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Victoria’s Secret and the band No Doubt have been criticized for their use of First Nations imagery recently. No Doubt removed their music video for their single “Looking Hot,” after heated comments claiming the band debased aboriginal culture, and Victoria’s Secret model Karlie Kloss took to Twitter to apologize after parading down the catwalk in a recent show wearing a head dress and turquoise jewelry.


Imitating First Nations culture has been a reoccurring point of debate lately. Popular clothing outlet Urban Outfitters is being sued for their use of the name Navajo in a tribal inspired clothing line.


According to First Nations University English associate professor Jesse Archibald-Barber, the context in which the apparel is worn is important. Wearing the clothing to imitate First Nations culture can be offensive, while wearing it to make a statement or be ironic is less harmful.


Archibald-Barber explained that taking sacred items, like head dresses or feathers, out of context is where many people get into trouble.


 “Not everyone gets to wear (a feathered headdress),” said Archibald-Barber. “When someone from a non-native culture wears one simply as a fashion accessory, that’s what understandably upsets people.”


However, for Jessica Cote, the owner of women’s fashion store Obviously Chic, there’s nothing wrong with the controversial clothing – controversy is part of fashion.


“From a fashion side, fashion is meant to express yourself and express your personality,” she said. “You kind of have to take it with a grain of salt.”


Cote explained that she plans to sell First Nations-inspired clothing in her store, and that most of her cliental would never consider the clothing to be offensive.


Halloween is another source of controversy. Each year, costumes like ‘Indian Princess’ are sold, which some say promotes negative stereotypes.  


It could be considered offensive to wear these costumes at any age, but Archibald-Barber said there’s a different type of danger in dressing children in these costumes.


“It’s definitely problematic because those costumes depict the scantily-clad image of a Native woman,” said Archibald-Barber. “At a young age, the risk is that it will normalize the over-sexualization of Native women.”


Alexandra Colonel, 21 who studies at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, chose to wear a First Nations-inspired costume for Halloween. Colonel chose the costume because she liked the colours of the dress, and says she did not intend to offend anyone.


For Colonel, who grew up in France, there’s a double standard with what’s offensive and what’s not.


“If someone dressed up as a French person, I’d laugh,” she said. “I’d be like, ‘That’s really creative.’”


But Archibald-Barber said there’s a unique risk when dressing up as a culture.


“There definitely is something extra when it is a marginalized group,” he said. “When it’s coming from a position of privilege within the dominant culture, there is less of a stigma or a threat.”

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