Stop Wearing Headdresses at Music Festivals

It’s halfway through the summer—prime music festival season—and yet again, we can expect to see white people donning Native American headdresses as a fashion statement.  However, several festivals in Canada are taking a stand after an uproar over a photo posted on social media of one white woman wearing a headdress and some kind of attempt at aboriginal face paint at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Several hours after it was posted, the festival issued a statement that denounced this example of cultural appropriation and insisted that the organizers ban the wearing of First Nation headdresses in the future.

Several other festivals followed suit, including the Edmonton Folk Festival, which posted an announcement on their Facebook page that they would prefer their attendees to respect First Nations culture and refrain from wearing any type of headdresses during the festival. They also announced if any festivalgoers arrived wearing headdresses, they would “be confiscated by festival security.” The Osheaga Festival, a three-day music and art event that draws crowds of up to 40,000 people per day, has also banned headdresses as an attempt to “respect and honor” First Nations people.

Caroline Audet, manager of PR at Evenko, Osheaga’s sponsor, has stated that the overall response to this decision has been positive. This year, the festival will feature A Tribe Called Red, a First Nations electronic group out of Ottawa, so this ban on headdresses is “even more important….out of respect for them.”

While this isn’t a huge leap, it’s a big acknowledgment of cultural appropriation that goes mostly unpoliced. There will always be the people complaining and asking why they can’t wear a headdress as an indigenous person can wear one without any issue. They will say that they are celebrating indigenous people’s culture. Or there will be the people with a weak attempt to make a point, saying that if they can’t wear headdresses, then Native Americans shouldn’t wear European clothing.

To those people, I will say that the headdress is sacred and ceremonial, worn only for specific occasions. It isn’t a costume or something to be worn for fun. As Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, head of the Department of Native Studies at the University of Mantoba says, “A headdress is bestowed to a person in a leadership position…Each feather in the headdress represents a relationship that has been forged by that leader or a relationship that leader carries within the community and outside the community. A feather has thousands of little strands and they all represent different relationships. That’s what a leader carries: those relationships.”

If you’re still unsure about why it isn’t acceptable to wear a headdress because you think “it looks cool”, or if you’re just looking for a good resource to explain to others why cultural appropriation is harmful and racist, check out this blog and read her post, An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses. She also provides a wealth of resources on information and issues related to indigenous people.

This ban won’t stop people from wearing headdresses, but it will serve to educate them.

3 thoughts

  1. I get the respect and honor thing, but doesn’t that mean that African Americans need to not wear African native clothing? How much indigenous blood needs to be in my blood line before it’s okay for me to wear a headdress? Exactly how Scottish must I be to wear a kilt? Where is the line drawn so that we can be clear on all cultures. I’m not Canadian, but is it okay if I like maple syrup? Yes, that tends to trivialize the situation but for a reason. I don’t have to treat other culture’s accoutrements as sacred. They don’t have to treat mine as sacred. Neither of us have to worry about offending people by putting on a kilt for St Patty’s day. Is it a serious offence to dress up like Shiva for Halloween? Just where is the line drawn? Exactly whose culture is more sacred than the next? Seriously, the ‘my culture is more important than yours and I’m offended’ ritual is too overdone to be taken seriously.

    1. Actually, since First Nations people experience genocide on our continent, the comparisons to the Scottish and kilts, for instance, isn’t relevant.

      Ultimately, it’s about respect for cultures who have suffered tremendously. You’re quite free to continue to be shallow and selfish as you go about your life, making this all about your poor hurt feelings. Or, you could choose to be quiet and listen to the many, many voices of First Nation people and what they say about this.

      Who is it that really who you want to be?

  2. Thanks Rebecca, for summing up my point of view. It’s not just about wearing pieces of another’s culture as a fashion statement or costume, but also that you will never understand the difficulties (or even genocide) that they as a people (First Nation or otherwise) have gone through. When an object, such as a headdress is sacred and ceremonial, used only for great leaders/people of respect, that’s not to be taken lightly. Plus, there are a million types for each tribe, so wearing one that is a stereotype of what the mainstream thinks they look like is just plain racist.

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