Illustration by Graeme Zirk
A bunch of music festivals have banned attendees from wearing First Nations headdresses. From BC’s Bass Coast to Montreal’s Osheaga and Île Soniq—more and more Canadian organizers are demanding people keep their faux feathers at home. Other taboo symbols on their politically correct radars include Confederate flags and bindis. If these symbols aren’t technically banned (yet) at your local festival, there’s a good chance you’ll be publicly shamed if you choose to make a fashion statement out of them. Some people need to be told cultural insensitivity isn’t cool.
On the other hand, festival organizers’ decisions to outright ban these objects are seen by some as a descent into the sensitivity abyss. After all, where do they draw the line? Should bros have to cover their tribal tattoos? Should Kanye leave his Jesus piece at home? Could beer flags and visibly drunk attendees be triggering recovering alcoholics? In a possible future, gate security may require training on how to screen people for their potential to offend. Organizers are doing their best to create safe spaces, but there are innumerable what ifs on the road to idealism.
Let’s try the educational approach! On the topic of headdresses, outside of festival regulations there is no law preventing you from putting one on. Ditto if you’re planning a tasteless Halloween costume or themed party. Freedom of expression and all that. However, that freedom also means other people can express how pissed off they are by your cultural appropriation. I reached out to seven Indigenous artists to get their opinions on the banning of headdresses at music festivals across Canada. All of them were pleased to hear the death rattle of the hipster headdress.
Hellnback: "Headdresses are earned"
Even in my own Native culture, I wouldn’t go out and wear a headdress. You can’t just put those on for pictures or whatever. You gotta earn that shit. There’s a whole protocol you have to go through. For people to put them on as a costume, they don’t understand what they’re wearing. It’s disrespectful to be high or drunk or fucked up when you’re at a festival while wearing one. When people wear those, you can’t be like that. I think it’s highly disrespectful for people to wear headdresses like that, and I think it’s cool festivals are banning them.
Drezus: "Don’t mock us"
I support banning them because, personally, I feel like people are mocking who I am as a Native person. In my culture, you have to go through the proper channels and ceremonies to wear a headdress. I can't wear one myself, and people are out here wearing fake feathers and plastic on their heads. C'mon man, have some respect for yourself.
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Appropriation distracts us from 'real Indian issues'”
We reached out to Buffy Sainte-Marie and her team sent me this statement she recently posted on Facebook.
Appropriating Native American traditional regalia underscores the thoughtlessness of the ignorant who still don't understand, usually because nobody's ever made it clear. Let's smarten you up. If you had planned to wear a headdress to a concert, please don't. Our headdresses aren't fashion statements and we don't feel complimented by your appropriation.
Our beautiful feather headdresses belong to deep cultural and religious parts of our actual ancestral heritage. They are as personal to us as your grandmother's photo is to your family who might object to see it misused on the crotch of a wrestler on TV.
Cher on a horse in a mini skirt in the 70s did not turn her into an Indian, and distracted attention away from real Indian issues, and the same thing continues today. Seeing Vegas headdresses on bikini and pasty-clad models is disgusting and frustrating. David Guetta's [Fuck] Me I'm Famous nightclub shows are especially low.
Darrell McBride (Mustapio): "Cultural objects are not costumes"
I have a bias because I am a descendant of chiefs. My grandfather was chief of the Timiskaming First Nation for 12 years; my mother was also chief—her term was close to 16 years. She was the chief who took on Toronto over their plan to dump garbage in our territory in an abandoned fractured mine shaft.
I feel that the headdress is a part of our sacred traditions and is a sign of respect—the polar opposite of what festival goers and party people get out of wearing these items. I have never felt comfortable with anyone using anyone’s culture as a Halloween costume. I feel we as a society should have respect for each other by now. It seems ridiculous.
Amanda Rheaume: "You aren’t honouring Native culture"
There are items in every culture that have to be legitimately earned and cannot be imitated or faked. I think it is really important that if you are going to mock or attempt to honour a certain symbol that you understand what the symbol represents in the first place. A headdress is typically a restricted item and has to be earned. I think that the banning of headdresses at festivals is appropriate, and that if someone wants to properly honour or celebrate Native culture there are more respectful ways to do so.
Kristi Lane Sinclair: "They aren’t sexy"
Ugh, hipster headdresses. Taking a symbol of respect and parading it around [and pairing it] with a bikini further sexualizes an already out of control stereotype. We’re trying so hard to get the message across that our women's lives matter, which is even more difficult with the whole sexy squaw fad. So yeah, this mockery is not respectful or cute, and it's sure not flattering.
Joey Stylez: "Headdresses are sacred"
Personally, I’m pleased as fuck festivals are banning headdresses. I’m so happy. I got a headdress, and I earned it. It was made for me. It’s not just given to you; it’s not just an accessory. You have to earn those headdresses. When you see me wear a headdress in “Indian Outlaw” [the music video,] that was made for me by someone who was taught by my medicine man elder. There have been white people who have earned headdresses; they served time with communities by being side-by-side with Natives. If you earned your headdress, it doesn’t matter what colour you are. Same with bindis and what’s happening with that: I don’t think you should be wearing that for fun, but if that’s your culture, that’s yours. Elders give headdresses. It’s not just a pair of Gucci shoes or Louis Vuitton [accessories]. Those feathers come from sacred animals that we were grateful gave their lives for us. We pray for them. You got to wear those with pride.
Devin Pacholik is a Canadian writer. He is on Twitter.