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.
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.
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.