An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses


I see you are confused about what constitutes cultural appropriation.  I would like to provide you with resources and information on the subject so that you can better understand what our concerns are.

However, I also want you to have a brief summary of some of the more salient points so that you do not assume you are merely being called a racist, and so that I do not become frustrated with your defensive refusal to discuss the topic on those grounds.

If at all possible, I’d like you to read the statements on this BINGO card.  If any of those have started whirling through your head, please lock them in a box while you read this article.  They tend to interfere with the ability to have a respectful conversation.


  • Some items are restricted items in specific cultures.  Examples from Canada and the United States would be: military medals, Bachelor degrees (the actual parchment), and certain awards representing achievement in literary, musical or other fields.
  • These items cannot be legitimately possessed or imitated by just anyone, as they represent achievements earned according to a specific criteria.
  • Yes, some people will mock these symbols.  However in order to do this, they have to understand what the symbols represent, and then purposefully desecrate or alter them in order to make a statement. They cannot then claim to be honouring the symbol.
  • Some people will pretend to have earned these symbols, but there can be serious sanctions within a culture for doing this. For example, someone claiming to have earned a medical degree (using a fake parchment) can face criminal charges, because that ‘symbol’ gives them access to a specialised and restricted profession.


  • Other items are non-restricted.  Flags, most clothing, food etc.  Accessing these things does not signal that you have reached some special achievement, and you are generally free to use these.
  • If you do not use these items to mock, denigrate or perpetuate stereotypes about other people, then you can legitimately claim to be honouring those items.


For the most part, headdresses are restricted items.  In particular, the headdress worn by most non-natives imitate those worn by various Plains nations.  These headdresses are further restricted within the cultures to men who have done certain things to earn them.  It is very rare for women in Plains cultures to wear these headdresses, and their ability to do so is again quite restricted.

So unless you are a native male from a Plains nation who has earned a headdress, or you have been given permission to wear one (sort of like being presented with an honorary degree), then you will have a very difficult time making a case for how wearing one is anything other than disrespectful, now that you know these things. If you choose to be disrespectful, please do not be surprised when people are offended… regardless of why you think you are entitled to do this.

Even if you have ‘native friends’ or are part native yourself, individual choices to “not be offended” do not trump our collective rights as peoples to define our symbols.


It is okay to find our stuff beautiful, because it is.  It is okay to admire our cultures.  However I think it is reasonable to ask that if you admire a culture, you learn more about it.  Particularly when the details are so much more fascinating than say, out-dated stereotypes of Pan-Indian culture.

You do not have to be an expert on our cultures to access aspects of them.  If you aren’t sure about whether something is restricted or not, please ask someone who is from that culture. If people from within that culture tell you that what you are doing is disrespectful, dismissing their concerns because you just don’t agree, is not indicative of admiration.

If you really, really want to wear beaded moccasins or mukluks or buy beautiful native art, then please do! There are legitimate and unrestricted items crafted and sold by aboriginal peoples that we would be more than happy to see you with.  Then all the nasty disrespectful stereotyping and denigration of restricted symbols can be avoided, while still allowing you to be decked out in beautiful native-created fashion.

If you are an artist who just loves working with aboriginal images, then please try to ensure your work is authentic and does not incorporate restricted symbols (or perpetuate stereotypes).  For example, painting a non-native woman in a Plains culture warbonnet is just as disrespectful as wearing one of these headdresses in real life.  Painting a picture from an archival or modern photo of a real native person in a warbonnet, or in regalia, or in ‘street’ clothes is pretty much fine.  Acknowledging from which specific nation the images you are using come from is even better.  “Native American” or “Indian” is such a vague label.


It’s okay to make mistakes.  Maybe you had no idea about any of this stuff.  The classiest thing you can do is admit you didn’t know, and maybe even apologise if you find you were doing something disrespectful. A simple acknowledgement of the situation is pure gold, in my opinion. It diffuses tension and makes people feel that they have been heard, respected, and understood.

If you make this kind of acknowledgement conditional on people informing you of these things ‘nicely’ however, that is problematic.  The fact is, this issue does get people very upset.  It’s okay to get heated about it too on your end and maybe bad words fly back and forth.  My hope is that once you cool down, you will accept that you are not being asked to do something unreasonable.

Remember that BINGO card above?  It demonstrates how not to go about the issue.  You and I both know this issue is not the end of the world.  But it is an obstacle on the path to mutual respect and understanding.

Thanks for listening.


This article is adapted from a longer article I wrote previously, but I like the changes here enough that I wanted to ensure this version was also available.

Leave a Reply

  1. Thanks, useful article. It can be inobvious even for natives. As a native male from a Plains nation, my father left me his headdress which he earned and told me I could wear it when he passed. Well he did and I wore it on one special occasion but have kept it put away because I grew up off reservation and wasn’t familiar with all the customs, but I instinctively knew it was something of a sacred object, or restricted as you term it. Eventually during a visit to the reservation I asked about it (among many other things) and of course it turns out the rule in our nation is the headdress is only to be worn by warriors, which generally means veteran status, or other notable service. Now as it happens I am among a very small number of modern persons who participated in a war party as a youth with my father and others when we were attacked by an enemy tribe, so according to traditional rules I am entitled to wear it, but I think it would be considered a grey area by some, so I don’t.

    • my name is tara and I come from an indian back ground as well my grand father was born a Seminole indian and so was his mom I did not grow up on the reservation but I do know indian customs and traditions very well I did get offended when I saw people wearing the head dress that were non indian to me I thought that was just plain disrerspectuf to the indian. the article I read explaining to that woman from Oklahoma I hope she got the message.

      • While I understand the headdress is important to traditional ceremonies, I feel there is a certain hypocrisy about the situation. Allow me to explain… there are many statuses across the world from every culture that are considered an honor. And yet no one blinks an eye when people that aren’t really entitled to wear attire for those statuses, do. In example, King, Queen, Knight, Priest, Pope, Pharaoh, Doctor, Soldiers, Emperor/ess,, these are a few of countless examples. So if it offends you that people trespass on your culture, and you want people to feel the same way about it as you do, perhaps you should also be offended for other cultures who are trespassed against.

        • I personally don’t believe there is any hypocrisy here. These people are native and they are defending their own culture and asking outsiders to avoid certain sacred articles of clothing etc. They cannot speak for all cultures except their own, and so they shouldn’t because an outsider’s voice should never be louder than those who possess the culture/ traditions in the first place. I’m sure that anyone who understands cultural appropriation would understand that, and I’m sure anyone who makes the claim to respect their culture would do the same and respect others.

    • Hello everyone, I am looking for the opinion of any of you guys. I recently posted a picture wearing a headdress but it isn’t what you might picture as a Native American headdress. It has pink and purple feathers as well as beads (it’s not even mine). I was wondering what you thought about this commercialized version of the headdress, does it offend you? Do you mean that non-Indians should never wear anything resembling this? Additionally, I might add, I had no idea that it was a restricted item, and I am truly sorry if this offended you. I really need your opinion.

  2. As the title says “An Open Letter to Non-Native’s in Headdresses”, I would like to expand on the above post…I’ve seen trendy photoshoots of NATIVE women in short dresses or tube tops wearing them and I shake my head at the lack of respect and understanding, just the same as when I see a non-native person wearing one. I often hear “but I’m native…!!” when approaching the topic of appropriation. I wish some of my peers would understand you don’t have to be non-native to appropriate. Lack of respect for sacred items within the native circle is a sad reminder that there has been some success in the assimilation efforts of colonialists, the church, the government, and society.

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  6. Thank you for this informative and well explained article. Since I am from Europe it is understandably nearly impossible to achieve this kind of cultural awareness unless you intend to inform yourself. It is for example absolutely traditional for children here to imitate the looks of foreign cultures such as american natives on certain occasions like carnival.

    Although I’m certain that no German would be offended if you wore a “Bundesverdienstkreuz”, which is kind of the highest national decoration for remarkable achievements or actions or any other military stuff, because it would be known that you probably had no idea of it’s meaning anyway, I am aware that it is again emotionally different when the act of imitation is related to somebody who is directly involved in your cultural issues.

    Or in other words, it is harder to smile over the ignoramus when they nearly extinct your culture.

    I encourage you to keep up your work on grooming your culture. I hope it will grow strong and healthy again, because cultural diversity is unutterably important for our planet, as the modern civilization is far away from being progressive and collected many design defects on the way.

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  8. Thank you for this post. I whole-heartedly agree.

    It bothers me to see cultural appropriation that happens without any regard for the original purpose or culture. What comes to mind is a Tim Horton’s coffee shop in Nipigon Ontario that has a totem pole in its parking lot. As far as I know this location is not owned by a First Nations person from the Pacific Northwest. And while I am aware that a totem pole is not a spiritual object, it does have cultural significance that should not be taken out of context.

    I feel likewise about inuksuit … part of Inuit and Dene heritage that have turned into airport giftshop earrings or tourist rock-piles at the side of the road. Dreamcatchers are similarily produced for retail sales by a wide range of tourist sites that assume it echoes a sense of native “Canadiana”.

    I respect the craftwork of First Nations peoples, as I do that of any culture. I do not support trinket-buying or misappropriation of cultural identity, instead opting to enjoy other cultures as shared with me by those who have the right to do so.

  9. Concerns of these symbols remind me of indigenizing trends in pop culture particularly churned out of Hollywood (e.g. Ke$ha). Other than that are slowly-growing Amerindian cultural-fashion memes (e.g. patterns, feathers and beads, “Indian chief in headdress” Warholesque designs) among new generations of non-Aboriginal/mixed girls.

  10. I am going to try to build my own feathered head bonnet. I really like the concept and it is one I have always wanted to bring to life without relying on anybody but myself. It is often said that great artists borrow from one another – the bonnets are inspiring, but I cannot borrow the spiritual and cultural meaning that they bring to and develop, and highlight within the native communities.

    If I build my own, using materials sourced from planet Earth without harming planet earth, I will wear it and it will be joyful and meaningful to me.

    But if someone says to me “Hey, that’s cultural appropriation” I will say “No, I built this myself, it has my own personal meaning”. It’s ok that they made a mistake, and I’m glad that they are aware of cultural appropriation. They didn’t know that I crafted it myself – and sure – it will look similar to other bonnets they have seen from TV, documentaries, or real life experiences, but I will have purposely used my inspiration to make it suitably different by using dark green colour palette.

    This is all hypothetical by the way – but, as you are very intelligent and knowledgeable about these matters, I think I would benefit greatly from your insight here – and I’d really appreciate it :D

    All the best,

    Rex from Australia.

    • Apparently anything I’ve said or would say to you would be met with “No, I built this myself, it has my own personal meaning.”

      So enjoy your privilege, and enjoy the fact that you get to speak over and ignore indigenous peoples. You certainly won’t be getting a pat on the back for it from us.

      • I am interested in this aspect of the conversation because it appeals to me as an artist, and what it means to draw inspiration from something without abusing your sources, if that makes sense. I draw, sculpt and work in film and in textiles. I am currently working on a series of artworks that mix images from movies and “fashions” that are deemed commemorative, or designed to honour something, as a commentary on how we misdirect our concepts of what is “honourable”, and we commemorate relatively meaningless things. My intentions are not actually that important as far as this conversation goes, but I wonder (and forgive me if this gets a little long winded): I remember reading about the auction of Hopi artifacts in France last year (and again, more recently), and being so disappointed that it turned out that despite the involvement of the Hopi, and the Smithsonian, and a lot of voices internationally that the value of these objects as commodities was considered by the buyers/sellers/auction houses to be greater than their value as both current and historical cultural objects to living people from whom they were taken unjustly. The objects were beautiful and the story was powerful. I did some drawings from the photos, and aspects of some of these images have found their way into many different aspects of my work, because they were so resonant. I have been influenced by lots of other things though, and so one detail from a piece of woven fabric from Northern Canada might smash up against some beaded headgear from Nigeria, or a pair of ski boots in the same image/drawing/textile piece (all of which i make myself – I don’t use “cultural objects” in my work unless I am collaborating with someone from that culture who makes them), and I wonder if what I am doing is disrespectful? I have always sort of assumed (and please, correct me if I am approaching this from an ignorant place) that to see something, and to be inspired by it, and to allow it to echo in your work was ok. If I were to take/buy/steal an actual object of value to someone, and cut it up or wear it, or make it into something else, or even just keep it, I could see that that would be devastatingly insensitive at best, and at worst kind of violent. I can understand based on what you said in your (very clear and insightful – thank you so much for that) article that a headdress is a merit of high achievement, and to see someone wearing it is disrespectful to the value of the achievement of the legitimate wearer – but if it is clearly a counterfeit, does it carry the same weight? If I draw a facsimile of a Harvard degree, it doesn’t come with the honour or the recognition the real one does, and anyone looking at it would see that (I have used fake and real travel papers in my work as well – which is not quite the same thing, but similar I think). Again, please excuse my ignorance, this is an honest question – where does it stop being an affront, and begin to be acceptable to be wearing/working with things that echo the aesthetics of the sacred object (in this case the headdress)? Like, if I were to wear a hat that had a ring of feathers around the band, or if I were to make something that resembled a headdress using torn denim and metal as a part of my work, is that still treading on sensitive ground in an insensitive way? It would never be confused with the real thing (like your suggestion about the medical degree), but is obviously inspired by it on some level. I’m sorry about the long winded reply, and I hope you’re still checking in here, I would love to hear your thoughts. Emily

    • hello rex.did any thing you read on the internet about the indian head dress register in your head. my grand father was a Seminole indian and so was his mom how could you be so dam stupid

  11. Hello there, I had some questions for you related to this… do you think that recreating a piece of art for educational purposes would be cultural appropriation, if it isn’t feasible to get an aboriginal piece? Or do you think it would be better to just avoid recreation altogether if you can’t have one made by a native craftsman/craftswoman?

    Also, I am going to be going on a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to help with some of the people there. If you were in my position, where would you start on learning about the culture of the Oglala Lakota people(this is coming from a person who has little knowledge of the culture) ?

  12. In your hall of shame, you have a lot of traditional tattoo art. It all depicts women in headdresses, but if it’s labeled “traditional”, it doesn’t mean that the culture being reflected in the art is traditional. “Traditional” or “neotraditional” is a style of tattoo art. I also find that wearing things that are sacred and creating art that only depicts sacred things are two separate issues. Art is expression, anyone is entitled to make it. A lot of things offends a lot of people; it’s impossible to make everyone happy. It’s very narrow minded to call art “ugly as christian sin”, as I’m sure you’re finding my comment very narrow-minded. But you’re entitled to your opinion. Don’t try to reinforce your opinion as fact because I do know a lot of people who don’t get offended by art depicting sacred cultural objects who personally DO reserve the right to be offended.

      • Interesting assumption on your part. You seem to assume that someone who disagrees with you didn’t bother to read what you said. Perhaps that should go on your bingo card.
        I have trouble with the assumption of cultural appropriation – Many different cultures have had similar ‘icons'; stacking rocks have been done by lots of different peoples at different times. Different peoples have made ‘totem’ poles.
        Question – Which on this list do you object to – kids dressing up at Halloween as soldiers with medals, doctors, priests, cowboys, indians, native Americans/Canadians/Mexican/other indigenous people, national costumes from other countries?

        • Here’s why I assume certain people haven’t actually read what they respond to… They completely ignore the substantive points I’ve made and ramble on about freedom and ‘others do it too’, etc.

          That’s very nice that you ‘have trouble’ with something, but I’m not wasting time engaging your ‘points’ when you don’t bother to engage mine. Read the article. Identify which argument you don’t agree with. Lay out where you think it goes wrong and why. Then we’ll talk.

          This is honestly Discussion 101 and if you can’t operate at even that level, I’m not interested in what you have to say. Period.

          • IT’s not simply a matter of disagreeing with what you’ve said. They’ve read this article and the original commentor had also read your wall of shame, and rather than disagreeing with what you’d said, they were simply confused as to how it applied in some other cases.

            If you’re seeking the end of ignorance, it might help to actually answer the questions of those trying to inform themselves, instead of insulting them and perpetuating the problem.

          • Have you seen how many comments there are on this?

            I have addressed the same comments, over and over again. At some point, the onus is on you folks to think for yourselves, and not expect to have your hand held while you are gently led through the information yet again.

            Honestly, stop whining about my tone. The article is pretty comprehensive, and a link is there to an even MORE comprehensive and detailed examination of the issue. That was me being clear and nice, with a lovely helpful tone. Crying in my comments because some folks are too lazy and intellectually dishonest to address the points I raised, gets you nowhere.

            If your ‘support’ is predicated on me talking to you like a kindergarten teacher, judging every possible scenario for you so you don’t have to think, kindly fuck off.

          • Edit: this post was originally a bunch of racist invective. How sad that the person posting from the IP address of in Los Angeles, California, doesn’t get a platform to be a disgusting, racist, piece of crap.

  13. Thank you for this article! I found it fascinating – not only because this subject is current, but also because it offered me some new facts, interesting “inside information” ( well, sort of, here in nordic countries we really don’t hear or know anything about native americans ) and some thoughts from a person who actually knows these things.
    I’ve always found your culture very intriguing – so again, thank you!

  14. This is an old post but I had to wrote something. I found this text when I was looking for some headresses for the custom- party, because i find them beautiful. Immediatly after reading I stop looking and decided to wear something else. I want to apologize because i did not know this but now I do so obviesly I will not wear anything like that, ever. I from Finland ( Europe) so these things are not familiar to me but now they are and I will find out even more, because I want to know. My granma is from Karelia and I would not be happy if someone would wear their national dresses. i am really, really sorry.

  15. I listened to an interview on CBC’s ‘Q’ with ‘A Tribe Called Red’ discussing how they feel when they see headresses showing up at their shows. It was an informative segment for me. Now I read your blog and I understand even more. Thanks!

  16. As a very white, uncultured canadian female (even in my own Danish culture I find I’m in the dark), i greatly appreciate this bit of information. I am very inferested and have great appreciation for other cultures. I have always been particularly captivated by the Native culture and have a great respect for your people. Given the chance i would have loved to try on a headdress but now that i know i will simply respectfuly admire it. However i do wear my handmade mukluks with love and pride.
    I thank your people for your beautiful culture.

  17. I read your blog and I respect your opinion but it seems to me you’re the one who’s not open-minded. Referring to your comment to Courtney.

      • Perhaps they wouldn’t need to be “fools” if you’d actually answer nicely. Respect is a two-way street.

      • Your article was so well-written and filled with great points. I had much respect for you after reading. However, in the comments you act like a whiny and arrogant child who has no sense of how to have healthy discourse. I suppose it is easy to hide an ugly personality with a well put together article and fancy words.

        • If you only listen to the opinions of marginalised peoples when they speak sweetly to you, don’t pretend you will ever be an ally worth working with.

          You need to understand our anger, and where it comes from. You also need to understand how many of the comments I am responding to ‘rudely’ literally perpetuate colonialism and violence against Indigenous people.

          You are missing a big piece of the puzzle, and if all you do is label it “rudeness” then you haven’t learned a thing.

          • I don’t think that’s what cassidyrex meant at all. Like I, cassidyrex seems to have thought your article was full of great points, but your attitude *to others* in the comments is awfully rude. It’s a judgement based on what you’ve said to these other people, even if their points are as reasonable as yours. There is a difference between understanding, accepting and acknowledging your anger as a people and then there’s accepting being spoken to by a rude individual. If you wouldn’t put up with it, why should anyone else?

          • I honestly don’t give a shit about you, or anyone else, comparing flat out refusal to actually address the issues *politely* laid out in the actual article, to my complete (and apparently rude) refusal to coddle folks. I’m not your spirit guide, I’m not your pacifist squaw, I’m not your sweet little soft-spoken Tiger Lily. Address the points in the article, or to be extremely clear: FUCK. OFF.

          • I found your blog in a quest to find out more about the metis nation. Initially I found it interesting and stimulating. However,your responses to individuals with opinions differing from yours have destroyed your credibility and worse yet, revealed your self-centred intolerance and lack of humanity.

        • I, Like the others, believed that your article was well written, until I read the nasty things you have said since. Why would anyone choose to seriously consider your points when you treat them like shit for asking questions or having a different opinion. As the writer of the article, you have committed to giving people information on something you believe in, and in your article you very respectfully did so. This is something that you should be carrying to the comment section. even if you have to “answer the same questions repeatedly”. If you want us to understand your anger, then maybe you should address us in a way that won’t make us think you are a bitter scumbag that can only speak through anger. The points in the article were addressed, but all respect was lost for you and your points once you started angrily pounding away at your keyboard because because anyone dared open a discussion with you in the comments. So heres what I have to say to you: you can kindly FUCK OFF, your article is has become worthess since you can’t seem to provide any support in the comments. You don’t like that I wear a headdress? FUCK OFF, because I won’t listen to a damn thing someone as rude as you has to say about it. Maybe someone else will come along and can explain to me why wearing a headdress is wrong. until then, YOU are an unreliable source. haha, so funny you put so much energy into something you are passionate about and then destroy the chance you have to make people understand your anger and hurt by treating them like shit.

  18. “These headdresses are further restricted within the cultures to men who have done certain things to earn them. It is very rare for women in Plains cultures to wear these headdresses, and their ability to do so is again quite restricted.”

    So if a woman does what a man would do to earn a headdress, how is she honored? Is there a female equivalent that men aren’t usually allowed to wear or are women just held to a higher standard?

  19. I am so grateful to have stumbled on your blog. This is so enlightening. But more so, I can comprehend the tone and emotions in your writings. I have great respect for indigeneous people all over. I am from India (from a local indigenous community called ‘East Indians’ in India) and our local people are fading away in the huge mass of diverse religions and cultures among the Indian ethnic peoples there – You may have never heard of the ‘East Indians’ of the nation of India. We have very little national presence, let alone global presence. I have also lived for 10 years in NewZealand and admired their indingenous people called the ‘Maori’ and their customs and their ongoing struggle for equal recognition and not just reservations. Sending you my warm heartfelt greetings to you all.

  20. This letter completely disregards the fact that most people wear things simply because they like how certain articles/items look. It usually has nothing do to with honor or respect. The headdress itself may be a symbol of an achievement, but it is itself not the achievement. Frankly, it only holds as much value and authority as one decidedly places on it, just as words have only as much value and meaning as you place on them. One person can hold a rock and feel it is the most important thing in the world to them, while another will look at it as just a rock. It’s a matter of perspective. To chastise someone for their own perspective isn’t a trait of open-mindedness, but rather one of intolerance. To call a contradicting perspective “disrespectful” is itself disrespectful. That kind of thinking is something that creates boundaries, not something that promotes unity or individual freedom.

    The Golden Rule is “treat others as you would like to be treated” – that goes both ways. If I wear something that you like, I feel you should be allowed to wear it, too, regardless of what it is. Likewise, I feel I should be able to wear something that you do if I like how it looks. If you feel I follow traditions that are silly and you want to mock me, I encourage you to do so. That is your right as a free, living being. It’s 100% my choice if I want to be offended by your actions or not. Nobody controls my emotions but myself, and if I disagree with what you think, say, or do, why should I become upset? It would be selfish of me to expect you to think like I do. Instead, I choose to respect you and your views, no matter how much I disagree with them. You are fully capable of doing the same.

    And by the way, I have Native American heritage.

    • You have hit enough points on the cultural appropriation BINGO card to win a prize, no doubt.

      You claim some vague “Native American heritage” (we don’t actually identify that way, btw) in order to excuse yourself and others. You call upon an extreme form of cultural relativism wherein nothing has any meaning but what the individual engaging in the behaviour gives it. Of course, this extreme form of cultural relativism completely ignores the reality of social structures and norms, and the way in which societies give things importance because we do not exist as individual units.

      Ugh, no. Your entire post reeks of idiocy, to be frank. This is not an issue of individual perspective. Someone, give this person what he won for playing Cultural Appropriation BINGO.

      • Wow. I have to say a lot of your points are valid but they are lost in your bad attitude. You cannot speak for possibly every tribe so please don’t act like you do. You’re marginalizing other native peoples while at the same time dismissing the issue of cultural misappropriation of other cultures. You act like a child anytime anyone disagrees.

        • You made absolutely no attempt to engage any of the points in the piece, you simply invoked some vague notion of complete and total individual freedom. You do not have complete and total individual freedom in the real world, and despite your adherence to the notion of individual cultural relativity, we do indeed restrict certain things in human societies. You may not like this fact, but your argument against it is not at all compelling, as you essentially attempt to ‘think restrictions away’ without ever engaging with why they exist in the first place.

          And with your last petulant rant, you have indeed achieved BINGO!

          • I’m getting a headdress tattoo because I think they are beautiful. I read your original artical as well as researched the meaning behind them so I know what they are about… and I couldn’t care less who it offends! So put that in your pipe and smoke it! Ha! :-P

          • I like how not adhering to your cultural norms is “racist”. It may be insensitive, you may not like it, and you are free to be offended, but how is not following Your social structures and norms racist? Structures and norms that in many aspects are exclusionary in nature, of which good example would be rewarding women soldiers with “male regalia”. I have been thought to treat everyone the same, no matter gender, age, race, social background. But respect has to be earned and the attitude you have displayed in comments here does not make me feel any regarding your person.
            In my humble opinion it would be more reasonable to simply point out that people who wear such imitation headdresses have nothing to do with Native Americans. Using terms such as racist to describe everything you don’t agree with simply devaluate the term, a term that should not be taken lightly.

          • The racism comes from a long history of outlawing Indigenous cultural practices such as the potlatch and sun dance. The racism comes from the Prairie pass system which made it illegal for natives to leave the reserve without permission and was deliberately set up to prevent social gatherings and political organization. The racism is in the attitude that our culture is yours to commodity, take from or deny us via colonial structures of power. Engaging in the appropriation and tokenization of our cultures is a proud colonial legacy, and only the wilfully ignorant can ignore that. In an earlier comment I addressed your ridiculous claim about ‘sexism’ re: the headdress, and you also obviously missed the part where it was explained that female warriors also earn the headdress.

            Fuck off with you denial of colonial history and present and fuck off with your tone policing as though refusing to engage ignorant ass racist pricks is somehow equivalent to structural racism itself rather than merely the appropriate response.

            Most of all, fuck off for not actually engaging the argument.

          • The only racist I see on this page is the you. Did you ever have to get a prairie pass, or deal with 99% of the things that NAs did in the past? No, you didn’t. You’re just an angry, entitled twit who’d be pissed about something else if you didn’t have this. The only thing you’re accomplishing, is being enough of an obnoxious ass as to make people acquire a headdress just to piss you off. Pretty counterproductive. You’re not going to foster respect for a culture by being a jackass.

      • Edit: This person likes to spew racist, homophobic bile. What a shame they don’t get to share their opinions freely with this blog as a platform! Posting from in Australia? Huh. Interesting.

    • Jacob, the Golden Rule “treat others as you would like to be treated” can also be interpreted in a less individualistic way that responsibly considers the impact that one’s acts have on another person. The argument that ‘nobody controls my emotions by myself’ propagates the destructive dualisms in our society, usually promoted in neoliberal societies in order to continue unjust power imbalances and a Darwinian-like view toward ‘the other’. How about considering a more humane outlook that is based on our interdependence? How much harm would it truly do to us to not wear a headdress? Not much, I believe. Especially in comparison with the harm it may cause to another person, considering the perpetual colonial relations, cultural genocides and oppression Indigenous peoples have faced for centuries. It’s about balance, harmony and reason, rather than merely stating one’s rights to unlimited freedom of expression for everything.I have no religion, though I do believe in one God-Goddess (i.e. The Creator) and ‘the Golden Rule’. In this case, the Golden rule would be that I wouldn’t want wear something that may hurt another person, especially considering the above circumstances. The other’s well-being also means our well-being, because we’re all ONE.

  21. I recall when imitation used to be the biggest form of flattery, when did that change? Are we truly suggesting that we can only have heroes from our own race? If so, then I believe we have become the racist we wished didnt exist. Lets celebrate and embrace our culture as well as that of others. As soon as our culture becomes ours alone then we have nothing.

    • This is not imitation, it is ignorance. Please do not claim to be paying homage to cultural symbols you are too lazy to understand, or pay any actual respect to. If you just want to rip something off, and you don’t care if it bothers people, own that. Do not hide behind false claims to be ‘celebrating’ what we are telling you is not yours to do anything you wish with. You can’t pretend to be respecting us, while you actively disrespect us.

      • does it make you feel better to sit on your computer and bitch about things because you have no life ?
        People are allowed to do what they want and if someone wants a head dress tattoo they can get one and shouldn’t have to explain the meaning behind it to everyone , your pretty much saying anything anyone non native does that has anything to do with native culture is racist , it’s 2014 so get with it your not in charge anymore nor will your culture ever will be again so take what we do as a compliment , and if a non native person has a native friend they obviously respect them and don’t use them as excuses for the things they do , your delusion :)

        • Thank you for sharing your unapologetically racist, colonialist opinion. Though it is a breath of stale air, never let it be said I don’t let some of you folks rant and rave away…always good for a laugh at least!

          • As enlightened as I am after reading your article, and with the risk of being called racist and winning Bingo, your attitude is atrocious. Your article was very well written, and was more fact and less opinion, which is definitely debate 101. however each reply you make to each comment only makes me, as well as others, lose respect for you and your opinions. If you want respect, you should learn how to give it.

          • Please, you have no more right to be here than I do. Colonial. How is that not racist?

    • Hello, Paul. I have no links to this culture, and I really have no business replying to this. I am no expert on the subject. But I would like to point out several statements in the above article that answer these questions already. You seem like someone who wants to create an intelligent discussion, so I’ll try to give you one.

      Imitation is flattery when you are respecting the one you are imitating – for example, looking up to a role model, or taking on the fashion style of your friend. But the imitation mentioned in this article comes with disrespect, and is actively promoting harmful stereotypes. Many of the photographs found online of others wearing headdresses are of people being drunk, smoking, nude, etc.

      Sharing culture is great! But only when you know the significance of what you are inspired by. And there are things that are off limits. As the author mentions, it is like the difference between wearing a hoodie and producing a fake war medal. Pretty much, compare and contrast picking up a few traditional recipes from my mum and this video:

      Yeah. I’m Chinese-Canadian, and I love sharing my culture with my friends – cooking I’ve picked up from my parents, the many old legends I’ve read, trying to figure out calligraphy together – but there are things that are off limits. Sometimes, with our melting pot/tossed salad sentimentality, our thoughts of being multicultural, we cross the line from celebrating and sharing to mocking and appropriating.

      The only thing I can come up with to compare this to is wearing the pope’s clothing and going binge drinking with your buddies. All the while taking selfies and with the captions “So ironic lol” and defacing a church. You may not be Christian, but I hope you understand the sentiment.

      It’s even worse when you do this with minority cultures, because it’s drastically less likely for someone to call you out on it.

      I’ll admit that the tone of the author’s reply is harsh – but she’s been dealing with this for a long while, putting up with bullshit responses that only mean to further degrade her culture. Yours is just another in the list (the few comments I’ve read throughout this website often have similar sentiments to yours). There is a long history of this crap in Canada, and even today, the government is refusing to do anything. I don’t have any links on hand (although you could just go through this blog), but even our history textbooks (forced down to a PG version) record this.

      The difference between celebrating culture and destroying is a hard line to walk, and yes, it’s very possible to offend others. It’s a byproduct of our society. Apologize if you do. Strive to be better.

      TL;DR – Being ignorant isn’t the same thing as sharing culture.

      • I would equate it more with Catholic Communion and using the Eucharist as crackers… and the blood of god to get your drunk on. Oh I’m agnostic btw but went to Catholic school.

        Or wearing a purple heart that isn’t from a family member to a 4th of July celebration or memorial day celebration. Or just claiming you are a veteran when you are not even ex-military.

  22. Note the significant difference in our approach. I ask questions with the hopes of engaging an opportunity to learn from each other. You reply with accusations and attempt to denounce who I am as a person! You wish respect by being disrespectful? I believe you have a lot of anger and unfortunately that can blind a person to truth and understanding. Perhaps it would have been prudent of you to ask of me if I am an Iriquois Chief or European Pauper first? Have you tripped over you anger and made assumptions of who I am?

    • Yes yes yes, you are special, and your arguments and tone policing are special no matter how many thousands of times they have been rehashed by others. You deserve time and consideration and engagement despite the fact that you did not address a single point made in the article. You merit celebration of your radical ideas of harmony, while you blithely wave aside the specific reasons given as to why certain things are disrespectful. I deeply apologise for not getting a sample of your DNA or giving due reverence to your individuality before I lumped you in with every other shithead who says the tired crap over and over again without a shred of intellectual integrity or consideration of the material presented.

      We aren’t a “race” we are individual nations, and having someone claiming to be native going, “I personally don’t mind, go ahead!” isn’t all that compelling. You don’t get a pass on ignoring the specifics here, or creating straw-arguments (omg we’re not going to let anyone access our cultures ever!) any more than some hipster does.

      • Edit: I celebrate my racism, and add smiley faces to show how little I care about the ignorant, vile, racist things I say, aren’t I cute?

  23. Thank you I believe that I understand and I am grateful. I need to research and study, understand more then copy and duplicate. My culture is vastly different from yours and I will try to learn more

  24. my friend is going to a fancy dress party as the lone ranger and asked me to go as tonto or kimosabe. Am I ok as long as I don’t wear the headdress ?

    • I think the problem here has nothing to do with the headdress, and more to do with the reality or idea that the show itself was pretty racist and disrespectful to the native people themselves in how the characters were depicted and not as much the culture of the people. Maybe try to convince your friend not to go at all as the Lone Ranger. If he insists maybe he should go it alone.

  25. so if it is culturally rude to wear a headdress, what are some alternatives if any? I really enjoy the beauty of the headdress, and my original plan was to wear one for senior crowns ( most/all wear crowns from burger king) but I wanted to do something different- a headdress ( before I knew the symbolism and meaning). I still want to do something different, and its very hard trying to let go of the headdress, is there a way to meet in the middle without offending anybody. would it be ok if I wore it once or no?

  26. I have a few questions and I am not trying to antagonize I am simply curious. You said that “for the most part headdresses are restricted items” could you provide some examples of situations where that is not the case? Also you stated that there are on occasion people awarded with a headdress in a matter similar to an honorary degree, is this honor exclusive to First Nations? If it can be awarded to non First Nations peoples how would that individual go about wearing it without being offensive? Or to be more clear, without people making the assumption that they are being offensive when they have the special permission you discussed above. You also stated that it would be appropriate to depict a “real native person in a war bonnet” but you said in the previous sentence it would be offensive to “depict a non native woman” so I’m asking if it is in fact ok to depict a native woman in such fashion? Lastly you stated that it would be offensive for a native person who has not been awarded a headdress to wear one. But it is okay to depict a native person who has not been awarded a headdress as someone who has? So if I am a native male model who a artist has made a painting of wearing a headdress, would that not be offensive to my fellow natives to see a painting of me wearing one when they know I have not been awarded one? Thank you for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity and Thank you for your informative letter. I apologize if my questions offend in any way, I am simply trying to understand this issue as much as possible.

    • I have a follow-up to this that I am curious about as well. Going through the hall of shame, it seems as if all headdresses are off-limits where some don’t even look “native” (what is the correct word) at all. They are just feathers in a band done up in some way. But the original labels are missing so it is hard to tell if the image itself is offensive or if calling it Native is what makes it offensive.

  27. Thank you for writing this. I see these idiots at North Country Fair every year but I don’t have the energy to explain to them how stupid they are. If its alright with you, I want to print a few of these off and hand them out when I see them, and hopefully make them think twice.

  28. Thank you for writing this post! I’ve just moved to Canada from Scotland, and want to learn as much as possible about cultural respect in relation to First Nations while I’m here. Step number in not being a doosh: don’t appropriate First Nations headdress. Got it. I’ve subscribed to your site for more insights!

  29. I appreciate that there is legitimate feelings of offence here, but your argument is completely flawed. This idea of “restricted symbols” only applies to people trying to pass themselves off as something they are not. True, you cannot wear military decoration and claim you are a hero, and well beyond that, it’s not acceptable to pass yourself as something you aren’t in general. You can’t put on a collar, lie and say you’re a priest. But no one who wears a headdress at a tailgate party is claiming they are a respected Native chief. It’s a costume. And when it comes to fun and costumes, there is are absolutely no symbols in Western culture that are so sacred they can’t be worn. You are free to have fun with all of our sacred icons… you can dress as a rabbi, a priest, a military hero, the president, Mother Theresa, a free mason… go nuts. The only one that might get you into hot water is dressing as a Hells Angel, in full colours. Like you, they also don’t like people having fun with their sacred adornments.

    • We aren’t talking about Western culture, where everything is up for grabs and nothing is so sacred it can’t be worn and made light of. We’re talking about why Indigenous people say it is unacceptable for non-native people to appropriate these symbols. The analogies to important symbols in Western cultures are just that…analogies, to give people a sense of what these symbols mean in our cultures. They are not mere adornments or fashion statements to us. They have deeper meaning. If people wish to make light of that deeper meaning and engage in disrespectful behaviour while participating in colonial stereotypes, no one is preventing them from doing so. What we are doing, however, is making it clear that we feel disrespected, and that this is not okay by our standards. Feel free to ignore this, but don’t bother trying to convince us you mean no harm now that you know this is how we feel.

      • Not sure that I agree with you when you say that for Western culture ‘ . . .everything is up for grabs and nothing is so sacred it can’t be worn and made light of”. Not while we continue to struggle with a load of symbols and regalia left over from the Second World War that are still highly toxic (and therefore very sacred) at any rate.

        Agree with the general direction of your argument, though.
        A lot of it comes down to building trust between communities which means showing some respect for things that others deem significant, even if you don’t.

    • I think this seems to get to the heart of the issue…for Native people feathers are not a “costume” for dress up play time. Rather they are an important symbol earned by military veterans and even college graduates. They demonstrate commitment to the community, hard work and personal sacrifice. They are used in religious ceremonies and have been imbued with a powerful feeling or respect and appreciation. In recognition of this special relationship, eagle and other migratory bird feathers may not be owned or possessed by non-natives here in the US by federal law.
      This is quite different from a perspective that sees feathers as party toys…and you are right that many in the west generally don’t regard symbols are something particularly important (although the US flag, Constitution, places of worship and many monuments are respected). Its a cultural difference….but the reality is that Native Americans do regard feathers as special and note that feathers are worn by people who have earned the right to wear them.

  30. I really wanted to learn from reading this.. but after reading through the comments and replies I just can’t respect anything you say because you are so negative and rude.It is truly terrible.
    It is clear that lot of people feel the same way and are truly let down after seeing your attitude outside of the informative article that you took the time to write.
    Please borrow from another culture and do some meditation or crystal healing.. I promise nobody will be offended.

    • “I really wanted to learn and grow but I couldn’t because you were meaaaaaan!”

      Tone police elsewhere. It is not even remotely true that if we only spoke in the sweetest of tones we would convince people like yourself to change your ways. This is just another excuse to continue doing whatever you want.

  31. I have a question. My father is a hunter he got a Turkey. I cleaned the bird. While doing so I de-boned the wings and are in the process of drying the skin. I planned on making a headdress of sorts. Not resembling a Native American headdress, but a large feather head piece. Is that inappropriate?

  32. Pingback: Flaming Lips singer responds to accusations of racism

  33. I have a hard time with this argument, as I see both sides. You make some valid points. I understand we live in a society where cultural and religious symbols are revered and respected and many times expected to be kept sacred. I, however, think that religion is a sham and that telling people they can’t use a symbol simply because 1. it isn’t theirs or 2. they didn’t “earn” it is egotistical and ridiculous. I am in no was racist. I genuinely love ALL people and skin color, culture, stereotypes and generalizations mean NOTHING to me.
    I also think that restricting the use of something in one’s culture to ONLY those in the culture (or those deemed “honorable”) only creates more boundaries and extends the polarization of human society.
    Yes, if someone is using a cultural/religious symbol to make fun of said culture/religion or perpetuate stereotypes, it makes them an asshole. For sure.
    On the other hand, being offended is a CHOICE. Just like being an asshole. And if I’m going to put time/money into creating a beautiful piece that was inspired by a beautiful culture because I like it, and someone is going to tell me that is wrong and offensive, I am going to say I disagree that it is wrong and am sorry you are offended. Symbols really DO only have as much meaning as we give them, and if you/your culture decided a certain symbol is especially sacred/restricted, that’s all good for you. However, I refuse to give any symbol more value than it intrinsically has. That is my choice as an intelligent, considerate and independent human being. And I can honestly say that I hope one day our human race evolves to the point that it does not give stuff and symbols more value than they actually have and will stop making them restricted and stop taking offense to people using them how they want.

    • Feel free to choose to be, as you say, an asshole.

      People will call you out for it, and it is becoming much more probable that your career will suffer as a result.

      To call yourself an intelligent and considerate human being while stating flat out that you do not care what value we put on OUR symbols, symbols you feel you have the right to devalue any way you see fit, is laughable. But it is your right to make such claims.

      Have fun with that attitude. Just don’t expect anyone to take what you are saying at face value, instead of judging your actions on their own merits.

        • It is starting to.

          The less being a racist asshole is considered socially acceptable, the more serious consequences people will face for engaging in such behaviour (i.e. losing their job, being denied entry to their preferred post-secondary institution etc), and the less likely they will be to do it openly.

      • - Why would someone purporting to be intelligent, CONSIDERATE, etc.and human feel it is their right and their privilege to set the tone – to determine the standards and intrinsic meaning for other people’s cultures and cultural representations? We hold sacred items (as determined by us) in respect. We define the origin, content and boundaries of that respect. WE have that right…not you…

    • I honestly agree with you. I don’t see why one culture can say that the symbol is “theirs,” no if’s or but’s and if anyone wears it they are racist and ignorant. I am a Christian and I choose to not be offended by people who wear an upside-down cross as a fashion trend lately because it really just isn’t my problem. That cross represents everything I believe in spiritually, but it really is not my issue if that is what they want to do because it is the United States and people can do whatever they please. I don’t take it personally at all. If someone wants to go to the bars dressed up as the Pope, okay, then do it. It doesn’t change my beliefs and I don’t think they are ignorant. I don’t judge them as being disrespectful. My relatives are from Poland and if people want to make fun of what they wore, okay. If they respected the idea and wore it, I would be happy. If you want to wear American military medals, go ahead. I don’t know, I just don’t really care what other people do. Plus, the mixing of cultures isn’t exactly a new idea. Every culture is a mixture of other cultures.

      • There is no “Christian Act” which specifically sets out the minute details of how Christians can live. Your dead are not paved over or disintered to be ‘studied’. There is no centuries long history of oppression of Christians peoples in North America. You have not had your lands stolen, only to be moved onto tiny pieces of arid land. You do not continue to have your land whittled through expropriation, and your children were not taken from you in order to erase your language from their tongues.

        It is not important what you personally ‘choose’ not to be offended by, because you cannot compare your situation to that of Indigenous peoples. Not with a single ounce of intellectual honesty or historical accuracy.

        • Wow. You can’t relate to anybody at all, can you? How do you expect others to embody your views? She said her family is from Poland. Everything you mentioned has happened to Polish people. But it’s ok for you to be ignorant.. Their land WAS claimed by others for centuries and they were wiped off the map, denied an education or their language, etc. etc… etc.. considered inferior humans, etc.. Then during WWII If you were a Polish Jew you had a death sentence, and if you were non-jew, you better lick the boots of that Nazi next door who killed your neighbors and moved in, or you’re dead too. Your teenage daughter may be snatched off the street to do slave labor in Germany, if they didn’t deem you fit for the job. In perspective, maybe YOU are the priveleged one, compared to your ancestors, and other peoples in nations in this world currently at war. “Someone wore a cheap imitation of my grandfather’s headdress and I’m a victim, so I’m entitled to call anyone who engages in discourse a racist idiot or an asshole”. although your article was intelligent, you really held back. turns out you are a whiney close-minded brat. You demonstrate privilege and entitlement in full force.

          • Lol. “My family was oppressed somewhere else that means I can speak authoritatively on what your people should be okay with.”

            Nope, sorry. My favourite part of your ridiculous spiel was telling me that Indigenous peoples of the Americas are privileged, demonstrating the stunning depth of your ignorance.

      • about 100% agreement. Its funny how a person can claim something to be “ours” in one post then claim “we” are not a “race” in the next post but anyone that uses “our” crafts in ways that “we” say is incorrect is appropriating about that person that is Irish but has gotten a tartan from their elders but does not live anything like the way they did? How is that not also appropriation? Then yet they might claim they are the only ones given the right to wear or use the cultural tradition solely because they are ethnic or racially connected to the symbolism how is that NOT racist in and of itself? My points: The argument that its wrong to impersonate an false identity via authentic tribal regalia:valid, Argument that its wrong to wear generic 1st American culturally INFLUENCED regalia simply because of being of other ethnic identities:invalid/racist. Argument that it will piss off some people either way and one is racist/colonialist if they don’t concede to their wishes in any case?: inane.

        • I have no idea what you mean when you say 1st American etc. Plains headdresses are not American, they are nêhiyaw, or Nakota/Dakota/Lakota or Niitsítapi etc. Only about a dozen nations in the Plains use the particular headdress being aped by so many. There is nothing ‘influenced’ about it, they are straight up rip offs.

          We have every right to determine how our symbols are used within our culture. People have every right to go and steal those symbols…and we have every right to point out how disrespectful, and often racist that is. Basically no amount of attempts on your part to logic yourself out of that is going to be effective. Do as you wish, but we will not stop telling people “that is not yours to use, and what you are doing disgusts us.”

          • I honestly think the wrong word is being used here though. Someone wearing a headdress might be ignorant and misuse of the piece but that does not automatically make them a racist. Unfortunately they have succumbed to encouraging stereotypes which is denigrating as well but again not racist. Racist is a very strong word with a very specific definition denoting superiority of one’s race or culture over another. An ignorant misuse of headdresses, additional clothing and other aspects of the culture may be disrespectful but again not racist.

    • Its really funny because My first thouights about the Pharell incident was about viking helms and here I see on two totally separate discussions more than one reference to Vikings. I agree with you Vikingmetalgirl..In fact I think a vangaurd of human consciousness has already evolved beyond alot of petty virtues and dogmatic symbolism and rituals, but that does not mean that the ritual motions and language forms are not potent and in many ways necessary to further our ways of life..the important thing now is to re-understand the meanings and reasons why we do what we do or did and not to abandon them altogether and throw ourselves and our childrens destinies out to the canyons. You should try to find the hidden layer of truth in religious and spiritual ideas and start again to consider their value to the future growth of human/planetary conditions. Consider this in silent darkness of “outer space” we’ll need “God” more than ever before..but we probably need god in a way that we have never used it before..something far less co-dependent and more quantifiable…but we have moved away from the topic at hand a bit. Just wanted to support your perspective because it insipres me to see people with a like minded sense of sober optimism.

  34. This is the best analysis of why wearing warbonnets is offensive that I’ve read so far. If I understand correctly, your position is that wearing “non-restricted” head decorations or native clothing is OK so long as it isn’t done in mockery or in a way that promotes stereotypes. However the final condition is ambiguous; do you mean “negative stereotypes”, or stereotypes in general? For example, a fashion photo shoot with the models wearing native clothing (but without war bonnets) would seem to be OK according to your analysis since it involves non-restricted items and isn’t mocking or denigrating (assuming the models aren’t half naked). But does it promote (negative?) stereotypes? I’m asking since there seems to be a continuum of opinion that ranges from your measured analysis to a blanket “any cultural appropriation is wrong/racist” and it isn’t clear where the line should be drawn.

    • If the clothing is ‘native style’, here are some lines in the sand: it should not be named after random First Nations (Navajo t-shirts, Apache headbands etc). If those nations have nothing to do with the clothing, don’t affiliate yourself with them without their consent. People should not wear these ‘native style’ clothes with war paint, feathers in their hair, etc and the photoshoots should not in any way be named after Pocahontas, or given insulting psuedo “Indian” names. In fact, it would be nice if people promoting ‘native style’ fashion simply admitted that the aesthetic itself comes from Settler fantasies of Indigenous people, rather than promoting the idea that it is of us. 90% of the times the styles in question are not even remotely authentically Indigenous, so why pretend they are at all? I’m not sure what the purpose of that is, to be honest.

  35. Kia ora

    I really like the way you have addressed the disrespect to culture that is so prevalent in many societies.

    I am from (Aotearoa) New Zealand and recently we had an American TV disrespect our cultural ways and costumes. Seriously, it was almost to be expected from others outside of our country. What surprised me the most, was the disrespect from those whom I had called friends. I was told to lighten up because it was a joke. Actually, they might was well have been telling me to whiten up. Joke or not, it was disrespectful and I felt it was right that the TV presenter was asked to apologise.

    I feel, that until cultures that are not predominantly European are treated as Taonga (treasures) by the majority, there will never be quality.

  36. You may find it interesting that in Australia, it is ILLEGAL to create and sell ‘aboriginal art’ if you are not aboriginal. Pretty great way to ensure that the profits go to the indiginous people and not souvanir companies.

  37. I am white, from a rural Alaskan, alcohol driven, abject poverty culture, don’t know what else to call it except perhaps living on the fringe of the reservation…

    I liked the bingo card idea, I also unfortunately honestly appreciate the fact that my art appropriates the native culture that I grew up with. (WHICH I CONSIDER TO BE A PART OF ME.) While my whiteness is a burden, the native american in me moves me toward the center.

    I made objects which are sacred to me using modern materials & ancient native methods. They symbolize their sacredness to others using unrestricted totemic shape u forms.

    By your criteria I am behaving badly. (Its a family tradition) I drew the the story of the Most Great Name….years and years ago……..mankind needs to recognize this object…….

    The iron in your back bone is unavoidable, I am wrong. I still love my pieces of art and relate to their message with each atom of my being.

    Respect for the culture I choose to imitate should have been enough to stop me when I painted them…I did not feel disrespectful, I made every effort to maintain tradition…….and was empowered by my effort………

    Devaluing my art because of my race seems racist,… unity is more important than what ever I think I might feel.

    So now I must destroy the paintings that convey the message human survival depends upon,as an act of purposeful racism to promote the unity that the paintings speak of…..? Damn, another circle.
    I think that I will allow them to quietly melt back into the forest…like tradition requires.

    Find another way….making “a statement” with a headdress (indigenous cultural art form) may make a statement,… but you can be using the words incorrectly and are not saying what you think you are saying. The spirit of what you communicate can and will be affected by the spirit and power of the idea that you emulate.

    Communication is the most difficult human endeavor, keep it simple, choose carefully.

    Better I think to figure out who you really are, and speak with that voice……when we are young we speak with many voices until we find our own….

    Humanity is learning how to live on this planet.

    • Have you ever considered asking the people whose symbols you are appropriating as to whether they think your art is disrespectful?

      That would be a lot more straightforward than whirling around the edges of the question to little purpose.

      • What appears to you as “whirling around the edge” might actually be a warrior fighting a battle for others before he bleeds out.

        I did ask, most people agreed that there was no harm done, some thought that it was good to have ANYONE using this art form. That was 30 years ago, opinions have undoubtedly changed. My behavior has changed. I was comfortable with it before, now I am not.
        A different kind of respect for the cultural heritage of the people is necessary today,

        I also believe that culture is learned human behavior, at some point it becomes a choice.

        Many native cultures have been destroyed by the cultural clashes of the past, in some sense the revival of that “lost” culture appears to some degree to me, to be an appropriation.

        No matter, appropriation or not; It is theirs,

        I am just a dilution, an impurity, a part of the whole, not a part of the part.

        I refuse to make an effort that can have the appearance of removal to them, truly out of respect for their “culture” and also because I detest the dis-respectfulness of the past.

        while a necessary part, I do not see that as the battle, UNITY is our challenge,

        • Well it seems that you’re approaching it in the right way though, asking all those years ago and in the present recognizing that past acceptance might not mean acceptance for all time. It’s a relationship, and relationships are ongoing, not static.

        • preposterous. You should ply your trade. By your logic you should not even be preparing food while using traditional recipes. If you were not among the first men to utilize the techniques to survive or convey a message to their children’s, children’s children, then your saying you shouldn’t be using their techniques at all..bullshit. Ask yourself: is that the message your ancestors sent to you through your art form? I think the message the ancestors are sending is survive long enough to breed and remember us and the source..thats mostly it..any of them that are making the effort to crossover to whisper to you: “hey don’t use my weaving or hunting technique to make money and better our family situation!” should be ignored and is probably not having a great spiritual life anyway.

          • okay last post I meant to add that Obviously there is a balance to be struck between expressing your heritage,plying your skill for practical means and whoring out your products and services to be abused and mocked. Individuals and communities must strike these balances..the ancestors can only do so much to deal with new and living situations..respect them seek their guidance but respect your authority and responsibility as their heirs in the living earthly life and you might have a chance of not pissing them,your own descendents and yourself off.

  38. I find this an interesting discussion. As someone with a very mixed racial background, including Yaqui, Mayo and German,I have long battled with the idea of what is okay and what isn’t. My white mother was truly enamored of all things native, and would quite often create clothing and other items with a definite native “flare” to show off her jewelry. At first, my father was concerned it would be seen as appropriation. After several years, they came to the conclusion that as she was simply working with clothes that would be considered “street clothes” by the rest of our relatives it was probably okay.
    I think if people took that approach with things it would be better. The traditional velvet skirts the Navajo’s wear are something that I think anyone can wear without offending or appropriating anything. However, wearing something that is sacred or ritual is different. I like how you attempt to find a way to relate this to something western people would more likely grasp. I think it’s very hard to find something that relates well to them as they don’t tend to delineate sacred wear and the profane as clearly as native peoples do.
    Of course many are going to throw out comments about how they are free to do whatever they want which is true in the United States. Freedom doesn’t mean that it isn’t offensive or wrong. I have the right to say that all people in Dallas, Texas are short, ugly and full of horse manure for brains. It doesn’t make it true and it doesn’t make it okay and some people might get very offended by that and hate me for it. Those people would have the freedom to say they didn’t like it and that I shouldn’t say things like that. It’s easy to forget that freedom is a two way street and sometimes different sides will disagree.
    I don’t think this article or a hundred others will stop some people from continuing to do whatever they want but hopefully it will make others more aware of why this is an issue for native peoples.

  39. If you moderated your reply’s you wouldn’t come across as quite so angry and would be taken more seriously. It’s hard to take someone who appears so petty seriously. Well thought out piece. I don’t agree with it but well written. cheers

  40. Pingback: Pharrell wears Red Indian headgear & causes controversy | Niger Reporters

  41. While I’m moved by your distaste for the appropriation of headdresses, there is a flaw in your logic. By wearing a military medal that you did not earn, printing a bachelor’s degree you did not earn, or declaring yourself a winner of an award you did not earn, you are misrepresenting an achievement or skill which, if conferred, grants you a special and codified status and/or opportunity in society. For instance, you cite an example of someone affecting the knowledge of a medical doctor (through posting a medical degree/license). Misrepresentation here breaks a fundamental trust in society, perhaps even imperiling human life, as membership in that group requires a certain level of knowledge and skill that that person does not have.

    Cultural symbols, used quite clearly as aesthetic devices, do not signal to society that same sort of achievement. This is the key distinction. Very few look at Pharrell Williams on the cover of Elle and conclude, “He must have earned a special status to be able to wear that headdress…and we should treat him differently as a result of this achievement”. If Pharrell (or anyone else who didn’t deserve to wear one) wore a headdress when they, say, testified before Congress, then I would agree that is misrepresenting an achievement/skill that reasonable people would believe that he or she attained. There is surely no art in that.

    Again, I’m wholly sympathetic to your belief here that wearing a headdress as Pharrell did is more than gauche, and should be avoided, but isn’t there a better reasoning behind it? Instruct others that the use of appropriated and important cultural symbols by non-community members ultimately dilute their meaning to the people who those symbols matter to most. Through great educational sites like this, I wager that people will respond.

    • Here is the flaw in your logic.

      The okimâwastotin (headdress) absolutely signals to Indigenous societies of the Plains some sort of achievement. I thought I made that clear actually. Just because non-Natives do not understand what achievements are signaled by the wearing of the headdress in the cultures from whence the headdress originated, does not mean those signals are lacking.

      Taking other people’s cultural symbols and stripping them of meaning to use them completely out of context does not actually render the symbol meaningless for all time. It continues to have meaning in our cultures, and that is what we are trying to explain to the people using them.

      • Good point but it loses what small significance it carries in situations concerning those who have no direct dealings with people who could be affected by this scenario and thus brings you back to square one..probably the reason why this icon was appropriated in the first place without the proper etiquette: the persons most likely to be offended are not getting the signal because they are not in the communities where it is happening most often. Anyway I think you are tossing the racist card around all too easily. You maybe confuse respect or more likely admiration for aspects of your cultural affiliation with respect for you/your people and YOUR individual ideas (or collective if you indeed speak for a segment or the ENTIRETY? of your population). I’m sure you know all too well that “the west” makes that distinction and justifiably so. YOU are NOT the Headdress even if the headdress is a part of you! Concession point: because of how pompous so many people really are..getting outsider’s to respect your culture can be a big part of getting them to respect you..but its not the main reason they should respect you..they should respect you for your humanity first. If we limit our measure of respect to cultural identity then those people who are separated intellectually from any culture we expect from them, then a whole lot of people would be considered worth less than animals..and thats just not acceptable.

        • The fact that Pharrel Williams tok off his Mountie hat and wore a headdress instead is consistent with your example and probably could be better served to raise awareness of the actual meaning of headdress as a brave symbol in 1st American plains cultures, but since he’s a nice guy he chose to apologize once he realized it was not having a friendly impact on the community I might not have done so because I’m argumentative,stubborn,fairly BRAVE and self righteous about liberty. Once you realize that feather headdresses are pretty similar(though meanings vary) the world over you’ll see it more as a human thing than a plains thing. I think across the board people realize the more feathers in the dress the more respect the person commanded, Its pretty obvious. Thats because its a human thing…actually its kind’ve an “as seen throughout nature” thing. Even Peacocks use this formula. If I were Pharrell I’d have been like “send me a REAL one from your tribe and I WON’T wear it bro. otherwise..lvl up like me!”

          • Ugh.

            The Plains style okimâwastotin is very distinctive, and looks significantly different than other headdresses. Your comment on that would be akin to claiming a beret looks pretty much the same as a tiara. Nope.

      • Thankyou for this.I never knew that wearing the war bonnet carried such significance and the degree of ritual around when and to who it could be awarded to.

  42. Pingback: Pharrell Williams wears a headdress on the cover of ELLE UK.

  43. Allow me to add this single wonderful thread to the tapestry of thought here: In Winnipeg, the 7 Oaks School Division holds a Graduation Pow Wow honouring every child who graduates that year…Aboriginal, Métis, and non-Aboriginal alike. It is heartwarming to see kids of all cultures participating in a Pow Wow like this. For many of us here in Winnipeg, the incorporation of ceremonies at the institutional level has been long, long overdue. In fact, we have past the point where there is anything curious about Aboriginal culture…it is simply the way it is here now, and it’s fabulous…16.5% of Manitoba’s population is Aboriginal or Métis, and the Aboriginal and Métis population grew 20% between 2006 and 2011 compared with 5.2% for the non-Aboriginal populations. The driving force behind Manitoba becoming a province was Louis Riel, the great Métis leader…..his was a dream of a province that embraces all cultures, and by and large that is still shared by Manitobans today. I wish Ontario and Quebec would take a page from Louis Riel’s book.
    Here’s a neat article from the Winnipeg Free Press about that:

  44. Your analogy comparing wearing an unearned medal of honor to casually wearing a headdress is excellent! It’s the best way I’ve ever seen to illustrate why it’s inappropriate and offensive for a non-native to wear one. While I haven’t come across a lot of non-native people wearing them (save for an unfortunate Halloween costume), I’ll be sure to use that analogy the next time I see it. Thank you for writing an informative article!

  45. I can’t help but notice that your avatar is itself a cultural appropriation. It is clearly mocking Rosie the Riveter. How could you be so insensitive?

    • I’m sorry, is this image a restricted one that only some people can use? No, it isn’t.

      The okimâwastotin (headdress) is, however.

      Enjoy that false equivalency, it’s calorie free!

      • apparently its not as restricted as you’d like. Not so much outside of your jurisdiction. The general design is certainly not patentable or copyrightable. Perhaps if you contact Washington you can get some laws drafted making it a criminal offense for impersonating an officer of your war party. You might even be able to get a rival tribe criminalized if their rituals are different than yours and don’t fit with the wording of the new laws..more criminals and authorizing a federal fashion police force in the process. Good luck with that…not so much.

  46. Pingback: Intolerance or Ignorance? What the Offensive Acts of Justin Bieber, Jonah Hill, and Pharrell Williams Are About » Kicker

  47. I absolutely love this article, and I think your comparison of restricted symbols to military medals was a brilliant example and spot on. My grandfather was both half-cherokee and a purple heart awarded veteran, and spent his whole life answering questions and getting annoyed with people who disrespected him for his race and for his accomplishments. So many people just want to toss any symbol on themselves in an effort to impress, without observing the significance and context. If they really wanted to “appreciate and respect” as some of the ignorant commenters have tried to use to excuse themselves, then they’d respect the wishes of the cultures those items are representing.

    It always bugs me when people throw out the “Well my great great great grandmother was native” as a trump card to excuse misrepresenting during their arguments. Part of this is because I know I did it too growing up, throwing around my grandfather’s race as a means of making myself seem more “cultured” and “exotic” when really I was just being desperate and flashing a part of my family history to seem interesting without accepting any of the cultural and social stigma indigenous people face in a white-centric society. It was maturing up and realizing that I was raised whiter than miracle whip that I opened my eyes and started noticing all the problematic stuff I did (and still have to catch myself on as I see it).

    And I think that’s what a lot of other white people also need to realize. Even if we have a tiny dilution of blood ties to an indigenous culture, unless we’ve been raised and devoted ourselves to the community/culture we’re related to, we probably shouldn’t wear those sorts of regalia because we’re still a symbol ourselves of colonialism and the fact that we’d get a free pass from white society while non-white passing indigenous people could not wear the clothes of their culture without being heckled and gawked at by passerby.

    Again, great article and writing. I’ll definitely refer this to my peers as I think a lot of people could also use reading it. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on the matter! It was well worth the read.

  48. I’m in general agreement with this article, but I have a question. What if you create a fantasy version of a headdress that is wildly colored, oversized, shaped very differently, etc? Is this racist? If it very obviously is very different from traditional headdresses to the point of simply becoming a wacky feathered headpiece is this offensive to wear? If it couldn’t possible be mistaken for a sacred object and it is just vaguely based off of the idea of feathered head wear is that offensive? I’m just trying to see where the line is drawn more clearly. Should we never wear feathers in our hair or on our heads in any configuration?

    • P.S. I know you’re not required to educate me, but I sense that you desire to educate people in general. So, I guess there is no harm in asking questions.

    • I see little problem with creating a style that is not appropriating an actual restricted symbol like the okimâwastotin. Just please do not call it “Native American” or “Native American inspired”, or tag it as such. Don’t pass it off as being from any of our cultures, and it’s probably not going to be a problem. Unfortunately, many of the people who do create fantasy pieces (don’t do versions, do something original) end up claiming it is linked somehow to Indigenous cultures. There is no need for that.

      • Makes sense. I ask because I attend art festivals where everyone makes surreal costumes. Thanks

      • Where is the offense in saying it is inspired? First Nations are mostly the ones who use these styles. Art can be inspired and noted as such without specifically labeling it as being from a particular nation when it is not.

      • It would seem odd to me, to create a fantasy piece that is clearly inspired by a native headdress and then not say that it was inspired by that.

        People speak of their inspirations out of a desire to be honest and communicate what is it they are moved by and are passionate about. I think it’s great for artists to do that as opposed to saying the idea materialized out of thin air, because it obviously did not.

  49. Your not going to stop people from wearing their own or inherited headdress.Its just not gonna happen.Its better for you to realize that most people are not doing it out of disrespect (Of course we each define disrespect in our own terms). Also you don’t own the culture.If it belongs to anyone at all, it belongs to humanity and posterity. You appropriate the cultural ideas from your ancestors the values they passed on to you are upheld by whoever they entrusted with the knowledge. The material used to make the emblem is almost nothing. The feathers(as such) where more useful to the bird that grew them than to any person wearing them as such. The ideas the feathers represent are the culture. Such legacies are passed down from generation to generation and each previous one decides who is the guardian from the next generation of cultural symbolism..It is “sanctioned” appropriation, but still appropriation. In your own words you state that different tribal groups honored members with feathers for different reasons. Obviously they are their own authority on who gets to wear them and to what significance. I’m not sure I’d like to see what happens when a person of another tribal tradition wears their headdress in your neighborhood(its probably an act of war). Just because someone doesn’t react to yours or someone you know’s outrage doesn’t mean they are disrespectful to the culture or what they understand of it. African and Latin Americans culture is appropriated everyday be each other and by members of “white” ethnic/class groups and sure some people take issue with this but usually more so when the appropriation is done in an obviously offensive way meant to disrespect the people who adhere to the traditions. Eventually they simply move on and create something new that has not yet been appropriated by the “posers”/outsiders..meanwhile much of what they themselves have going on in their everyday life is also “appropriated” from the “popular” culture. Generally nobody complains about this and even fewer know the original origins of such things.My point there is that if we humans didn’t share cultural habits with each other life would not be possible, and we’d keep having to re-invent the wheel. In the case of plains native headdress at least most people have some vague idea of where it comes from if not who first started doing it.. Its up to people themselves to do what they can(including rage) to educate about the significance and origins and limit the appropriation(that’s why I’m not saying you should shut up about it or anything.) I just think it’d be better to celebrate and share maybe even somewhat “brand” finer points and the popularity of your particular culture. It belongs to humanity, its heirs(you) or else it belongs to no one at all. In the populous American culture if you can’t copyright,patent, or show proof of direct ownership, its probably not yours. SO if someone owns their own headdress that looks kind of native for intellectual purposes you might get the picture that what that person does with it determines if it is being abused or appropriated on a social or -more urgently- on a criminal level.(since you made a comparison to diplomas and uniform badges decals.) eg if your reservation law determines that someone in headdresses that are not theirs by rites is attempting to deceive others to obtain public office or get married under fraudulent circumstances or do a crime eg. embezzling funds, claiming an inheritance or impersonate an official..then by all means prosecute (within the proper jurisdictions.) but this does not describe a kid who is wearing it because it brings out their eyes. Nor does it compare to a person wearing a fake badge or even a real one that they own to a festival or costume party (they would have to be actively doing something to indicate impersonating an officer to get brought up on charges). If your council is actively using them to denote affiliation and rank then the wisest thing to do is make something unique and difficult to imitate on the dress, so that no imposter could make their way through to your inner circles without being arrested. Just know that in the outside world it is increasingly difficult to make laws that rely too heavily on deciding who belongs to what ethnic heritage. I’m glad for this..probably you should be too.

  50. Thank you for a very informative article.

    It is sad to me that people are so hung up on the “free-speech” issue here – to me, the compassionate thing to do is to realize that this behavior is causing a lot of suffering and pain for people and to stop wearing their sacred regalia. There is a whole universe of art and creativity out there to be inspired by without having to appropriate sacred objects from a culture that has already suffered quite enough, thank you very much.

    From your perspective, is adornment with feathers generally frowned upon, or is it specifically replicas very similar in form to, say, Plains Indian headdresses (or any other headdresses of Native people)?

    Say, for instance:


    I would hope that versions like these that are unique creations and not borrowed from sacred configurations of symbols would be ok – certainly, it would be great to be able to point people towards adornments that were beautiful and could inspire them to do something unique that would bring some beauty and art into the world without misappropriating something sacred.

    • Those are amazing! They do not look anything like the Plains headdress, or any other Indigenous headdress I’ve seen and what’s better is they aren’t passing them off as “Native American”.

      • Thank you for clarifying this. I make head pieces that are similar to these shown in the links, and I was really concerned when I first read this article. I really appreciate that, although it is not your job to educate us, you took the time to write not only the article, but to respond to almost every one of the comments. this has been one of the most interesting and informative debates I’ve ever read.I really appreciate the specific answers, details and clarity you’ve given. even if I did need to read a few F/U’s to finally have it sink in lol :)

  51. Noone on the internet is really explaining why the plains headdress is “sacred”. There is alot of explaining why it is “restricted” in plains society, and how its wearers are in high esteem and how the Headdress is created as an act of honor among peers. The blogger here explained how it is a denotation of prestige and even rank in that society. I’ve read how it has spiri8tual connotations imbuing the wearer with the energy of the materials or animals it is made from, but none of that generally translates to “sacred” in the western minded since of the word. The descriptions make it seem more personal,martial, and officious(none of which normally gives rise to an individual’s sacred items in the euro-american cultures on a protectorate scale), than religious or “sacred.” Is this a case wherein because everything is from the “protected” culture is “sacred”? Or is their a deeper more specific significance of the headdress in the religious systems of the plains culture. If you have an idea of how this term is used in the spiritual or religious sense of the word among the euro-american society can you or someone explain and/or compare in more in detail the significance of the headdress in those terms? eg in the Euro-American/Christian-culture a personal bible might become a relic of sacred value to their family or community members minds but it does not bestow such sacrament to all bibles everywhere beyond the original sacred value of it being a holy book..but the tone of the information I’m getting from various web sources about the headdress is as if the headdress itself of any kind made anywhere in the fashion of the plains cultures makes it sacred or a bastardization of such sacred(or a bastardization of such) and thus it becomes an object belonging to that culture’s heritage no matter what it is made of or who made it. Its not unheard of that a process itself becomes nearly if not more sacred than the produced vintage similar to the tea ceremony in asian societies..Could that be what is happening here? A misunderstanding about the sacrament that is being appropriated? That might be the difference for alot of people in understanding why you are so upset. Its the difference between a jealous craftsperson angry that someone is duping their work or creating poor works of the same trade versus a spiritual/magic practitioner concerned that someone is creating a bad mojo unaware because they don’t know what they are doing but completing all the necessary steps to make something terrible manifest. Is it both?

    • Who cares if it is understood within a western context? It does not come from a western context. If you insist that everything must fit into western paradigms, which is precisely what colonial governments have done by the way, then you are perpetuating colonialism. “The Indians did not have European property laws, thus they had no property laws” is the ‘logical’ extension of such arguments.

      It is truly none of your business as to exactly what precise meaning the okimâwastotin has in our nations. When we tell you that it is a restricted item within our nations, so that only very few of us can even wear it, and we emphasize that it upsets us deeply when non-Indigenous peoples wear this item, that should be enough. Unless you completely lack respect. It isn’t enough to try to restrict the conversation to the headdress, I would have to break down complex cultural, social and historical issues for you…for free, so that you can then decide whether or not you want to bother respecting this restriction? No thanks.

      If you want to actually learn more, within the culture then you will have to try harder than trawling a few internet sites, and you cannot do it by insisting everything be on your terms.

  52. Apologies for another privilege-filled, still-not-quite-getting-it response, but I found your article very helpful in trying to understand the boundaries of cultural appropriation. I was originally looking it up, as I love the aesthetic of the typical feathered headdresses, but obviously don’t want to cause offence or damage to anyone or any culture by wearing one for entertainment. Trying to find something similar that isn’t problematic, is this sort of thing ( still close enough to be considered appropriative? Or is it alright because it’s not designed around a stereotype? Sorry for the ignorance, but I’d rather understand as much as possible…

    • That entire site is on the “I’d call this misappropriation” side of things. From the boots to the various headdresses, particularly as they are using descriptors like ‘tribal’. Some of the floral stuff isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t support an artisan who is so blatantly trying to rip of Indigenous symbols.

      • Ok here I have to disagree. Above you were ok with someone saying a headdress is ok as long as it is not saying it is Native American or such but now tribal is a bad word as well?

        In the very link Hannah posted, there are feathers, a golden rose and a leather band. Neither the individual elements or the piece as a whole says indian, native american, First Nation, whichever label you care to use. Are you just calling it out because of the feathers and tribal are used together?

        • In the US, there are specific laws which prohibit passing items off as “Native American”. A number of weasel words are used instead to get around this, including “Native American inspired”, “tribal”, and so on. This isn’t about ‘bad words’, it’s about bad practices.

          • As there should be, no dispute there. But tribal could mean any number of people, clans or cultures from anywhere around the world. Also it is being used as an adjective and any sane person would see it is not a real Native American headdress. I am disputing only that specific link. I would probably agree that some of the other pieces in that store cross a very gray line.

  53. Thank you for this article! I can’t for the life of me understand how people want to ignore your explanation about wearing the headdress. The bottom line is…..the Indian culture has do’s and don’ts. If you find a don’t just don’t!!!! My God, it’s not that hard! It’s THEIR culture whether you like it or not. Bottom line is It’s called R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

  54. Pingback: OPINION: La coiffe à plumes sur la tête de ce hipster n'est pas un chapeau - Ma mère était hipster | Ma mère était hipster

  55. I just noticed signing into Playstation Home Sodium is selling rave wear that appropriates Indian headdresses. I was close to yelling at the screen, “SODIUM, WTH ARE YOU DOING?!”

  56. Recently I have been looking into tattoos and ideas for tattoos, I have seen a lot of photos of people with headdress’ as tattoos on their own or on a woman, they are incredible beautiful so here I am researching the meaning and symbolism and the culture behind them and I am glad that I stumbled upon your blog/article. Being a native to New Zealand I fully understand your customs and your culture, it is similar to my own and I’ve always wanted to learn more about your culture.I will not be getting anything that would offend your culture tattooed onto myself especially something that is so sacred. I understand that it is a tradition that should not be changed or moulded to fit into a ever changing world where people recreate cultural things and try and change their meaning to fit their own agendas. Thank you!! Hope my ramble makes sense!

  57. I read your blog with great interest. I did not read all the comments, so you may have answered this. The Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts of America honors the Indian Heritage. In some of their ceremonies Indian dress is used. Only Vigil members are allowed to wear a double trailer. I am interested to read your opinion about the IS.

      • Thank you for the opportunity to read your well written explanation of these offensive behaviors. It can be difficult to see through the blinding light of privilege but it is possible. Keep up the good work.

      • I am writing an article on appropriation to art educators. I want to get information out there on how to be respectful when using appropriation properly as a teaching method. I feel it is important because we work directly with influential youth, so what we do as educators is important. May I use you as a reference? If so, how would I cite you? Would I use the name of your page or your name?

        • I should correct myself – I’m looking into writing an article on it. The topic may change. But in the meantime, I am looking for some authentic points of view in case this topic is approved.

      • A possibly stupid question but… No such thing as Indian Heritage – I’m on board in that in parts but… in a question of ignorance, how many of the different nations used these headdresses? Are they considered the same way by all the nations?

        (Not that I’d want to wear a head-dress. I do have a feather in two of my hats but that’s from an ancient German tradition and they look totally different)

        • There are a very limited number of nations that use a Plains style headdress, and yes there are variations in styles. All of them within the Plains nations are restricted symbols that must be earned.

  58. Wow, I commend you for your patience even though most people won’t see you as being patient (with their so-called inoffensive and well-intended inquiries). I am African, have lived in different European countries and Canada for more than 2 decades and one thing is sure: I don’t have time to educate people who seem to be unable to see things from a non-Western perspective. I don’t waste my breath on Eurocentric self-centered fools who are deeply convinced they shouldn’t be forbidden from doing anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s sacred, offensive to you, to your culture: if it isn’t to them, they have the right to do it. Someone evoked the Golden rule, well I applied it to people who have no respect for other people’s cultures. You say something culturally offensive to me? I’ll resort to analogy and give you a taste of your medicine. I don’t care if you had mens rea or no :-), this is the 21st century and it is unacceptable that people, especially young people, should still be educated about CERTAIN things. Really, what do you learn in your history classes?

  59. Pingback: Twirlers in War Bonnets | Throwback Thursday - Generation X

    • Hahahahaha, that’s one of my favourite BINGO comments! “I was so totally not going to be a racist piece of shit, but omg you’re so mean and now I’m going to make it my mission in life!”

      Yeah. I’m sure you were a fine fellow before you read my comments.

  60. Being a 1/4 Cherokee and a member of the tribe, I grew up knowing Indian culture and studying it. Many of my “full blood” friends have married non-Indian people and their offspring has become more “white” or non-Indian. It happened to me. Other half of my family is British. When I see the minority of Indians (and I use the name Indians because that’s what we used to call ourselves, until it became PC to call us something else) become so thin-skinned and overly sensitive, I realize that maybe we should be diluted in blood and “phased out”. We probably won’t be civilized to each other until we’re all mixed. My great-grandfather was full blood and he loved the fact the Indians were portrayed so often in mainstream media and with sporting team names. Thank GOD that he isn’t around to see a once proud race become so overly sensitive and thin skinned. He was a HUGE Washington Redskin fan, because he considered himself and called himself red-skinned.
    I think headdresses are beautiful. If you want to wear one, wear it. If you want to learn about our tribe and be a part of it, please do. But yes please be respectful. These were once “earned”, they are not anymore in a large sense. And please disregard these overly sensitive “rules”.

    As for BINGO comments, unfortunately they are deserved. I used to work for Cherokee Nation. I can’t think of one tribe who hasn’t had their hand out for casino money or is in some other way corrupt. It’s sad to see a once proud race in a downward spiral. Indian tribes tend to turn the other way once they get a paycheck. Seminoles got a payout. Suddenly it’s OK for FL State to use the name.
    But hey, let’s concentrate on changing every sports team name and the fact that someone has a tribal tattoo and once wore a headdress, or someone does a tomahawk chop at a baseball game or people go WOO BOO BOO BOO at football games with their hands over their mouth and LET’S completely ignore suicides and non-existent education systems in reservations and many, many Indian communities (oops sorry. I mean Native American) communities. That will solve all of our problems! Let’s turn the other way at the corruption within Indian governments. Where’s all of that casino money now when their communities so desperately need it? Indian bureaucracies are more corrupt than boxing and the World Cup put together.
    You want to talk about discrimination? Indian tribes are by far the worse I’ve ever seen with discrimination.

    How often has this happened? A tribe builds housing because liberals are screaming for assistance to communities. Tribe gets a huge kickback from the Indian-owned contractor when they over-inflate the estimate they give the United States government for the grant. Rinse, repeat.
    Then “normal” people aren’t qualified for the housing, because it’s “owned” by high up members/ bureaucrats of the tribe for tax breaks from the IRS.
    Or how about all the people (including veterans) denied membership to tribes who need the assistance?
    A tribal member is a sharecropper with a local “white” farmer. Both benefit greatly. Tribe finds out and revokes tribal license because farmer refused to give tribe a cut.
    I could go on. Quit pointing fingers. You should rethink your “list”. Because there’s so many more important problems and issues than a white person wearing a goddamn headdress.

    I see you are confused about what constitutes cultural appropriation. And you what? It’s OK.

    • As a Cherokee, you have zero right to be giving permission to anyone to wear a headdress that does not come from your culture.

      You have fallen into the delicious fallacy of believing that if someone speaks about cultural appropriation, they can only forever more focus on that one issue to the exclusion of all others.

      Thanks so much for the time and effort you invested in this response.

  61. I promise if the instance comes up when someone asks me if they can wear a headdress, that I won’t get completely PC and explain to them of my zero rights to advise them in the matter of their wearing a headdress.

    You equate the headdress to the Medal of Honor.
    You’re trying to tie in history to current times. That’s where you’re getting confused.
    Are these headdresses earned today? (Serious question – I don’t know if they are)
    Because the Medal of Honor medal most definitely is. Is it a travesty to see old uniforms or replicas of medals that people died in and earned in combat on an actor in a movie or play?
    Were you pissed when 50 Cent wore a Marine uniform with medals? You’re Canadian. I know.
    Was he right? How many soldiers and veterans wear these uniforms today and die daily? How many with headdresses?
    What if a photographer researches and learns the history and sets up an exhibit at your local library that captures beautiful photos of people in headdresses to honor its history and beauty? Are you going to inquire and complain if those models earned it? I would assume you would. And due to the controversy they cancel the exhibit. Who wins? In your mind, I would also assume you would.

    We’re not mythical creatures. We were and are just people. Everyone has a history. Everyone has a tradition. Lighten up.
    What you should do since you’re quite the teacher is explain (to whomever asks) what the tradition is and let them form their own conclusions to whether they will and should wear one.

    BTW, on another insensitive white people note. The name Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw language meaning “Red People”. We should demand Oklahoma change its name. I can’t believe how insensitive they were back then. Too bad you weren’t there to “advise” them.

    p.s. Look up Governor Mary Fallon’s (of Oklahoma) daughter. There’s a pretty picture of her with a headdress on (she didn’t earn it).
    Tom Hanks wore a replica Medal of Honor in Forrest Gump (neither did he).

    Good luck with your crusade.

    • Lol. The purpose of the examples given, was to provide some cultural context that could be understood (hopefully) by non-Indigenous peoples, so a sense of the importance of this symbol could be conveyed. They are not being ‘equated’ to. And yes, they are still earned (why are you talking about this when you clearly know nothing of the subject?)

      You must really be living under a rock if you are not aware of the huge backlash against Fallon the junior and her escapades in the headdress.

      And once again, you have no right at all to give anyone permission to wear a restricted item that does not come from your culture. Thus invoking your heritage is a moot point here. Completely irrelevant to the discussion. It’s also a logical fallacy…you are appealing to expertise you simply do not have.

      As an educator, I very clearly explained the tradition, and I do not leave it up to you, or anyone else to decide what they want to to do with it. You are free to wear the headdress, and I am free to tell you it is disrespectful. kiyam.

      You can now cease attempting to post here, as you add nothing to the conversation, and have raised no points of interest whatsoever.

    • as another Okie I am a little surprised that you haven’t spoken with some Cherokee veterans about their feathers….ask them for their thoughts on what they represent today. Or next time you attend a pow wow (try Carnegie or Lawton) ask the members of the Honor Guard about the connection between returning home from Iraq and being given a feather. You will learn very valuable information by asking…and no, the Guv’s daughter did not look pretty in her cheap crappy rip-off but that family has zero respect for Native people, so no surprise there!

  62. This is so informative, thanks a mil. I’m South African and I love learning about various culltures. The greeting ‘ekosi’ at the end of the letter is similar to the Xhosa word “enkos”i which means thank you. Let’s hope that your article achieves its goal. All the best.

  63. I have a few questions and please be gentle with me, I am not trying to upset you, I am just trying to inform myself better on the subject. What are the specifics to receiving a headdress? How long does it take to receive one and what do you have to do to receive one exactly (this is very vague everywhere I look)? Why aren’t the woman of Native culture able to receive a symbol of such high esteem as easily? And, would she need to prove herself more than a man? Or have to marry a chief or something? Is a headdress like being given the title of King? Can a headdress be passed down or shared and worn by family members and friends of the Native community? Or does that headdress stay with its owner and goes to the grave with that person? Who can make a headdress? It that also exclusive to elders etc. Can a headdress be sold and purchased? Would someone Non-Native who was willing to emirs themselves in your customs and culture ever be able to receive one? Or would that only be able to happen if a Non-Native married into the family? Does it ever worry you that keeping the headdress so exclusive will make it extinct? Thank you so much for your time and once again please be kind. I am just curious.

    • Honestly, this is asking a lot. You want a lot of cultural details, but offer nothing in return for the time, labour and knowledge the answers require. I understand your curiosity, but I have not put myself out there as someone willing to provide this education.

      • WOW!!! Thanks for NOTHING! I took the time and energy to read EVERYTHING you wrote, I took ALL your responses into consideration, I pondered this for weeks, I’ve looked other places for answers, I took the time to think of and form my questions as to not offend and yet I have “offered nothing for your time”!!!!! Karma will deal with you in every way!!!!

        • This is the most hilarious flounce I’ve seen in a while, mind if I share it? Wow. Talk about self-entitled!

          You want me to provide you with a detailed historical/cultural education on this issue, and you offer NOTHING in return. Providing you with this time-consuming, specialised knowledge for free does nothing for my community, and in no way benefits me, or my people. It is a measure of your privilege that you believe you are entitled to this kind of education at request, any denial of which results in you acting like a complete asshat.

          awâs, greedy pig.

        • And, YES!!! I want a lot of cultural details because I am trying to understand the headdress and your culture in depth like it originally seemed you wanted by posting this. But, now I am realizing you are only doing this to ‘get’ what you want and the responses you want. The people who agree with you get answers and respect. The people that disagree or ask questions are met with your ridicule, childish insults or just plain nothing. If you aren’t willing to answer my questions or even point me in the right direction it’s cause you don’t know the answers!! You are a woman…… you can’t wear a headdress anyway. What do you know?Consider educating yourself before you start a forum. And consider both sides of the story and not just your own. I have lost a lot of respect for you and your culture over this and all I wanted was to know more. You will never be free unless you live freedom for all. And, right now all you are doing is continuing to repress yourself and your people!! Well done!

          • Yes yes, it’s all “me me me”, I can hear you loud and clear. Cry some more.

            You have no side to the story to consider…you are not a part of my culture, and your opinions on my culture are irrelevant. You have presented yourself as a self-entitled fool who demands I provide you with my time, energy and cultural knowledge for free. You then had a tantrum when I pointed out that what you are asking is inappropriate.

            You will not get another opportunity to whine here, have fun with your shitty attitude and your racist Settler privilege!

            And you are posting from Edmonton, Alberta. Cripes, you are in the middle of Cree territory and you are too lazy to do any work at all to find answers to your questions (including how to follow proper protocol)? Pathetic.

    • its good that you ask questions about culture, it is how all of us learn…provided that you are asking them honestly. Let me try to provide some information…many different Native groups use feathers; however very few created the type of head wear that is seen in Hollywood movies. Even those who did make & wear them had interesting differences in style, type of feathers, number etc. For example a Lakota bonnet flows onto the shoulders, while a Blackfoot style is more straight up…many other native men wore their earned feathers quite differently.

      It is hard to generalize across time and across cultural groups…but yes, this was a man’s way of demonstrating honor & success in warfare. Feathers were historically awarded by his military society and he was recognized as eligible to wear them (feathers were also attached to weapons, horses, shields etc). Women didn’t receive or wear bonnets (women were honored in other ways; for example by wearing elk teeth on their dresses). Most of the 1800s pre-Reservation period items (weapons, clothing, personal protection) were buried with their owner, although a family member could inherit the right to remake items using designs, colors etc. Some families sold them to museums such as the Smithsonian around 1890-1920. Men stopped receiving war honors as the warrior societies were disbanded by Reservation Government Agents, but revived again when guys came home from WW1 and WW2.

      Modern versions are worn by men (mostly respected military veterans) today, although other family members may receive an eagle feather gift upon graduating from school or as part of dance regalia. However in the US only enrolled tribal members may legally own migratory bird feather by federal law. Can non-native people receive them? No.

      Yes, you can buy cheap versions made with painted feathers. Native people make & sell them to tourists….and so its easy to see why you would be confused on the issue. If native people make & sell them to tourists, it must be ok to wear them, right? Sadly, even some native people have accepted that culture is cheaply sold to anyone with a fat wallet. But to other native people, culture is a rich source of pride and should be carefully protected.

      You have asked good questions and hopefully you are now learning that culture is a complex matter. You will always get a mix of opinions, but the sentiment that most of us have today is that culture and people should be respected. We encourage you to embrace your own background…if you are of European heritage, learn about your ancestors and their traditions. I’m sure you will find something wonderful to embrace!!

  64. tânisi! I admire your work and I support your efforts to educate on behalf of Aboriginal peoples, including the classes to keep the Cree language alive. I respect your intelligence and experience. I want you to know this upfront because I do support advising people, repeatedly if required, about cultural norms, but I think I feel a little differently than you about some of the details of this issue.

    As a Metis woman, I have been thinking about the issue and idea of cultural appropriation a great deal. I can see from these comments, it appears there are people who are very interested in baiting you for a fight. These are the ignorant ones I refer to in my own piece that I put up after the Pharrell headdress photo for Elle magazine. I have had my own discussions with such over the term redskin and my own childhood experiences with that slur.

    However, I would like to get your opinion on my opinion I guess, because I enjoy any opportunity to keep learning, and I said, because I do respect your walk this far. I am not as educated as you and I am more plain-spoken, but I hope you will understand my view. I will post my link here to take you to my piece, which of course, you can delete without any ill feeling from me. I also don’t want you to get the impression that I want to lead your readers in any way.

    Thank you, for everything.

  65. Okay, I was completely unaware of all of that. Thanks for creating a post which explains so clearly why it would be wrong for me to wear one of these headdresses.

    I’d really like to learn a bit more about the significance of these, and spent a while googling but mostly came across links explaining that wearing these headdresses is cultural appropriation, and very little more (your explanation is by far the clearest of these that I have come across in my searching), and sites where I can buy them. Suffice to say, I’m terrible at googling. Do you know of any resource, or can you suggest some search terms, that might point me in the right direction for starting some research?

  66. This is why I read your blog regularly and send as many people here as possible. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. Also, I am *thoroughly* enjoying your replies in the comments.

  67. I’m polish. I have always disliked that certain things are reserved for men and certain things for women.. Ancestral or not like genital mutilation I find these ideas not permissible in the universal ethos of enlightened thinking. I wear pants, traditionally a mans outfit. I studied Haida for a year, I studied fashion and symbolism for a semester.. I think out global identity is up for a revisit and edit.. Similar to certain educational constructs (why can’t you have a degree in both arts and sciences). I think the head dress is similar to the floral garland, what ancient polish pagans gave to virginal girls (not a case of earning it but a case of status) and I think a girls virginty is no ones business but her own.. So I think it’s out dated and insulting to the privacy of any humans sexual identity, that’s the crux of this issue. Are the things the headdress represents values that still hold up? Because if you ask me, the fact that only a man can wear it is problematic

    • I have addressed this straw an argument, based on total ignorance of our cultures before. I’ll cut/paste for your benefit.

      What’s that? No honey, the fact that the okimâwastotin (that headdress worn by clueless hipster girls all the time) is generally reserved for males in Plains cultures is not sexist or patriarchal. You can stop trying to ‘save us from sexism’ thanks.
      In fact, we were centuries ahead of you in the gender equality department. There are of course a great diversity of socio-political traditions in our various nations, but one thing comes through loud and clear…our women held positions of power. Not merely over hearth and home, but politically as well. In some nations, women run the roost, and this without denigrating or subjugating men (in case you were worried).
      Centuries of racist and sexist interference by European powers has taken its toll. We do indeed face sexism in our communities, to an extent unthinkable before Contact. It is sadly the case that the oppressed often internalise their oppressor, and the oppressor for us has always been racist, and sexist.
      To combat this, we look to our traditions, which are egalitarian. Where men and women are respected and venerated. We do not fumble towards equality as sameness, as so many settler feminists insist we should (in our context only, as they often recognise this is a ridiculous approach otherwise). We revive equity. We acknowledge different gender roles, and recognise that the female is not subservient in our cultures.
      When we discuss ‘women’s power’ and ‘women’s roles’, you hear echoes of your history. But your history is not ours. Our history speaks proudly of the strength of our women and our men. Gender roles were not created in our societies to elevate men and turn women into chattel.
      You settler women have much to overcome. Your history is fraught with inequality and abuses. I am sorry that you come from such twisted traditions.
      Do not attempt to transplant your historical circumstances into our Nations. You have no idea what the headdress means in our cultures. To claim that the restrictions on who can wear it are ‘sexist’ merely highlights this ignorance…your inability to see outside your own cultural norms, outside your own sad, sexist cultural history.
      Colonisers always believe they have the right to define reality, particularly for those they have colonised. What kind of feminist are you, when you take part in these inequalities of power, and proclaim for us the meaning of our own symbols and traditions?
      In case you’re not sure, it makes you a racist feminist.

    • Its always difficult to explain things across cultural lines…what may or may not be allowed in Polish society is quite different that what is appropriate in Kiowa, Caddo, Pawnee, Osage, Lakota or any of the hundreds of Native American and Canadian aboriginal societies. Here, men & women had historically different roles & tasks, but both were regarded as essential to the survival of the family & community. Some groups were matrilineal & matrilocal (Cherokee, Navajo and Iroquois) but on the Plains (where feather bonnet were worn) men played a strong role in war and leadership. Bonnets were worn by men as symbols of sacrifice, commitment and honor…women were respected and rewarded for other tasks in other ways. Today many Native women serve n the US military and receive eagle feathers when they come home…but they would not wear a large bonnet (very few people actually do, mostly older men).

      Its not just a matter of simple gender expression…its part of a historical tradition. Many Europeans and Euro-Americans express frustration that Native people want to hang on to traditions. The reverse side of the coin is the sadness that Native people feel when they see how Euro-Americans so easily cast aside their own ancestors & traditions (and then in desperation replace those by borrowing from others without any understanding of the meanings or significance).

  68. Pingback: Bass Coast Festival Bans Aboriginal Headdresses |

  69. Edit: I am a whiny, racist pos who desperately wants attention but isn’t going to get it.

    Lol, as if I’d give your disgusting self a platform. Time to go cut holes in some bed sheets, bro.

    • Edit: waaa waaa waaa I was so totally respectful of you with my false equivalencies and pathetic excuse for an argument and you censored me so now I’m justified in being an ass how DARE you not give me a platform to foam at the mouth upon? Don’t you even know what free speech is!? *hysterical weeping and gnashing of teeth*

  70. Edit: great argument, very nuanced. I especially liked the bit about how we should all fuck off.


  71. Hi, I was looking into getting a tattoo of a headdress to symbolize the many hardships I’ve fought through during my life. I was wondering if this might also be seen as disrespectful…. Thank you!

  72. I really enjoyed this publication. It cleared up a lot of questions that I had; however I still would like something clarified. I am in the process of designing a headdress that I plan to wear as a “celebration of life on our planet” The base of the piece will be vines with leaves and flowers woven together around a wire frame. I will then add various natural object symbols, such as butterfly wings, flowers, tree branches, leaves, seeds, and feathers. My only concern with all of this is the feathers. I plan on using different types, including peacock and pheasant, in the headdress. This is not just a piece of art for me. The design and thought that has gone into this has stemmed from a personal, spiritual experience I had earlier this year. The headdress is meant to be a beautiful expression of my personal spirituality; however, the last thing that I want to do is disrespect the native peoples of the land that I now call home. I have great respect and appreciation for native culture – many people in the United States believe that the natives were “backwards” when in reality, it was the settlers who were backwards. The natives embraced sexuality and equitable gender roles, lived sustainably with respect for the land and ecosystem, and also had deep understanding and reverence for the forces that shape our existence. I try to live in a similar fashion to the native peoples; however, I understand that culture is not something to be recreated, boxed up, and sold to whoever will pay money for it. I personally do not believe my headdress to be disrespectful, but I would appreciate some clarification on your end. Thank you for your time!

  73. Hi. Would an art style from a specific tribe be considered a type of restriction? For example, I love Tsimshian art, and I want to create something in that style. Would this be disrespectful?


    • It depends on whether the symbols you wish to use are restricted or not. Some patterns/symbols are restricted to Clans/Houses. As a purchaser or admirer of art, I would also like it made clear whether a piece done in an Indigenous style was done by an Indigenous person or not, so that is another consideration.

  74. No one is denigrating anyone. No one is being racist. These are not real headdresses. They are not even replicas. They are simply something that is modelled on something worn by some people. You appear to have a feckin’ big chip on your shoulder about the White Man. You are the racist. You are the one denigrating people.

    • Gosh, thank you so much for clearing that up for me! If only you had posted this clarification years ago so I could have avoided ever worrying about it or analysing the ways in which these kinds of misappropriations are actively harmful! It’s a shame that all of these pointless cogitations on my part apparently turned me into a giant racist, but now that you’ve pointed that out I will give up all of my structural power so that I no longer oppress the White Man.

      You honestly deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for the efforts you put in today.

  75. Hah, I love the settlers comment. It’s not like you were there. Get over your butthurt sense of entitlement and realize that cultures have risen and fallen by the thousands since the dawn of man. ‘Your’ people ( and I use that term loosely, since I’m sure your ancestors would have a laugh at your expense), were technologically inferior, and didn’t have the means or numbers to thwart other cultures from expanding. This has happened all over the world, throughout history. To act like you’re some special little snowflake is pathetic to say the least.

      • I came across your piece as an effort to educate myself more about headdresses. My grandfather was a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians as well as a decorated Korean war veteran he has earned multiple purple hearts. Even through loosing his leg and two fingers He was employed for 38 years as a train foreman for Consolidated Rail Corp (con rail) and the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad. He also was a game warden of 8 years for the Seneca Nation. He was such an unbelievably wonderful man. I wholly admire his strength, accomplishments and the astounding man he was. I grew up viewing his beautiful headdresses and would hear his story’s about pow-wow before he passed away. Unfortunately I was raised white as can be by an ignorant and disgraceful person. I do however have a deep respect, appreciation and am very intrigued by the culture’s and their people’s. I would like to commend you for your time, patients in writing this blog and dealing with people’s negative comments. Although certain asshats lol (word I frequently use and love) may not realize it. I agree with you that certain people feel a sense of entitlement and feel as though they do not need to respect other cultures. It clearly shows with all of the disgusting comments. All of the posts about is this acceptable, is that appropriation and “where is the line” have unbelievably pissed me off! I don’t know anything much of your culture but I don’t understand how people could be so dense. It is pure disrespect reading the blog, choosing to ignore it and attempting to continue to push. Then hide behind the pathetic excuse of being uneducated! It’s simple, NO headdress should be worn or crafted by someone not of the culture or one who isn’t entitled to it!!! What is so hard? As well as the sexist well why can’t women wear them comments. Who are you to question anyone’s customs or to assume anything!? Not knowing that women are held in the highest regard. I apologize that you had to deal with all of this b.s. When you were taking your time, just trying to do them a favor! Being uneducated is one thing but ignorance is a whole other. People commenting on the authors blog need to stop acting like she is being disrespectful!!! You are the ones that are disrespectful hypocrites and deserve every bit of backlash you get! Respect is earned not given! Once again I thank you very much for your valiant effort, you have my admiration. Good luck in all that comes your way in the future. And all the best to you in your future endeavors.

  76. Have you ever tried looking at at this way?:

    When a Native American wears a headdress, it is a sign that they have earned the right to wear it. If someone from another culture wears a Native American headdress, it’s just a headdress.

  77. Hi: at risk of a tart rebuttal, I’m interested in (further) exploring where the lines should be drawn in this debate. let me start by saying I completely accept that is it culturally insensitive (at the least!) to wear headdresses that are either authentic or as-authentic imitations of those made & worn by whatever tribes wear them using whatever style(s) and symbolism tradition dictates; and that to do so is (or may be) offensive to people of those tribes. likewise I accept the argument that any imitation of these bonnets (cheap or otherwise) that references any tribe – or even “indians” in general – without permission is similarly offensive. I respect your right to tell me this is so, without qualification, and thank you for making this clear.

    however, at one point in the Q&A commentary above, some examples of various head-pieces were referenced and your comments made it clear you saw no problem with some that were “modern art pieces” shall we say, while you felt others that were “faux tribal art” were either a grey area or a no-no.

    but – and this is where i risk your wrath, i’m afraid – after looking at those pieces, I have to challenge your right to that opinion (at least, in terms of your cultural referents) simply because the works pictured in no way, to my mind, compare to the Plains headdresses your ethnicity provides you authority to comment on. with one possible exception, I believe they were modelled on other American cultures: aztec, maya, inca, Amazonian. and the exception was, I believe, faux celtic, not Amerindian. (there may be similarities I am not aware of, but to my untutored unamerican eye these descriptors were my impression of what was on display).

    so…. although I appreciate that (obviously) this subject is one you pursue with righteous zeal, and understandably so, I (meekly, lol) ask you to question the bounds of that zeal, since it appears to have spilled over into defining what other cultures may or may not find appropriate or offensive in terms of representation or imitation, and attempting to direct people as to that on their (presumably unsanctioned) behalf.

    hope you take my point. and I don’t raise this to be critical as such; I do so because it highlights the question I started by framing: where exactly should the lines be drawn. respectfully, I suggest in your case those lines can only be drawn around your own culture – be that cree, plains indian, or “first nation” tribes in general; whichever level you believe you have the authority to speak to. but certainly not more than that.

    sorry, this hasn’t come out quite as I first thought it, perhaps because I was myself offended at the liberties you were (apparently unintentionally) taking. but I hope that provides some pause for reflection – especially in relation to others’ points of view, where they may also unintentionally take liberties.

    what I really simply wanted to point out was that feathered headdresses are by no means unique to either “first nation” tribes or the Americas; in one form or another they are part of almost every indigenous culture worldwide. and indeed there are Mongolian tribes who make “feather bonnets” which bear many resemblances to those of the Plains tribes.

    that being so, I would humbly suggest that the only hard and fast rules any tribe can lay down regarding their sacred vestments is to restrict (or permit) replication of their particular styles, symbols, and methods of construction – because at base it is the unauthorised use of those (stress) which is offensive. with respect, to attempt to cast a wider net is to catch yourself in the same culturally insensitive trap as you decry.

    • So many of the responses I get to this article are “where are the LIIIINES” and “BUT WHAT ABOUT…”. Ugh.

      It is actually pretty simple. Ask permission, don’t assume you have it.

      I have zero tolerance for anyone wearing a Plains headdress they have not earned. I have that knowledge of its meaning and its restricted nature as someone from a Plains culture. This does not mean all non-Plains headdresses are up for grabs. Just go on and try to tell anyone that you have the right to wear a gustoweh without permission and see where that gets you.

      Instead of spending so much time and energy defending shitty choices, and disrespectful actions and searching for loopholes, people would be a lot better off it they just asked…and accepted the answer.

      • Okay, but who do you ask for permission? You have said already earlier in this thread that even if one person from a cultural group says something is okay, does not make it ‘okay’ on any universal standard, and that the permission can be revoked at any time if circumstances change. It seems like what you are suggesting contradicts what you said earlier, and proposes that anyone wishing to appropriate an item of another culture’s visual lexicon (even with understanding that within that visual lexicon there are all sorts of layered and subjective and historical aspects), they must ask all members if this is acceptable or not acceptable etc. Right now, for the purpose of this conversation – which, incidentally I find really useful and insightful – you have assumed the position of the person speaking for many about what is acceptable/sensitive/offensive etc, which is why we are all asking you about boundaries.

        For the record, I am not in any way critical of your sensibilities as they pertain to your cultural outlook, or what you’re saying about how you feel they can best be respected by other cultures. Where I don;t share your sentiments with regard to my own culture, I get where you are coming from and I respect that these are your boundaries. Regarding my own heritage, I don’t know if you have ever been outdoors anywhere in the world on St Paddy’s day, but in the process of commemorating a religious crusader who was responsible for the dismantling of another indigenous people and religious system in the name of the church, there is no shortage of “Irish for a day” stereotyping of my ancestors in a less than favourable way.. For whatever reason this doesn’t bother me. I can totally respect the proposition that this scenario would offend someone else, and while I don’t necessarily share your views, I can appreciate where they come from. I think.

        But, the solution to this seems to be multi-directional. If you have one Native friend who says “yeah fine, it’s totally cool for you to do ‘that thing’ (wear a headdress/ item of jewelry/ redskins paraphernalia/ other misdirected cultural symbol etc) around me, but my mom hates it don’t do it around her”, then you begin to understand the nature of the offense as potentially offensive overall – in which case you might stop doing ‘the thing’ altogether – and/or you understand that ‘the thing’ is at least offensive to one person in that group and you do your best not to do it around them. My bf and I were talking about this and used the example of the “Smash Fascism!” slogan that was so popular among our social group when we were kids that depicts an image of a swastika being smashed into pieces. He said, of our friends that would wear that symbol, they would probably not wear it around other friends’ jewish grandparents. Not because the image was intrinsically bad, or that the message was offensive, but that there was a good chance people with their history wouldn’t want to be confronted with that symbol. Fair play.

        So, from the point of view of the dialogue you mentioned in your original post that you said was important to be open and equal, what does “permission” look like? What does “asking permission” look like in an honest and sincere way? And does the fact that you, as a member of group x have obviously stated a ‘zero-tolerance’ lack of permission, is there a type of permission that could be applied or received that would be legitimate in the absence of your voice as a member of the community, which obviously opposes it?

        • I’ve already explained that one earns a warbonnet. That’s it. That’s the way you do it. Period.

          All restricted items/symbols are thusly restricted in a very specific way, meaning, if you care to find out how one earns said restricted item/symbol, you talk to people from the culture that know.

          Again, this is not that difficult, or complicated no matter how you might approach it as such.

          • I understand that, but it becomes more complicated when you say that anything that looks similar is also restricted. That’s where the discussion about lines becomes more involved. It sounds like you’re saying that anything with a semiotic similarity is also restricted, but that seems to include things like artworks made by other people as well as other cultural objects belonging to other people and representing different things. Again, I’m not trying to be critical of your sensitivity but I think that this might be why so many people are curious about what you see as being the extent of the offense drawn by things that resemble cultural objects in an indirect way. Are you familiar with semiotics as a way of reading symbols and images? I think this seems to be what people are stumbling on if that makes sense.

          • Cripes, flog this horse until the skin is flayed from its bones.

            Don’t wear a Plains style headdress. Don’t minutely alter a replica of a Plains style headdress and say, “now it’s fine, right?” Don’t name ‘artistic renderings’ of headdresses after Indigenous nations and then wonder why we get pissed. Don’t play cultural appropriation BINGO, and ffs when people tell you to stop, respect that instead of going on and on and on and on and on about it.


        • Sorry to bust your bubble Mr. Irish guy but after traveling and meeting many native born Irishmen and women, the general consensus amongst them is that they highly resent many Americans claiming Irish heritage but having no knowledge of Ireland besides being on an Island off the continent of mainland Europe.

          • I’m a girl, and I’m well aware that that stuff’s offensive to some Irish people, it just doesn’t offend me.

            It’s made more complicated by the fact that we are the second largest diaspora in recent history, and people who identify as Irish outside of Ireland exponentially outnumber Irish nationals ‘in country’. One culture becomes many, many others over just a few generations, and (imo) no one person’s cultural identity or experience within that movement is more authentic than any other – even if you are (as I’m sure the many Irish people you met on your travels probably referred to non-native Irish) a “plastic paddy” or island born. “Wild Geese” and Patricios, Boston Irish, Nova Scotian Celtic, Newfoundlanders’ mix of British, Nordic and Native cultures all have their own deal. They all are sensitive to different things, they all use and keep and throw away different things.

            At this point both in history, and due to my own family diaspora, it’s kind of hard to choose an allegiance although sometimes one feels forced to.. if only by being forced out of one by one. This is totally ok with me, for whatever reason I don’t feel ownership of or profound connection to my heritage in the same way as some of my countrymen. I’m also pretty well aware of how well we all rub each other up the wrong way – even within our own heritage. Sometimes within our own homes.

            Sorry to bust your bubble, Danny Boy. On the topic of cultural misappropriation, I guess you probably also know that’s an English song?

  78. absolutely agree, and i thought i’d said as much. but you have completely side-stepped my point, which is simply that imho it is not the right of someone from another culture to dictate terms to a third party about that other culture’s standards. in short, the flip side of what you are saying. and pointing out that within this commentary you seem to have slipped over that boundary.

    we ALL need to be careful and respectful around any cultural differences; being an activist for one culture’s traditions does not imbue a right to speak for another’s. hence the “lines” revisit.

    • I have not in any way ‘slipped over that boundary’. My position is that until you know whether a symbol that originates in another culture is restricted, or not restricted, then you refrain from using it. Period. I am not speaking for other cultures, but I am absolutely stating a bright line rule that is much more likely to ensure respectful cultural sharing than not. Do you disagree with this approach, and if so, it would be lovely if you’d come out and clearly state so rather than oh so politely suggesting this that and the other thing.

      • yes, i think that’s a good approach, and i agree and am happy to support that stand.

        but two small buts: i respectfully invite you to review some of the comments you’ve made in responses in this thread and you may find the need to accept that you have on occasion crossed the line; and second, if i’m painstakingly polite it’s because you bite the head off anyone who isn’t!

        be nice if you gave people a little breathing space – and owned your errors when you make them. respect is key – even when dealing with morons. :)

  79. I’m Irish so no one better celebrate st Patrick’s day. Also notre dame better change their mascot, we all aren’t leprechauns. What’s next some one will be offended if an American wears an Italian cut suit. You don’t own feathers or any of the materials used to make them. How do people automatically assume negativity instead of appreciating everything.

    • So you didn’t bother to read the article which clearly explains that the headdress is a restricted item, and you want to interject a bunch of super unique ideas into the conversation to get us to realise how wrong we are. Wow. Much originality. Thanks so much.

  80. Hi, I’m English. Sorry about that. I’ve read every post in this thread of your blog. The problem is that ‘Western’ culture doesn’t really have an equivalence to your ‘restricted item’. I’ve been racking my brains but i can’t find one. Victoria Cross? Diploma? Various achievement awards? It’s touching that you proffer these as equivalent.
    You see it’s like this. Lot’s of us (in this here ‘West’) will exercise our freedom to express ourselves by wearing facsimiles of any of these symbols of honour or owning cheap replicas bought in seedy shitty seaside towns and generally shitty gift shops (usually made in Chinese sweat shops).

    What is important to us is the right to exercise our right to freedom of expression. Regardless of concepts of respect, sensibilities and sensitivities. It is inconceivable to us that anyone could object to us exercising our rights to wear what to us is a mere fashion accessory. And believe you me, your cultural symbols, hell no, your culture is nothing more to us than a theme, an influence, a style, a fashion accessory that can be bought and sold and at any point convenient to us will be tossed into the nearest rubbish bin (trash can).

    You see we do that with our own culture (we’re so cutting edge).

    So having done some perception gymnastics and weird perspective yoganomics I’ve come to the following conclusion:
    It’s the RESPECT in your culture that’s paid to the ‘restricted item’ that’s the difference.

    That’s what we don’t get.

    ‘Western’ culture doesn’t really have an equivalent to your culture’s respect for your ‘restricted items’. In fact I’d go so far as to say that ‘Western culture’ just doesn’t have your culture’s equivalent of ‘respect’ at all. Full stop. That’s it.

    For us ‘respect’ is paid in certain circumstances, for limited periods of time, with large elements of coercion/shaming if we don’t buy in or comply. But in spite of all that it is also OPTIONAL. In fact mostly optional, and definitely an expression of individual preference. Because to us ‘individual’ is what counts. The I. The me. The self.

    Your culture seems to set great store in respect. Or in something that the closest equivalent in our culture would be described as respect.

    It also seems to me that a great many of the posters in your comment section don’t seem to be aware of the appalling Crimes Against Humanity that were committed against the indigenous peoples of what we now call the Americas. And within living memory.

    I wasn’t being flippant when I said I was sorry.

  81. Ugh! This stream of comments is so disappointing and tiresome. Kudos to you Chelsea, for continuing to respond and educate.

    I’m a white male, living in Yukon, Canada. I struggle to deal with my issues around privilege, and I am fortunate to have intelligent and patient friends who are willing to set me straight when I slip back into my comfortable status… Because privilege is a comfortable status… That needs to be challenged and dismantled whenever it is invoked.

    Yes, getting to grips with cultural appropriation, is challenging… Especially from the settler perspective where appropriation of every culture we have subjugated has been normalized through our education system, biased retelling of history, and the spread of western culture…. But it is necessary. It is necessary to hear what people are actually saying when they point out that the name of a sports team is thoughtlessly racist, or wearing traditional, or traditionally-inspired First Nations clothing, head-dresses, or jewelry is insulting. It is important to hear and absorb what is being expressed rather than simply hit back with knee jerk reactions of “it feels right”…. “I am honouring Aboriginal culture”… “I not a racist, you are”… And “I’m sorry, I didn’t know the rules tell me the rules so I know better next time.”

    When you ask for the “rules”, you more often than not reveal that you have little genuine interest in the conversation or how cultural appropriation is wrong, you are simply wanting boundaries that either you can choose to live within, or pick at to prove you were not in the wrong in the first place.

    Here in Yukon, there are 14 First Nations and eight First Nations languages. Some aspects of culture are shared and similar, and some are different. The Nations here are at different stages of reclaiming many aspects of their culture. They are relearning songs and writing new ones, relearning dances and creating new ones, and engaging in discussions about what is traditional and what is not.

    It has been fascinating and enlightening to witness the conversation as the First Nations people here strive to identify and separate their unique cultural elements from the homogenous Native American catch-all fake culture that settler society has burdened them with. Examples are, Gwich’in people debating their love of fiddle music and whether it can be considered “traditional” after 200 yrs because it was introduced to their culture by European explorers… And Northern Tutchone elders explaining to their youth that the dances and songs they just witnessed by a visiting First Nation from southern Canada, while attractive, are not their songs and dances, and should not be copied, the youth must instead rediscover their Northern Tutuchone songs and dances instead.

    Having witnessed such discussions, and out of my respect for the First Nations people here who are rebuilding their cultures, here is an example of how I deal with my own desire to appropriate/celebrate cultural aspects that please me:
    Tlingit culture here has a tradition of vibrant, colourful button blankets. I adore these blankets, and would love to own one. Seeing one being created at a gathering, I asked about it, about the cultural significance of the blanket, and the symbols used. I discovered that they are often created specially to honour a person and gifted at gatherings and ceremonies, they carry significance for that person, the First Nation, or clan that is gifting or receiving. Most importantly I learned that these blankets are not commodities, mass produced for general consumption. As such, I continue to admire them, but no longer covet them. Perhaps one day I might be worthy of receiving one as a gift, but I am not seeking a caveat or loophole by which I can obtain one.

    I love watching the many First Nations dance groups that have reestablished themselves here. I love their traditional dress. I love their music. But I do not seek to wear it myself, I do not seek to force myself into their celebration. Unless I had been explicitly invited to, or was in some way being honoured, I would feel uncomfortable and entirely out of place wearing any of a First Nations’s traditional clothing or head dress. I have a very hard time understanding some one who would not feel similarly.

    One horrifying and haunting image, among many, from archival film of residential schools in Yukon that has stayed with me, is of First Nations children, dressed in white shirts and black pants, with their hair cut short, all very docile and obedient…. being encouraged to dress up in generic Indian head dress and vests, wave tomahawks, holler, and run around a camp fire in an awful mockery of what the nuns and priests considered their savage culture. Taking the individual cultures and cultural links these children were clinging to and forcibly replacing them with stereotypes perpetuated in movies and pulp novels. It is sad, chilling, and wrong.

    We must not continue to perpetuate such ignorance. We must be better that this. It was not that long ago, less than 20 yrs, that the last residential school closed in Canada. Healing is needed on both sides. A big part of that healing for non-First Nations people is to move through our ignorance about First Nations history and culture and truly comprehend what has been inflicted upon these peoples without feeling the need to say “but that wasn’t me”.

    It is not this blogger’s responsibility to provide 100% of that education for you. It is up to you to seek out that info yourself. And if you don’t know any First Nations people, or where to find any, then perhaps that is where you need to start in breaking down your own ignorance.

    Another good place to start is Thomas King’s award-winning book – The Inconvenient Indian… A critical and personal meditation on what it means to be “Indian” in North America today.

    I am by no means perfect. I come face to face with my prejudice and my privilege every day, but I strive to be better. It’s not that hard, you just have to want to make the effort too… And that means listening, hearing what is being said, and taking the time to absorb and understand it.

    • Michael Vernon, this is really well said, as is the response to a previous comment/query I made here by the host. I can totally identify with a lot of what you both are saying. A lot of my questions and confusion come not from wanting to commodify “restricted” items (ie – ‘coveting’ them, although that is an excellent description of what I think drives a lot of cultural appropriation, or wanting to own, wear, be identified with/ through them) but trying to understand how to make work that responds to some of those aesthetics, and their politics, and draws inspiration from the content of the history – hopefully in a socially critical way – without being disrespectful. It appears to be a lengthy and involved process, which is a very good thing, I think. This thread has been so useful in clarifying some of these issues for me, I’m really grateful for this conversation. Thanks to âpihtawikosisân for hosting and guiding the convo.

  82. Pingback: Appropriation Vs. Appreciation | Parade with an M

  83. Pingback: Glastonbury Festival: Ban the sale of Native American-style headdresses on-site from 2015 | alt.LEFT

  84. Hi.

    Following this year’s Glastonbury (see pingback below for the petition asking the festival to ban the sale of head-dresses from next year), one of my favourite sellers of presents-for-hippies began selling headdresses.

    I wrote to them at the weekend respectfully asking them to read your article, which they did, and wrote back to me the next day to say they wouldn’t be buying any more. I thanked them,and they wrote back saying that they were removing the ones they had from sale.

    If anyone is looking for boho/hippy/festie stuff in the UK, have fairtrade goods and have shown they behave ethically when made aware of inappropriate cultural appropriation. I believe people who do the right thing should be supported.

  85. Hi I am doing an art project for my GCSE (I’m in the UK) and wondered if it would be wrong to make an Indian/Native American headdress?
    I would like to make it by hand using real feathers that I find. If I put a message talking about the controversy surrounding this and others and my views would it be ok?

        • I’ve decided to do it anyway but it will be more of a piece of art and will honour the Native American genocide

          • Not sure why you even bothered coming here to ask, if “yes please go ahead” was the only answer you were going to accept.

            Bravo on being bringing yet another unoriginal piece of ‘art’ into the world based on your own ignorance, and using Hollywood, pan-Indian stereotypes to do so. How innovative.

    • I am glad I didn’t take your advice if you are such a rude person, You haven’t even seen the art piece and you make a horrible judgement. this is for my. GCSE not so I can mock you and your culture. obviously I have more respect for the native americans that lost their lives to the power struggle over America.

      • I could care less about your art piece. Seeing it would not help. You asked, “would it be appropriate to use a Native American headdress”, and I told you no, as a person from a culture that uses this headdress. You have decided that your opinion on the matter supersedes the opinion of the people you claim to honour. Basically THE definition of White privilege, rooted in racist beliefs in your own superiority over the opinions of people from the culture you wish to exploit. Which begs the question, why pretend to give a shit in the first place?

        Thank you for having more respect for those of us murdered by the state, than for those of us still alive. Very nice. Very in touch with your colonizer’s roots, eh wot?

      • What you could still do would be to make the submission for your GCSE the destruction of the headdress you made. Submit the advice you’ve been given here as part of a portfolio and show you’ve been able to change your actions based on respect for others and an ability to admit fault, and subsequently grow as a human being. Maybe read a bit wider on colonialism, orientalism, speak to your school or local librarian for suggestions.

        You’re 15/16, old enough to be realising that very bad things happen in the world and that we all have a responsibility to take a stand when we know we could do something to make things better. At the same time being the age you are is a difficult time and learning how to deal with having been wrong is hard.

        Of course you’ve had an abrupt response to what you’ve said here. What you said was very rude and offensive, however you meant it. You received a judgement that feels horrible because your refusal to listen to an unwelcome response, was horrible.

        Can you imagine how it feels to have someone say that they don’t intend to mock your culture when they go ahead with doing something that you have told them mocks your culture? Imagine someone asking you if it’s okay to laugh at a piece of art you made, you say you don’t want them to, then they get all their friends together and point and laugh at you. What you’ve done so far is like that but worse. Don’t be a bully.

        You can use your coursework/exam to show you’ve learned, and maybe even use it as an opportunity to enlighten your classmates or any staff who encouraged you to go ahead with the piece. To be a better person, go for redemption, not blustering refusal to admit fault. Choose not to perpetuate oppression and to make the word better.

  86. These comments are GOLDEN. I am only 3rd generation American, so I defiantly don’t identify with this Anglo entitlism. “But what about if I do this?” “What if it’s just for me?” Then you’re all quick to get pissed when you’re called racist.

    If you can’t understand it, don’t fry your brain trying to, just DONT DO IT. Respect other cultures. This is not yours, you can not claim it because you think they’re “cool” or “pretty”, or you’re trying to “make a feminist statement”.

    JUST FUCKING STOP. It’s a big fat, “fuck no knock it the fuck off”.

    God dammit. Thank you for this article, apparently for some it was not clear enough though.

  87. Thank you for this article.

    I was privileged to be the guest of Lakota people for three months. Their cultural experience of white people like me was that we lied and lied and cheated and stole and lied some more. Nevertheless, they received me with courtesy, graciousness and generosity.

    I have no idea of the ethnicity of the people writing negative comments. The “I can do what I damned well like” attitude is one, though, which Native American people will know all about at the hands of white people.

    Those of you who feel entitled to (knowingly) plunder the beauty and integrity of someone else’s culture – you are missing an opportunity to become more truly human.

  88. Pingback: Reading Summary on Readings for Tuesday, October 14 | Race and technology

  89. Yo.

    Filipino-American girl. I don’t face the same type of prejudice as you do, especially since I live in California’s diverse San Francisco Bay Area, but given that I’m one of many Filipino-Americans who can’t speak their ancestral language, and the Islands got colonized by pretty much everyone in Asia IN ADDITION TO the West, and there are very few Asians in my chosen field of work (theater/acting, specifically), it sucks to have to explain everything to my various non-Asian classmates. Especially since most of them are black and face entirely different kinds of prejudices compared to Asians.

    It’s probably why my spirituality’s all over the fucking place. I call myself Irish pagan as the short version, but my actual beliefs are Irish/CELTIC paganism plus ancestor-worship, plus quasi-shamanistic practices. Then there’s “various proto-religious rituals that don’t really fit into quasi-shamanism, but they seem like some indigenous practices if you squint and tilt your head to the right (plus I have to replace X with Y because I’m broke, but shhh).”

    Things like your article make a lot of people uncomfortable because those people most likely want to keep living in their sanitized bubble of “Racism is In The Past(TM)” and “It’s Not Racism If It’s Not A Hate Crime (TM).” And the ever-present “BUT I DIDN’T MEEEEEEEAN TO HURT YOUR FEELINGS!”

    Everyone who keeps claiming you’re rude or you’re too angry is probably at least a little butthurt about how instead of being a Wise And Calm Noble Savage (TM), you’re being someone who’s had generations of racism and colonialism in their history and is acting accordingly.

    You can be intelligent and well-spoken, but that never, ever means that you have to be NICE.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll read more of this blog when it’s not 12:30AM.

  90. I’m interested to know what your stance is regarding native people who make their living selling these headdresses. Should they sell only to distinguished native men? Given the price that these items fetch, it strikes me that it may represent a not insignificant income stream for native families. Do you have an alternative they could pursue?

  91. Sorry but this is a nonsense argument. Headdresses are not exclusively a Native American cultural ‘possession’. They are worn throughout the world by countless cultures. Taking offense by what someone else does is a choice…your choice. A non Native American wearing a headdress is not racist or a desicration of a culture. Banning things like this is an overreaction and really has no consequence to the growth of humanity. A truly spritual and loving person would not be bothered by what other people wear. Love & light.

    • Sorry, but yours is a nonsense argument. We are not discussing headdresses in the general, we are discussing them in the specific: Plains style warbonnets. Which, contrary to your uninformed opinion, ARE exclusive to PLAINS Nations.

      Nice try.

      “Love & Light” and down with colonial misappropriation!

  92. People do dress up as decorated soldiers. They also do dress up as doctors. By that standard, they should be able to dress up as chiefs in the same venues.

    They shouldn’t wear headdresses for concerts, because (most) concerts wouldn’t have people dressing up as soldiers, doctors, etc. It shouldn’t be a symbol of festivities. We shouldn’t use headdresses as a sign of wild rambunctiousness.

    We’ve all seen old television. If someone shows up to work in an Indian headdress, but a full suit, it’s cruel. It’s like comparing the headdress to a chicken suit.

    But if a kid dresses up as a doctor because he wants to be a doctor, then similarly, he should be able to wear a Native American costume . He won’t necessarily grow up to be doctor (in the tribe’s case, he can’t, unless he was born to it) but it’s still a sign of respect.

    One of my mother’s favorite expressions came from a very horrible, and positively racist 50s song. It is, in full, “When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief.” Of course, the expression was originally meant to convey flippancy, that not all three values were equal, and therefore the person was unsure about what they really wanted to be. But grammatically, they are equal. Perhaps, doctor and lawyer are not equal, because an Indian chief is a prince, a warrior, and a king, and perhaps they are. But they are good aspirations, of the highest rank and greatest fortune.

    Another (really very separate) issue is that the Plains headdress is beautiful. Many awards and recognitions aren’t. Art can be about meaning, but it also can be purely aesthetic.

    From that standpoint, everything that is beautiful, whether it is a medal or a purple heart should be used, regardless of its significance. The significance is irrelevant. It is beautiful, and therefore it should be shown for its beauty.

    A Swatiska is neither a Nazi cross, a Celtic gravestone, or a symbol of God. It simply is a swatiska.

    The problem comes when the distinction between aesthetics and meaning aren’t clear. When the fashion photographer is using a headdress, he is using it because it is beautiful, but he is also using it because it symbolizes wildness. Now, it might symbolize wildness, purely from an aesthetic standpoint, because of the feathers. It would gain all the beauty of birds. (A black feathered cape is a ruffled raven). But it probably symbolizes wildnesses with all cultural attaches applied. That is the problem.

    It hurts people to be continued to be seen as wild, tribal, and uncivilized. It may not be the intention of the individual photographer, tattooer, or costumed kid, but it still hurts. It is hurtful to continue using it, when you are better informed.

    And yet, military clothing has been translated into fashion for quite some time, with the reverence the profession deserves.

    That is also a problem.

    I wish that the world was nicer.

    • We aren’t a profession. We are people, and we’re telling folks to stop using us as ‘dress up’.

      So non-Indigenous people have two options. Ignore us and do whatever they want…or have some respect for other human beings and don’t engage in perpetuating harmful stereotypes about us.

      It’s really actually very simple.

  93. This is really beautiful and beautifully written!! Most of the above ‘rules’ so to speak, are just common courtesy and respect in my opinion, which a lot of people of many different cultures do not comprehend! I find I need to remind myself that most people are not as respectful, considerate and thoughtful as I am. Not saying everyone…. so please, do not jump on me!! I am 1/8 Native American Indian and I am very, very interested in learning about that part of my heritage. I am also Swedish and English. Some combo huh? Anyway, when I was a young adult, I had an infatuation with NAI (I hope no one minds if I abbreviate). It was only later than I learned my complete heritage. I have been finding more and more that some of my ways of thinking and doing things are consistent with the NAI ways. I couldn’t be happier to learn to that, because I have always felt kind of lost in this world. I have a difficult time adhering to the standards of today’s society.
    Thank you for this!! So happy a friend sent me the link and I also bookmarked the longer version so I can read more. :) :) :)

  94. Thanks for a great post. There is far too little communication between Aboriginals and non-aboriginals regarding most things. As a non-aboriginal living in Winnipeg I constantly hear and read other non-aboriginals making statements and assumptions about what they think Aboriginals need or want. We have a long (and sad) history of thinking we know better, without every asking. Perhaps its because we (collectively) know that real knowledge will challenge us, and we’d rather stay ignorant.

    Winnipeg has recently been identified as a city that is deeply divided between aboriginal/non-aboriginal lines. If Winnipeg (and most cities in settler countries) wants to bridge that divide and start cross-cultural communication, then we have to accept that the cost will be to give up our self-imposed right to resentment and to hold stereotypes. To this point, many of the readers to this blog do not understand that by reading this blog they have lost their innocence and they can not longer in good conscience wear a headdress. This should not be something to be lamented as a loss, but we should celebrated as a win in cross-cultural understanding.

    My fellow class-mates and I have set up a blog with some provocative posts that are meant to bridge our cultural divide (at The topic of Aboriginal cultural appropriation is one of the topics discussed. I encourage the skeptical readers to check it out, and encourage the aboriginal readers to critique and correct us, in case we get anything wrong.

    Thanks and don’t get discouraged.

    • ay-ay mistahi for this excellent article!

      The Department of National Defence says Franck Gervais, a man who claimed to be a decorated soldier during Tuesday’s Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, is not a member of the Canadian Forces.

      After seeing Gervais speaking as a “sergeant” on television, a number of veterans and soldiers called CBC to question his status as a soldier.

      It is an offence for someone who is not serving in the military to wear a current military uniform.

      “Falsely impersonating a Canadian Armed Forces member is an issue to be taken seriously and is covered under Section 419 of the Criminal Code of Canada,” a spokesperson for the Defence Department said in an emailed statement.

      • let me start by saying I am 54 years old and my grand father was a native American and so was his mother. I saw on the internet a white female wearing an indian head dress and I thought it was very disrespectuf to the indian.i also read her remarks and to me it was just an excuse and the remark of being born and raised in Oklahoma was no excuse I live in florida and there are many indian reservations here and once again I have not seen a native American try to imitate any one elses culture.we all come from different back grounds and we hafe to respect each other and have compassin for each.

  95. Pingback: The Feathers Came to My House . . . | formations. // living at the intersections of self, social, spirit.

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  97. Pingback: Surge : Aggravated by Appropriation: The Follow Up

  98. My lineage is Scottish, Chickasaw and Swedish. I identify most closely with my Chickasaw heritage and customs, although distant. I will never be white enough to be white, nor Chickasaw enough to be Native, but I don’t let that bother me. I appreciate this article. It says to me, let’s keep the dialogue open. DON’T hand pick pieces of another culture and mimic it. LEARN what it all means. GO to a powwow and observe, respectfully. You may actually get to make friends with a Native person…….which begins with, as the author has stated…listening and asking. Nanna Ayya

  99. Pingback: – Glastonbury restricts sale of aboriginal headdresses at music festival

  100. It’s simple…Are you Native? Are you male? Did you earn the honor of wearing the headdress by doing things that were set apart by leaders who had the authority to make those judgement? All other arguments are invalid.

  101. Edit: awwww, the person posting from the IP address from Oldham, UK, believes that Indigenous opinions don’t really matter. Well this Indigenous person doesn’t let racists spew their poorly-spelled ichor on this blog, so sorry!

  102. At the end of the day its a bunch of feathers. Some leather twine and beads. Maybe some animal fur. To get so incredibly hung up on who should and should not put it on is actually quite absurd. I hope you are not borrowing any items of clothing traditionally belonging to other cultures and only wear traditional native strictly hand made garb from head to toe otherwise you legitimately risk being perceived as a whiny hypocrite. All cultures borrow from each other in a process of evolution into something new. This is life. This is progress. Things only have meaning that we give to them and insisting that your point of view is better because it comes from traditions long gone is to insist on living in the past and quite frankly quite sounds fairly arrogant. To not adapt is to stagnate and die. This is one of the reasons your people have perished. Those who were not wiped out by the white invaders refused to accept a new reality of life. I feel truly sorry for those who insist we should follow values cultural or otherwise from centuries past. You doom yourself to suffer needlessly.

    • I agree. Outdated and outmoded traditions from centuries ago need to be replaced! Things like the Doctrine of Discovery, first legalized by Papal Bulls in the 15th century. Without this, European Settlers would have had no legal claim to any of the lands they colonized. I say it’s high time we repeal that and open the question of how to deal with the illegitimate land claims of European-descended Settlers!

      While we’re at it, the entire land system in place in Canada and the US is rooted in ancient European feudalism, and clearly needs to go. Down with fee simple!

      Outmoded philosophical beliefs about human beings (specifically the White male of the species) and their supposed God-given dominance over the Earth and all the creatures that roam it, are clearly causing horrific environmental damage that will impact many generations to come. To not adapt is to stagnate and die, and while doing so, doom those future generations to a poisoned and hellish environment.

      I feel truly sorry for those who insist we should follow values cultural or otherwise from centuries past. They doom us all to needless suffering. I’m so glad you recognize this.

  103. Hello! I have done a lot of searching on the web to no avail and have reached out to my Native friends and family of a few tribes (Ojibwe and Creek in my family and Cree friends) who seem to just not care if war bonnets are appropriated, thus giving me no answer. I would pay you for the commission of your time / effort / expertise in addressing my questions. If you would like to make this exchange, and consent to offering me your response, please respond with your price and I will Paypal you the suggested amount. If not, lovely blog post and thank you for your consideration. For your consideration, my question is as follows:

    I have read your blog post and all comments, and am not new to the idea of cultural appropriation of Plains war bonnets. I am mixed Native American / Mexican / white, but pass as mixed-white / white. I was fortunate enough to grow up with cultural understanding / education / of my tribe (Creek and Chippewa/Ojibwe), but I pass white enough so I was not subject to any of the cultural / social disadvantages / racism / discrimination / etc Natives face in a society with power structures founded in colonialism and white settler supremacy. I was taught that Chippewa did not traditionally wear war bonnets / feathered headdresses, but with settlers and the robbing of Native land, Chippewa were forced in closer with other tribes and began adopting the dress of other tribes like the Sioux / began wearing feathered war bonnets. I am attending Burning Man this year, and the theme is a type of unmasking of the mask / adornment. Since many chose to appropriate the traditional war bonnet of Native Americans in festival culture, I wanted to display the ways in which non-Native headdresses / headpieces could be worn as fantasy headdresses, thus removing the mask the cultural appropriation of Native wear hides behind. I love my Native culture and want to help those in the festival culture (although Burning Man isn’t a music festival, I still see gross appropriation in there) better understand appropriation and offer visible alternatives of head adornments they could wear instead. I also plan on handing out small informational flyers (I was going to link to this post on the paper if that is okay with you!) about what appropriation is and how it is detrimental / disrespectful. I benefit from white privilege and am not a male who earned the war bonnet, so I want to avoid completely wearing anything that would disrespect the culture of First Nations people / further perpetrate the idea the cultural appropriation is okay…it would also completely go against the point I am trying to make / conversation I am trying to start about Native headdress appropriation in festival culture. Are there any bright line rules you could offer as far as division between fantasy headpiece and appropriation of Native war bonnet? I noticed in a comment about someone asked a similar question, but I am still struggling. Are feathers okay in minimal? Or not at all? Or just not in the shape of large cylindrical crown that flares out? I know from what you wrote that anything marked “Native,” “Native inspired,” “tribal,” etc is a no-go. I have done some research and have found some links of things I think may be “okay,” things I think are definitely bad, and some I am confused on. I have categorized them below, please correct where necessary…visual learning is really helpful for me!




    Lastly, do you think this method of commentary on the appropriation of the Native headdress in festival culture is too thin a line for me to walk / a bad methodology? I like the idea of offering a visible alternative to appropriation in action (i.e.: “Sure the headdress you are appropriating is beautiful, but you are actively stealing from a minority culture and engaging in racism. Now, look, here is an info sheet and, really look, I am wearing a headpiece that is also very beautiful and not offensive / appropriative! See how easy, you can do it too.” At least this is how imagine the conversation going…). Do you think my point may be lost considering the fact that although I am Native and grew up with knowledge of my Native culture, I still pass white and my tribes traditionally did not wear headdresses until after colonization, thus it could just look like me wearing a headdress as a white girl at a festival if someone just sees me and doesn’t engage in convo / read the flyer.

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  118. Thank you again for your consideration and patience in helping those of us who want to be allies. The bingo card is helpful, I know if I check it I’m less likely to speak from my privilege . Sometimes I find it hard to believe how pissy people can be at being told they have offended someone, even accidentally, and given positive supportive suggestions on how to avoid doing it again should they want not to. But the folk who say you have no right to be offended or should shut up and stop offending them by telling them they’re offensive, they’re really wilfully ignorant. I’m so impressed by your ability and willingness to keep calling them out and answering them even when it seems evident that they’re just trolling. I’m amazed at how level headed and polite you are with some of these folk. I hope you continue to speak truth to people who have chosen to be assholes. Thank you for your help, I’ll continue to pay attention.