Outraged Torontonians banded together on Saturday night to descend on a “racist party in full swing” at a Parkdale bar: A “cowboys and Indians” gathering complete with war paint and faux headdresses.
The party of 20 people, dressed in cowboy hats, headdresses and plastic tomahawks, gathered at Parkdale’s The Rhino Restaurant and Bar on Saturday night, reportedly to commemorate a double birthday.
Another patron spotted the party and sent out an alert on Twitter: “There are people actually dressed as cowboys and Indians. Face paint and feathers.”
As the message gained ground on the Twitterverse, users bombarded the Rhino’s Twitter feed with accusations of racism and threats of boycott.
“You have a racist party in full swing. It’s not ‘just a costume,’” wrote a Leslieville woman whose Twitter profile identified her as an “organizer.”
Soon, online rage took to the streets as activists began trickling into the restaurant to express their horror in person, including one man who reportedly hopped a $30 cab ride to get there as soon as possible.
“They’re not kids and they’re clearly old enough to know the difference between what’s appropriating someone’s culture and what’s mocking someone’s culture,” said Geoff Harvey, a member of the group who arrived at the establishment just after midnight. “It’s pretty awful.”
After a brief exchange with the ever-growing numbers of opponents, the “cowboys and Indians” party, some of whom were reportedly from the U.K., agreed to take off their headdresses.
On Monday, the restaurant issued a statement saying they were “deeply troubled” by the accusations of racism.
“We have the utmost respect and admiration for Canada’s aboriginal people and their distinctive cultural traditions,” read the online post, titled “About Saturday Night.” The establishment added that they had no part in organizing the event.
Once a costume party standard similar to “toga parties,” “cowboys and Indian”-themed parties have gradually fallen out of favour of late.
In March, a sorority at the University of Denver apologized for hosting a cowboys and Indians party after they were approached by the campus’ Native Student Alliance.
This is not the first time Torontonians have taken the boots to a costume. Last year, just before Halloween, Ryerson University’s Racialised Students’ Collective hosted an event titled “My Race Is Not A Costume.”
The Canadian Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association, an Alberta-based group that represents Aboriginal rodeo cowboys, said that “cowboys and Indians” iconography has never come up at a CIRCA event — despite the interplay of cowboy hats, belt buckles and First Nations culture.
“We’ve never had an issue like that at all,” said CEO Cynthia Bull.
Needless to say, I had to add my 2 cents.