Finance Minister Siv Jensen set off quite a fuss over her decision to attend an autumn party at the finance ministry last weekend, dressed as Pocahontas. The photo she posted of herself on social media set off a torrent of criticism that surprised her, while others rushed to her defense.
“This is shameful and incredibly disrespectful,” railed one of the hundreds of comments posted under the photo of Jensen posing on the stairs inside the ministry. It shows her wearing a dress adorned with fringes, and a wig with black pigtails and headdress.
Kenzie Allen, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin in the US who has ties to both Norway and the Oneida people, commented that people using such a costume may not understand the culture of indigenous people or the oppression they’ve experienced. Indigenous people often are reduced to caricatures, she noted, but criticism of the practice is rising. Some major department stores, stocked with costumes in the run-up to Halloween, have removed so-called “Indian costumes” from their shelves.
One person objecting to Jensen’s costume choice emblazoned the photo with the message “Other people’s culture is not a costume.” Christina Hansen, a former member of the Sami Parliament (Sametinget), said she was “shocked” by Jensen’s costume choice, clearly disturbed that “a representative of the government dresses up as someone who’s been oppressed for several hundred years. That’s like playing with people’s culture.”
Others defended Jensen, with her state secretary Petter Kvinga Tvedt saying he “hoped folks wouldn’t be so easily offended and have more tolerance than this.” Confronted with Hansen’s criticism, Tvedt said that “if indigenous people want to have a discussion about this, they can. There’s freedom of expression in Norway. But I think she should have a twinkle in her eye. Jensen could have dressed up like a pirate instead, this isn’t meant to denounce the Indians.”
Opposition politicians Hadia Tajik of the Labour Party commented wryly that she thought Jensen was “a fine Pocahontas,” and was more critical of her politics. TV celebrity Davy Wathne wondered whether it would be considered blasphemous to attend a costume party dressed as Jesus.
Jensen herself told Tvedt that she thought the debate over her costume choice had spiraled beyond reason. “She’s had a lot support in social media, and it seems like most folks don’t understand the powerful reaction to her costume,” he said. “In Norway there are many who dress up as cowboys or Indians or pirates, we go from Bollywood parties to toga parties, have fun and laugh. This has absolutely nothing to do with ridiculing minorities, indigenous people or other groups.”