Fake Feathered Chiefs — Lets Talk.

David Guetta recently released an advertisement for one of his world renowned parties. His video features a slew of Indigenous misrepresentations and appropriations that have angered many Indigenous people, including myself.

Unfortunately, it seems that Guetta has been hiding in a cave somewhere producing his music because he hasn’t received the memo that appropriating Indigenous culture simply isn’t cool anymore. Unlike Guetta, many people in the music industry are beginning to understand that this type of behaviour is pretty absurd and as a result we have seen music festivals the world over banning the wearing of headdresses by those attending the festivals.

Now while this whole Guetta situation frustrates me, I am going to choose to address another related issue with the headdress that hits a little closer to home. Before I dive into it, let me just say that I am not trying to shift the conversation away from appropriation, rather I have always felt that there are many individuals addressing this type of appropriation and I feel strongly that we need to address issues inside our communities just as much as we address what happens outside our communities.

My issue is something that is sometimes talked about–but not really. It’s always shrugged off as an issue of non-importance. However, to me, I feel as though if we’re to tell the world to respect our culture (which includes our art forms, clothing and spirituality) then we must do the same. I have to say some of us, more specifically our “leaders”, have been doing a rough job at this. This issue is actually quite specific as well since it seems to occur among a select group of Individuals.

The issue is this: chiefs either wearing headdresses composed of fake feathers or chiefs from regions that never traditionally wore headdresses choosing to wear them as a symbol of their status. The double whammy is when you have a chief from a region that never wore headdresses choosing to wear one that is composed of fake feathers. Palm-in-face moment.

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Example of First Nation Chiefs wearing fake feathered headdresses.

I’ll start this discussion by addressing the fake headdresses first. I don’t understand why leaders make this decision. I’ve seen first-hand, chiefs marching with us during many rallies I’ve attended only to notice that their headdresses were made from cheap black and white dollar store feathers. Now I am not saying they’re all doing this. Far from it. Many leaders respect what the feathers and the headdress means to their people. However, to the ones who are doing this, I ask, why? What’s the value? What’s the significance in wearing fake feathers? I feel as though these leaders either don’t value the importance of eagle feathers or feel as though symbolizing their status as chiefs is more important then respecting and honouring the importance of feathers. So here it goes, I am going to say it: there is no difference between the bonnet that joe shmo wears at some EDM festival and the dollar store feathers I’ve seen on some chiefs’ bonnets.

They both hold little value as the feathers themselves are what represents the importance of the bonnet, not the wearer.

Chiefs come and go, however the power and spirit of those feathers lasts forever . It has literally become a status symbol to some leaders and I strongly believe this needs to be called out. The next time you see a chief wearing a fake bonnet ask them, “hey, tell me the story behind those feathers?”. I for one have little-to-no patience for photo-op Indians and I have strongly feel as though some leaders view the bonnet as just that, a photo opportunity to showcase their chiefness to the world.

Now the second issue I spoke about was that leaders from regions that traditionally did not wear bonnets are choosing to wear them. This issue is a little more contentious and controversial. Mostly because many nations, especially in the eastern provinces, had our cultures immersed, mixed, and sometimes disintegrated by earlier contact with Europeans. Therefore, during times of culture revitalization throughout history, the war bonnet became a symbol of Indianness. Therefore, for some, the symbol (the bonnet) may be all they know about their own culture. However, that being said, many of us do know.

I believe a greater revitalization is currently happening. One that sees various nations breaking through the shackles of pan-Indianism and learning more about their own distinct cultures as distinct nations. This also means that people are beginning to represent that distinctiveness more prevalently. We see leaders who in the past may have worn war bonnets choosing to wear their own traditional head adornments instead.

Chief Isadore Day

Chief Isadore Day wearing an Anishinabe feather cap.

This was evident with Chief Atleo who would often wear his peoples traditional hat or with Chief Isadore Day who chooses to wear a traditional Anishinabe feather cap.

Therefore, for those leaders who aren’t catching on. You no longer have to look like a plains Indian to be an Indian.

Embrace your people. Embrace your distinctiveness and rock it with pride.

20 thoughts on “Fake Feathered Chiefs — Lets Talk.

  1. Honestly these feathers look like carefully hand picked Eagle feathers and not fake ones. I seen all three headdresses on these Chiefs, not a fake feather on them! Have respect for this Mi’kmaq Grand Chief and the 2 other Chiefs!

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    • Honestly.I have been working with feathers for many years. Dancing, building bustles, building fans, etc. I am sorry to break it to you but these are not real feathers. Thanks for your input. Respect does not mean keeping your mouth shut when you see something that should be critiqued.

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      • Well, they are real feathers, just not Eagle feathers. All three are wearing turkey feathers. The first one on the left is wearing the more expensive hand painted ones, and the other two are wearing the cheap quality ones from the turkey slaughter houses that they sell as a byproduct.
        A chief shouldn’t be dressed up as a turkey.

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    • But those are not traditional to Mi’kMaq culture. That was the point. If we wanna own our culture, WE MUST OWN IT. Not usurp culture that is not our own. I am Mohawk. Were I a chief/traditional sachem, I would look pretty stupid in the Longhouse of my people wearing a Lakota war bonnet.

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    • Its the fact they are wearing a plains style head dress and not their own cutures head dress/bonnet. War bonnets are not just given to any old chief either. They are earned, same with each feather on the bonnet/head dress. Now it seems your chiefs need to have more respect for other indigenous groups cultural attire. Just because they are native does not give them the right to appropirate anothers dress. It would be like a cree trying to say a haida face mask is his traditional head wear… He has no clue how it was made or the meaning of it. Just because its a symbol of being a Native does not make it ok for them to wear it. I, as a FN , love seeing FN groups representing THEIR groups dress and not another groups…. Its like pow wow. Everyone does it but its not every FN groups tradition. The main stream/competition pow wows with the main categories are plains dances. The secwempec never traditinal grass danced, jingled, crow hoped, fancy shawl danced or danced the “traditional” pow wiw dance. We had our own dances like the chickadee dance with its own song. Yes i understand our history, but that does not make it right to try to aquire others practices as your own.

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      • My family is a pow wow family. One of the things I feel most grateful for is that we get to visit and meet people from other Nations, hear their stories and teachings. I have noticed that when we travel from west to east – there are many Nations that didn’t have pow wow but now they have embraced it as a method to share and keep culture alive through celebration and dance and drumming. I love going to Squamish, where there are transplanted people from all over and they come to work together in that area to share and support each other. We used to see people wearing traditional button blankets regalia and those same people evolved into wearing other types of outfits with west coast designs. Culture is constantly evolving or it dies – closed cultures die. As people we were always meeting up with other, trading, sharing stories and teachings and helping each other out. Now in the time when so much culture across Turtle Island is missing, absent, appropriated, forgotten, lost – now more than ever we need to learn from each other and bring back what we have learned to help all the people. I appreciate this conversation – talking about the use of a plains culture symbol of wisdom and leadership as a means to discuss what is and what traditionally used in other nations. When we talk we learn and gradually we take back our own teachings and traditions.

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  2. There are many traditional types of regalia worn at powwows on the East Coast.Most of them are what plains First Nation wore. We never wore these big Chief headresses, but it’s common to see our chiefs wear them.Maybe someday young urban Black people will, say to our wannabe gang bangers.””Hey man stop stealing our culture.”

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    • No, no ,no !!!! Maybe we should be teaching our youth and next generation, not making it seem like our culture is stolen! Gahh, I have been slowly teaching myself all these good interesting facts of our indigenous people because I didn’t get the opportunity to be taught properly the meaning of a headdress or the meaning of an eagle feather. Our next generation needs to always know WHY WHERE WHEN & HOW so we can collectively be involved!!

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  3. Thank you for this and all of your blogs. With all of the nonsense that’s on the net, it is so refreshing to read your insights. Of course, your blogs only takes a few minutes to read however, the research and follow-up reading that your blogs prompt take many additional hours.

    Learning is good. Thanks. Franklin Milley.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  4. I have written a few times about the over use of the Eagle feather. I know what you are saying with wearing a “fake” Eagle feather. At the same time I think there must be a time when we stop killing so many Eagles. it is unreal the amount of Eagles being killed for “sacred” items. I think the Powwowow community is wear it needs to stop (not in ceremonial cases) because of the overuse. Look at some of the Bustles, 3 layers with having 2 Eagle fans? Not to take away from your point at all about Pan-indianness. I can see that.

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    • A true FN knows that you EARN eagle feathers not take. The FN who adorn themselves now with feathers do not earn them, they have not done the rituals needed to properly obtain those feathers (why would yoy so disrespect grandfather eagle by just taking without proper ceremony??? Whats wrong with you!!). I know no group as a whole who would encourage such a heinous act as to murder a eagle for its feathers, but as individuals… We suck, there are some with the mis guided concept that because they are FN that they have every right to poach and rape the land and those very same jerks cry big alligator tears when a white man is hunting legally and only takes what they need, they cry ooo the white mans killing all of our food. I cant go to the same spot ive been going to for ten years and just blast anything anymore in the daily…. Yes every group has men/women like this who are complete double standards. Oooo we respect the land and animals ooo lets kill that doe with her fawn…. Ooo look that white man shot a buck. Stupid whitemans killing all our deer…. Sorry for that rant. Just sad to see the double standards.

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      • lol..or ohhh that whiteman killed a young cow.. Veal is the meat from young cows that have generally been raised on a milk diet. Exercise is often limited or eliminated completely in order to ensure a tender and light-coloured final product…

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    • In my family – all of our feathers have come from Eagles and Hawks that were killed by accident (road kill). Sometimes it has taken us years and years to have enough feathers to create a bustle. Out a Morley an Elder shared with me- that one year someone must have put out some poison somewhere and all these birds died as a result. People were calling the Nation to say they had birds bodies and wanted to make sure they were given to the people so they would be used in a good way.

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  5. Being first nation we respect and cherish our sacred animals. We use fake feathers because of the simple fact that the eagle population is declining. who killed the eagles? Im sure fingers will be pointed at the first nations for their “over use” of feathers . No! Its is the pesticides and chemicals used for pest controle that find their way into the eagles food supply. Its the loss of habitat that pushes the eagles closer to extinction. Just like the whales. The native americans of Alaska have lost the traditions they used when hunting whales because of over hunting. do you think i a few natives single handedly over hunted the whale? NO! My point is yes we use fake feathers to make adornments. Not because we are lazy or to cheap. Its because we have respect for the eagle to seek out alternatives rather than disrespect the sacred eagle just so we can dance and be spiritual. The head dress is sacred to the first nations. My grand fathers is passed down and worn by selected family members, males! Its disrespectful for a woman to wear it. But my over all point is have respect for all religions, have respect for each other and have respect for the earth and its creatures. A little respect goes a long way.

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    • My understanding was we don’t kill eagles for their feather; the feathers are gifted by falling from the eagle in flight. If we find a dead eagle, we do ceremony for the loss of our brother, our elder, give thanks, then take only the feathers and wing bone for the whistle for sundance, etc. We don’t eat eagles; therefore theres no reason for us to kill them.

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    • not only is the Eagle used for its feathers but much more than what people know..its also used for medicines ceremonies etc..and yes certain headdresses for different tribes..I find it offensive to wear a headdress that does not belong to your Tribe,We need our own Tribal teachings and understanding of who we are. Different Tribes have different teachings ..I am Ojibwa and I know most of my teachings and always ready and willing to look and listen to My Ojibwa Teachings.To many people want it all…but you must LOOK..LISTEN AND LEARN!!

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  6. The problem with Canada, and even some First Nations people, the idea of Indigenous Culture is promoted and talked about like it one group of the same, that shares the same culture, speaks the same language, etc. The fact is there are about 60 different Indigenous languages that reflect a very diverse people across all of Canada. We need to get away from generalized terminology and start showing the diversity when identifying…

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  7. I have always thought we are all aboriginal people who once roamed this this land born and free.There were no Chiefs, but headman that controlled a nation,,not reservations. I say this before the whitemans law the headman was elected for life because of his virtue not power. The whiteman law mad chief,,many of them because for each reserve, So many eagles have to die to make up with the whitmans law. Pow wow today whatever tribe we come is only a gathering of nations..a day to get together regardless, not about politics or this this person id out line the way represent himself/herself.As time goes on we progress and mature.Look at our treaty territories.One big area..there should ony be one headman or one chief however fit your preference. Not whole slew of chiefs and leaders that can’t even work together. No wonder we are getting confused over feathers.

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