ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – At a campus event on Halloween, an unidentified University of New Mexico faculty member posed for a picture wearing a Native American headdress as a costume.
“She was actually being awarded for most authentic costume, which is just an even more big slap in the face,” said Joaquina Castillo, co-president of UNM KIVA Club.
The KIVA Club encourages student and community involvement with Native American issues and events at the university.
Castillo says she expected to see people using her culture as a costume, but didn’t expect to see a UNM Facebook account posting a photo of a staff member doing it at an on-campus event.
“They represent the university in a way that speaks to the values of this university. When we see faculty members, who are outwardly culturally appropriating from any background someone else’s culture, it sends a clear message,” said Hope Alvrado, a UNM student and KIVA Club member.
UNM is not identifying the staff member, but Castillo and Alvrado say they know she is also a Native American.
“Just because you’re Native American, does not give you a free pass to rock a headdress or a tomahawk,” said Castillo.
They say the staff member is part of the Navajo Nation. Alvrado is also Navajo and says headdresses are not part of their specific culture.
“Headdresses are not part of Navajo culture, at all, in any way. It’s more of a plains indigenous peoples culture,” said Alvrado.
UNM says the staff member is not technically breaking rules and she will not be reprimanded. Though, the university did take down the post amid complaints.
“People need to be held accountable. We need to call it what it is and that’s cultural appropriation. It’s racism,” said Alvrado.
Castillo and Alvrado don’t want to see the faculty member punished, but they do want to start a dialogue.
“Not so much to attack, or blame her, or alienate her, or to get her in trouble, but to show her this is not how you celebrate Halloween,” said Castillo.
They, and the University, say they hope this event leads to greater diversity on campus. These students say next year before Halloween, it would be helpful to have videos explaining cultural appropriation.