Jamie Becker-Finn recently went to Party City in Roseville, Minn., to find costumes for her son's upcoming birthday party. As she walked inside the store, Becker-Finn, who grew up on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, saw Native American-themed costumes that she found offensive.
She took a picture of the costumes, which included brown dresses with fringe and headdresses, and posted them to Party City's Facebook page. She said she did that after the local store manager allegedly refused to remove them.
"Hey Party City, this is not okay!" she wrote on Facebook. "Educate yourselves and get this offensive stuff out of your stores!"
Party City's Roseville store referred questions to the company's corporate office, which did not return calls seeking comment. The company did post an apology to Becker-Finn's Facebook page, saying "nothing we sell is meant to be offensive" and "there is demand for a wide variety of Halloween costumes."
Becker-Finn, however, said selling and wearing the costumes perpetuate racism.
"My daughter is not even a year and a half old and it's difficult enough to raise a mixed-race child, especially in a metro area where she isn't around a lot of other Native people," she said.
"Our family and I don't want her to ever see those kind of costumes and those kinds of images and start to question who she is and whether she has value," she added. "It's frustrating that we're not at a point where people understand that it's wrong to dress up as a race of people, particularly a marginalized race of people."
After she posted the comment, Becker-Finn said she started receiving negative and racist replies.
Some people might wear an offensive Halloween costume in the hope of having fun, but they cross a line and veer into racist territory by being insensitive, said Anton Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University.
In Native culture, some items are considered sacred and there are guidelines on who can wear them, so seeing people wear Native American-themed costumes evokes strong feelings among Native Americans, he said.
"When somebody gets a chicken feather headdress and wears it for Halloween, it's not just playing Indian," he said. "It often feels like a pretty contemporary painful mockery of somebody's recently suppressed religion."
Some mascots and names, such as the controversial logo, name and imagery of the Washington Redskins NFL football team, are considered defamatory to Native culture, Treuer said.
"Our public sports culture around the use of Native mascots and imagery in sports has left a lot of Native people really concerned and upset with cultural appropriation," he said.
Treuer said Halloween can be a unifying occasion and a teaching moment that can be used to spread tolerance. "We should be showing children how to have fun in respectful ways instead of encouraging them to be insensitive to their neighbors."
As a parent, Becker-Finn said she doesn't want her children to feel stereotyped and marginalized.
"I'm not a humorless person. I love Halloween," she said. "It's actually one of my favorite holidays, but I'm sick of having to face all these racist stereotypes every time I try to celebrate this holiday with my children."