UMSU issued an apology today after a student was allowed into the Hub Halloween Haunt Oct. 26 wearing a costume that has been criticized as culturally appropriative.
The statement said UMSU has “a safe environment policy that prohibits racism in any form and in any of our spaces, including the Hub, and we recognize that cultural appropriation is a form of racism.”
The costume in question, a head dress – feathered head gear typically given to Indigenous leaders as gifts and used for ceremonial occasions by Indigenous groups – sparked debate over social media after an Indigenous student posted a screenshot of the Instagram photo on social media.
The photo was liked by UMSU vice-president finance and operations Mbuli Matshe, who has publicly apologized.
“I was going through a couple of Hub Halloween social posts, and I was liking through them,” he said. “I was liking through them because they were posted at the Hub, and I wanted to be supportive.”
“I wasn’t by any marks trying to be malicious or be culturally insensitive,” he said. “I should’ve been more aware with my actions.”
UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said no UMSU executives attended the event but hoped it could be used as a chance to learn.
“I hope that we can use this as a learning experience for UMSU, I hope the individual can use this as a learning experience,” he said.
“And I think that going forward certainly all of our executives and all of our staff, full-time and part-time and within our businesses, I think really everyone at this university could benefit from more training in terms of cultural sensitivity.”
UMSU’s safe environment policy prohibits “discriminatory or harassing behaviours and actions” in UMSU-operated spaces, and Sanderson said cultural appropriation “certainly” falls under that policy.
The individual wearing the costume, U of M student Shoka Subedar, said he is Indigenous and the costume was meant to refer to the Village People, a disco group best known for its use of costumes.
“I won’t defend the actions of wearing the outfit that is in question, however I will explain the situation accurately,” he said.
“As the photo was taken from the back it is impossible to tell that I was wearing sunglasses and in fact was portraying Angel Morales of the band the Village People. Being that I am of Indigenous background, the intent of the outfit was not to mock nor ridicule Indigenous culture.”
Subedar also apologized to “anyone who was hurt by these actions, however my intent was never to inflict pain.”
According to Sanderson, “multiple” employees at the Hub had approached Subedar but allowed him to stay when he explained he himself was Indigenous.
Hub manager Brandon Whyte called the response a “gigantic assumption.”
“It was a young man who was ignorant of his own teachings and learnings and thought that he was celebrating his culture, because he was Indigenous himself,” he said.
Whyte, who is Métis, said he reached out to Subedar personally.
“We certainly don’t condone racism in any way, shape or form or cultural appropriation, but in this case it’s clearly, by definition, his own culture, so [it’s] not being appropriated,” he said.
“I just feel bad for him that he thought he was celebrating his culture, but he was ignorant to the fact that it was obviously quite disrespectful.”
After checking security cameras, Whyte said it was revealed Subedar entered The Hub while there was not a doorman present, which he called “very rare.”
Whyte said an email was sent out to all Hub staff concerning the situation.
“Any form of disrespect to any culture has to be reported to me,” he said, “and people have to be fully aware of it.”