Ask ARP: Why can’t non-Native children “dress up” like Indians?

[Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2008, but I think the lesson bears repeating as Thanksgiving approaches.]

Dear Anti-Racist Parent:

I was wondering if you had any literature or posts on why white kids should not be dressing us as Native Americans? I’ve used comparisons to black face, but I am looking for something specific…especially anything that references “Cowboys and Indians.


From the Editor:

This is a timely question with Thanksgiving just over two months away.  Many educators are likely planning classroom activities that involve “dressing up” to portray Native American people. And, I should point out, it is not just inappropriate for white children to do this. There are better ways for all non-Native children to better understand indigenous people.

Below are links to two great tools from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis. They discuss Thanksgiving specifically and teaching about Native Americans in general.








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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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