Why Native Headdresses No Longer Belong at Music Festivals
And several reasons why Canadian music festival Bass Coast is leading the change.
Courtesy of Bass Coast
Concerts and especially music festivals have always been events where partygoers feel that they can outwardly express themselves, beyond all reasonable doubt. Some kids wear rave kandi, others wear shirts that 'hint' at drug use and a bad sex life, and others wear nothing at all. One trend that has popped up in recent years is the use of Native American headdresses at festivals, which has, unsurprisingly, ruffled a few feathers.
This past weekend, the team out west at Bass Coast made an industry-leading, what could be game-changing move that has been a subject of debate for days now. By outlawing the admission of festival-goers donning Native American headdresses, they became the first festival to rain on the parade of electronic dance music lovers who think that they can act however the fuck they want once they are inside the grounds of a music festival. I called their Director of Communications, Paul Brooks, to talk about their decision and the public response so far.
Paul explained that there are a great number of aboriginal people in the area and as a large-scale music festival, Bass Coast is really just trying to coexist with the Indian Bands. The festival is in the Nicola Valley, which is surrounded by several Native reserves. In fact, the festival works closely with two Bands: the Coldwater Indian Band and the Lower Nicola Indian Band. These Bands have come on-site "for workshops on cultural appropriation, and ways to positively appreciate aboriginal culture" Paul explained.
When you think about it, there really is no connection between Native Americans and dance music to begin with. There aren't even really any Native DJs. A Tribe Called Red, a Native group from Ottawa, have for years now openly requested that fans don't wear headdresses or paint to their shows, similar to the idea of wearing a blackface to your favourite rapper's next show.
The only plausible explanation is that these people think it looks good when they paint their face and wear headdresses to festivals. While any normal person would likely disagree, fashion is a subjective art form. The difference between wearing a Native American outfit, and an embarrassing amount of kandi or sparkles, is that kandi, sparkles and the like, have no affiliation to a cultural or religious group in any way. At the very least it's a classic case of cultural appropriation that, at the end of the day, makes you look stupid and doesn't fly—especially on Native grounds. At the very most, it's racist. Look what just happened to the Washington Redskins, Urban Outfitters, Paul Frank, and No Doubt. "It's obviously the right timing for something like this," Paul explained. People are (finally) beginning to understand that these things need to be changed. It's time for ravers to get on board as well.
Paul highlighted the importance of on-site education in our conversation. "Last year there was a strong (educational) presence on-site. We had a couple workshops set up that were talking about cultural appropriation and the struggles of Canada's aboriginal people." They actually wanted to bring this rule in last year but didn't have enough time to pull it off with confidence.
So why is it wrong then, for a young intoxicated party animal to wear a Native headdress? Well, first of all, the stereotypical imagery of Native Americans and their attire has been largely perpetuated by Hollywood, and from what I can tell only vaguely resembles the actual tribal ceremonial wardrobe. Most people think they look like Geronimo, but actually end up just looking like Chevy Chase in Man of the House.
In Native communities, headdresses and warbonnets are actually the exact opposite of how they are being worn at festivals. They aren't fashion choices, but instead are earned as symbols of respect, honor and achievement. Warbonnets are only worn by those in a position of power—they are highly significant as an indication of status, and like I mentioned, achievement. Wearing a warbonnet you didn't earn is like tying a medal of honor to your chest that you didn't serve for.
While outcries of "So not PLUR, bro!" Have definitely been rampant on social media in the past few days, from what I've seen, most of the Internet has been behind Bass Coast's decision. Because it makes perfect logical, explainable sense.
People complaining are forgetting that electronic dance music and its various tenets are not exempt from the rules of the society that we live in. Just because you are inside the grounds of a festival, it doesn't translate into the evaporation of common courtesy in and of itself. You still need to abide by societal rules, one of which is and has always been, don't fuck with other peoples religion or culture.
And the rule of thumb, generally, is if you earned it, flaunt it. If you're a priest, wear your robes. If you're a wizard, also wear your robes. If you're a pilot, wear your wings. And if you're not a Native American chief, don't wear a Native American headdress.
Ultimately, Paul doesn't think that this will even be an issue as the story has been so well publicized, and neither do I. Bass Coast has done a fantastic job in handling the situation, and it will be interesting to see if other notable music festivals follow suit. It is a step in the right direction that will hopefully knock some sense into festivalgoers around North America who don't think twice before having their buddy paint their face with two-dollar 'war paint.' And let's be real here—we're talking about a small portion of the people that go to festivals. A handful. Most people throw on their tank tops and are content with sun and good tunes. So for the majority of partiers—keep doing what you're doing. For those now wondering what to wear on their heads this weekend—it's called a baseball hat.
Bass Coast will be running August 1-4. Full lineup and info can be found at http://www.basscoast.ca/
You can follow Zack on Twitter: @zackrota