
“We always strive to present our costumes in a responsible and respectful manner. 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,” spokesperson Lisa Barr told the outlet.
To Kortright, the company’s statement is “ridiculous.”
“When the joke is at the expense of already marginalized and dispossessed people, it just furthers a culture that alienates people,” he said in an interview.
“It hurts people,” he said. “It actually perpetuates hurt.”
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