Chiefs of Ontario encourages people to dress up as an Indigenous doctor

The First Nations organization uses a new method to fight racist Halloween costumes.


An organization of Ontario First Nations is taking a new approach to get rid of racist costumes, which remains an ongoing issue around Halloween.

In 2011, Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism In Society organization began the “My Culture Is Not A Costume” poster campaign, juxtaposing costumes based on a specific race, culture or identity next to actual people who embody those identities, highlighting how racist, homophobic or insensitive they are. Since then, the campaign and subsequent updates have been popular on social media, with people trying to prevent others from wearing a racist costume under the guise of a joke, and recent scandals in Canada have brought greater attention to why brownface and blackface are not acceptable as costumes.

Indigenous people, however, still end up the subject of racist costumes, so the Chiefs of Ontario are taking a different approach to combat the issue: giving people who insist on dressing as an Indigenous person the costume to do it properly.

Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum for collective decision-making and advocacy for the 133 First Nations communities located within Ontario. Working with agency BBDO Toronto, it developed a range of acceptable and more accurate “Indigenous” costumes, such a firefighters, doctors and pilots.

The costumes are nearly identical to a “non-Indigenous” version of the costume – which, of course, is part of the point. The only difference is that they are shown on the package worn by Indigenous models, along with a message from Chiefs of Ontario, explaining that “native” costumes are based on a “non-Indigenous interpretation of regalia that feed into cultural appropriation.” The portrayals of Indigenous people in its costumes, on the other hand, are more accurate representations of who they are today.

In addition to being promoted through social and PR channels, the costumes have also been on display at Theatrics Plus, one of Toronto’s biggest costume stores, during the lead-up to Halloween.