Undergraduate Anthropology Organization hosts discussion on appropriation of Native American culture

In an effort to increase awareness and dialogue about cultural appropriation, the Undergraduate Anthropology Organization (UAO) held “Was your Halloween Costume Racist?: The Appropriation of Native American Culture” on Wednesday evening in the University Union.

The event, held in honor of Native American History Month, focused on cultural appropriation in costumes, specifically toward Native Americans, with the wearing of headdresses and redskin costumes. Participants discussed why this appropriation is offensive and talked about appropriation in relation to music, fashion and food.

For Mariya Ivanova, editor of the UAO and a junior majoring in anthropology, it is important to recognize that appropriation, especially at events like Coachella, is not acceptable. Ivanova said the only way to fight appropriation is to start a conversation.

“The way that I experience this campus is not the way that a person of color experiences this campus,” Ivanova said. “If an institution gets behind some kind of initiative to foster these types of conversations and create a safe space, that’s what’s going to help create that safe space. It can’t be an individual effort, it has to be coming from a place of power.”

The UAO, a Student Association-chartered organization that hosts events on campus related to the anthropology major at Binghamton University, has recently begun hosting events that address sociocultural issues such as cultural appropriation. In the past, it has hosted events on language and dialect, and hopes to host an event on sexual assault awareness in the near future.

Melina Valencia, UAO events coordinator and a junior majoring in anthropology, said anthropology relates to how people are perceived by the world, which makes cultural appropriation an interesting topic to tackle from an anthropological viewpoint.

“Making a lot more events and allowing people a way to be perceived that isn’t overtaking someone’s culture is really important to me,” Valencia said.

The UAO E-Board wrote that Native Americans have been oppressed for centuries, and the fact the University lies in an area once populated by Native Americans means students should be more aware of cultural biases.

“We live in an area of New York originally settled by Native Americans and still see them being subjugated and appropriated to this day,” the statement read. “Native Americans are subjugated to reservations and appropriated by the use of headdresses and face paint during Halloween, further maintaining the power dynamics inside the country.”

According to the e-board, although this Halloween at BU was more culturally sensitive than in the past, it still saw some inappropriate costumes during the holiday.

Christian Tejera, a senior majoring in computer engineering, said appropriating is different from actually caring about the culture.

“You’re not giving back to the black community when you like rap — you wouldn’t go to a Black Lives Matter speech,” Tejera said. “Same thing with Native American cultures; them [being] in reservations does not affect you. The appreciation of just wearing their clothing, or liking their stuff, is just not enough.”

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