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Canadian Music Festivals Are Banning Aboriginal Headdresses as a Fashion Accessory

The issue of non-indigenous people wearing indigenous attire has been the subject of recurring indignation online as the “hipster headdress” became a popular accoutrement at events like Coachella.
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Appropriated Aboriginal headdresses, which some view as a fashion accessory and others see as an indicator of douchebaggery, will no longer be allowed at a growing list of Canadian music festivals.

This week, after Montreal music mainstay Osheaga banned the feathered headdresses, the Edmonton Folk Festival followed suit, declaring that security would confiscate such headwear at the gates.

"At this time of greater awareness, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival would like to ask our patrons to respect First Nations cultures and to not wear any type of First Nations headdresses during the festival," the folk fest posted on its Facebook page Tuesday. "Such headdresses have a sacred, cultural meaning and we ask that you respect and honour that by not using them as a fashion accessory."


Non Natives that come to our shows, we need to talk. Please stop wearing headdresses and war paint. It's insulting. Meegwetch and Nia:we.

— A Tribe Called Red (@atribecalledred)June 2, 2013

On Monday, Osheaga organizers asked both festival goers and artists not to use the symbol as a fashion accessory. Osheaga's promoter Evenko also banned the headwear at two of its other events. A Tribe Called Red, an indigenous electronic trio that's playing Osheaga this year, famously told their fans in 2013 to stop wearing First Nations feathered headdresses and face paint at their shows.

"Non-Natives that come to our shows, we need to talk," the group tweeted. "Please stop wearing headdresses and war paint — it's insulting."

"Would it [be] OK to 'dress like an African' for African performers?" read another of their tweets.

Similar policies are gaining steam across Canada.

After a woman wore a headdress and face paint to the Winnipeg Folk Festival last weekend, organizers said they would ask attendees to be more culturally sensitive in the future. The organizers of RepublicLive's WayHome and Boots and Hearts festivals in Ontario banned both the headdresses and the Confederate flag — another symbol that's display has fueled outrage in the United States because of its historical connection to slavery — at their events this summer. The Tall Tree Music Festival on Vancouver Island also has a similar ban in place.


The massive Glastonbury festival in the UK banned the sale of the headdresses on its grounds last year.

The issue of non-indigenous people wearing indigenous attire is not new and has been the subject of recurring indignation online as the "hipster headdress" became a popular accoutrement at Coachella, for example.

Last year, Pharrell wore a feathered headdress on the cover of Elle UK, prompting similar backlash. And in 2012, Gwen Stefani was called out for her appropriation of indigenous attire in her "Lookin Hot" music video.

Stefani and Pharrell both apologized for the stunts. "I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture," Pharrell said. "I am genuinely sorry."

Despite growing awareness that the headdresses can be worn in a culturally insensitive way, several celebrities continued the trend of donning them this summer.

Last week, in a Twitter DJ battle, Deadmau5 slammed David Guetta for his Native American-themed party that also featured a live horse.

Jessica Simpson and Susan Boyle also appeared in the feathered First Nations headdresses last weekend, sparking outrage.

In an interview for the Tall Tree Music Fest blog, A Tribe Called Red's Ian Campeau, also known as DJ NDN, said of himself and his band members, "It's robbing us of our nationality. It's robbing me of being Ojibwe and robbing Bear and Shub of being Cayuga. Cayugas don't wear headdresses, but they're lumped into being Indian and it's cheapening. These headdresses are imitation and they're fake. They are representing a very stereotypical racist idea of what we are. I can't stand it personally."

Michelle Falk, executive director of the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties, told VICE News it was "completely fair" for festival organizers to ban the headdresses, even if the events take place on public property.

"The First Nations headdresses are supposed to be worn in ceremonies, only by elders and leaders, and so the damage that it does to people that won't be able to wear a hat to a music festival because they think it looks cool is disproportionate to the offense that it causes to First Nations communities," Falk said over the phone Thursday.

"Freedom of expression and free speech doesn't apply if it's harmful to other people and blatantly racist," she continued.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont