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Activist Communique: Our culture is not a Halloween costume‏

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Cultural appropriation is never OK. For fun or not.

It has come to my community's -- the Saami people, Indigenous to the Arctic -- attention that over eBay or from the Texas company CostumeVille anyone can buy (for €43.46 or C$56.73) a Saami gakti. Ja, that is our traditional cultural dress as a halloween costume.

In a Norwegian article  -- translated in English by the kind Troy Storfjell -- commentary reads, "It's still quite a while until Halloween, but if you haven't begun to plan a suitable costume for next fall's trick-or-treating, perhaps the firma CostumeVille in Texas can help you.

In addition to the traditional Halloween costumes, like vampires, witches and wizards, they also have a Sámi collection."

The actual product description reads:

"Lappland Lady Costume includes a deep blue dress with brilliantly colored trim on the collars, shoulders and cuffs, matching red hat, plush fur mittens, richly decorated red belt and plush trimmed boots."

Yup, that's capitalism selling my people's traditional dress as a halloween costume. (Or maybe for members of the Saami diaspora looking for a cheap gakti if they don't know or cannot make their own?)

Either way, this is ridiculous. A traditional, cultural outfit should not be worn as a halloween costume.

"This is disgusting exploitation and adds to the destructive colonialism that threatens to destroy the culture of the Saami, the native people of Fenno-Scandia," said Suvi-Tuuli Allan of Kokkola, Finland.

I'm proud of my community's reaction to this. While we got the costume taken down, it has since reappeared for sale.

Saami, Ellen Jensen, created the petition, "The 'Blue Lappland Funny Scandinavian Halloween Costume' where she writes that the "funny" costume, "exploits and misrepresents the legitimate Sami culture. Dress culture is protected under international laws on the Rights of Indigenous People and on collective cultural property."

Article 11 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has two sections: "The first addresses the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and to further their own cultural practices and traditions specifically their cultural and intellectual property. The second part says that states should attempt to make reparations for all the cultural property and knowledge that was taken from indigenous peoples forcefully or without their consent."

Of the halloween costume, "This is using the traditional clothing of an actual culture just for profit, and is inherently both disrespectful of that culture, and is cultural fraud and misappropriation of it in the process," commented Saami-American, Renee Timmer.

Translated from this site, Mattias Åhrén, responding for the Sámi Council, believes the Texas gákti are, "illegal to human rights work."

"Generally speaking, it is illegal for others than Sámi to use the gákti. This applies also to clothing which resembles the gákti" said Mattias Åhren.

Sámi Parliament president and leader for the Sámi parliamentary council, Egil Olli (Ap), believes it is necessary to investigate whether Sámi had the opportunity to give permission to use the gákti as a costume and whether Sámi can control such use:

"I am unsure of which tools we have, and about finding some tools in order to stop this gákti. But we should absolutely have some guidelines to get this stopped," said Olli.

In an Open Letter to Costumeville.com by John E. Xavier (Interim Chair) and Chris Pesklo (Secretary) of the Sami Siida of North America (SSNA), they write, We, as officers of the SSNA are appalled by the cultural insensitivity displayed by the offering for commercial gain of Sami outfits as Halloween costumes.

Here in the twentieth-first century, there ought to be more thoughtful approaches to indigenous cultures than is shown in this case. For example, the supposedly Sami costumes are not manufactured in the Sami homeland, but rather in some non-indigenous production facility located in Asia. Furthermore, no Sami leadership in the Nordic countries or here in North America has been consulted about the authenticity or appropriateness of such costumes.

In another aspect of this case, we at the SSNA think that the businesses involved in the manufacture and sale of these outfits have failed to consider a larger picture: cultural traditions and world-wide recognition of those traditions, as found in documents of the United Nations and other organizations."

[The Sami Siida of North America (SSNA), represent a twenty-year-old organization dedicated to the Indigenous Sami traditions and culture of our ancestors from the Arctic Circle nations of Europe (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia). The SSNA also is active in building bridges among Sami, Sami-Americans, and other indigenous peoples world-wide, including Native Americans.]

This is not the first time Saami traditions and the traditional gakti have been improperly used.

In the fall of 2010, the Kiwi grocery chain held a celebration where its 650 employees in Tromsø, Norway, wore what has become known as a Kiwi-kofte ("kofte" being the Norwegian word for "gakti"); another perversion of Saami traditional dress in lime green. Debate raged throughout Norway and in both the Norwegian and Saami Parliaments regarding the commercialization of Saami traditional dress.

Finnish tourist organizations and companies use Finns dressed up as fake Saami wearing fake gaktis, both in their advertizing and in tours they provide to tourists. They also perform fake Saami ceremonies for tourists, like the crossing of the Arctic Ocean as a rite of passage.

The Resource Centre for Indigenous Peoples reports on a demonstration held by Saami youth in Rovaniemi, Finnland, against the Finnish government profiting off of Saami culture in the tourism industry.

In the article, "Anne Kirste Aikio is from Finland and she maintains that more than 500 000 tourists visit Rovaniemi yearly. They visit "fake Samis" and the tourists believe that all the badly dressed "Samis" in famous the ´Santa Claus Land´ are real indigenous people."

Miss Finland 2005 and 2007 both wore "gákti" at the Miss Universe competition

In 2007, contestant Noora Hautakangas wore a copy - a copy of an authentic original - of a gákti at the Miss Universe pageant in Mexico. Problematic here is a complete negation of the historical context and realities of European colonization; as if the Indigenous Saami dress could represent the colonial Finnish state.

Rauni Äärelä of the Rovaniemi Sami Association, commented that, "The gákti is continuously used as if it were a national costume".

I cannot comment on her personal motivations, but I can guess that the commercial motivation here was to capitalize of the European-exotic that the Saami represent, as the only Indigenous peoples left alive on the European continent. In fact, Arctic/Saami culture is distinct from Indo-European culture (the basis for Western civilization, ancestry and genealogy).

In the 2005 Miss Universe contestant, Susanna Laine, also represented Finland wearing the Indigenous Saami gakti. Finnartist, the corporation behind the Miss Finland competition was later forced to apologize for using a fake gakti.

So in this case, you had a fake gakti being worn by a fake Saami woman being used as a form of cultural appropriation.

Please help my community by signing the petition against cultural appropriation and fake gakti, Halloween costume here.

I think the only people laughing are the people making money off our exploitation.

**

Language note: For the sake of uniformity of language, Saami = Sami.

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