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Stop the Pocahotties

A western-themed party organized by the owner of Montreal Alouettes’ football team last week sparked controversy after photos posted to Instagram revealed a few guests wearing stereotypical “Pocahottie” and “Indian Warrior” Halloween costumes.

Among those sporting fringe, feathers and face paint was Alouettes’ linebacker Kyries Hebert.

When criticized for the costume, Hebert said he was sorry if anyone took offence, but noted the photo was taken at a private party.

While Herbert at least made an attempt at an apology, his fellow teammate Brian Brikowski’s response to the criticism was far less apologetic.

When a young woman from Kahnawake commented his photo, Brikowski told her to “#SuckABagofDicks.”

Not the best behaviour exhibited by a professional athlete and someone who identifies as a fourth generation from the Lenape Tribe.

For professional football players on a team based out of Montreal to represent themselves that way is disappointing to say the least, regardless of whether the party was private.

The Als’ director of communications, Charles Rooke told The Eastern Door that besides the Western theme, “nothing was single-handedly encouraged.”

“They didn’t mean to offend anyone and apologized for that. We deal with it internally and make sure the guys are well aware and better educated so that these mistakes don’t happen again,” said Rooke, who noted how the team has participated in football camps for Cree youth in Mistissini in the past.

Between discussions revolving around Indigenous-themed logos, mascots and the name of the Washington R*****ns, issues of cultural appropriation and representations ought to be hard for anyone in the football industry to ignore.

Furthermore, Montreal is founded on traditional Kanien’kehá:ka territory with not one, but TWO Kanien’kehá:ka communities nearby.

Someone within the Alouettes organization ought to have known better.

While I don’t want to dwell on the individual behaviour of those two players, their actions do represent a larger issue.

Society has a hard time viewing cultural appropriation as a form of racism.

Indigenous people constantly have to defend their own identities from being mocked, used as a trend and a form of entertainment.

Canadians (especially, here in Quebec) rarely learn about Indigenous people in school. So, the representations in sports, on television, on the runway or costumes on the shelf of a Halloween store shape much of what people know and think about Indigenous people.

Since they are highly inaccurate and dehumanizing portrayals that are rooted in colonial ideology, all they accomplish is creating more layers of misinformation about whom we really are.

Indigenous people are seen as less than human and effects how society understands ‘real’ social, political and economic issues – it’s kind of hard when society’s notion of Indigenous people is bound by something fictionalized and set in the past.

The Pocahottie costumes, in particular, objectify, victimize and exploit Indigenous women. That does absolutely nothing to combat the fact that Indigenous women and girls face extreme inequality in Canadian society as a result of past and present colonization.

So while non-Indigenous think they look super cute as an “Indian Princess,” “Reservation Royalty” or “Huron Honey,” for a fun and harmless night, we’re left with the real consequences, like the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Not only do those costumes contribute to the great issue of violence against Indigenous women, but also erode the self-esteem, confidence and sense of identity of Indigenous youth.

We really don’t need our youth dealing with those issues.

Indigenous people (and our allies) need to speak up in a respectful manner, otherwise nothing is going to change and those costumes are going to continue to line the shelves of stores around this time of the year.

Change can happen.

Last year, an Edmonton-based company called Halloween Alley made the decision to pull the Pocahottie costumes from their stores across Canada after receiving numerous complaints.

Unfortunately, people who attempt to call out examples of cultural appropriation don’t usually get that type of satisfying reaction.

Brikowski’s behaviour is how most people react when being pelted with accusations of racism. And when online, is usually followed by blocking users and deleting their comments to sweep any criticism under the rug.

That’s why it is important to speak up, but in a way that meets non-Indigenous people where they’re at.

Education is key.

Our allies can play an important role in promoting that, including the Montreal Alouettes.

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