For those pondering the meaning to Indian country of Johnny Depp's portrayal of Tonto in The Lone Ranger, an item of interest has shown up in the Disney Store: the Tonto Costume for Boys.
"Cool kemosabe: He'll honor the brave heart of the west in this bold Tonto costume including sheer tribal top with deluxe detailing and trims, plus faux buckskin britches."
The idea of children dressing in "Indian" costume is troubling to many in Indian country, for a number of reasons — the sort of costumes kids are taught to wear emphasize a warlike, Plains people, reinforcing stereotypes from Hollywood films and teaching children that Native culture is monolithic. Another disturbing implication is that it's ok to dress up as an entire race — actually, just one race, as few parents who let their young children go trick-or-treating dressed as "an Indian" would permit costumes of "a black" or "an Asian."
Duwanna L. Robertson commented on this site that the fall is the toughest time of the year for American Indians due to a quadruple-whammy of seasonal racial insensitivity: Halloween, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and football season (Redskins-Chiefs is December 8, mark your calendars). And in a recent TED talk, Nancy Marie Mithlo made the connection between casual racial stereotyping among children and college girls who feel it's ok to dress as slutty "Pocahotties" for theme parties.
It's worth noting that the Tonto costume is not a generic "Indian" getup — it does refer to a specific character from a specific (fictional) story. But that's another cause for concern — Johnny Depp's vision of Tonto has been criticized as fundamentally inauthentic and, despite the actor's stated intentions, perpetuating a stereotype of Natives. Adrienne Keene addressed the issue thouroughly in a post titled "Johnny Depp as Tonto: I’m still not feeling 'honored'"
Who knows whether the Tonto outfit will be a big seller — at $70 for the full package (breeches, shirt and bird headdress), it's a lot pricier than the old-school getups made with cut-up grocery bags and craft-store face paint. But come Halloween, Natives who wince at homemade "Indian" costumes might be challenged to like this store-bought Tonto any better.
"Neither Depp nor Disney cares about Indians or they wouldn't allow this travesty," writes Rob Schmidt at Newspaper Rock. "All their pro-Indian gestures are phony and hypocritical. They're meant only to placate critics of their gross misrepresentation of Indians."
In the end, the best option might be the cheaper one: The Lone Ranger's costume is just a $16.00 hat. Mask not included.