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Guardian: Headdress ban shows festival’s zero tolerance for cultural appropriation

July 20, 2015 — 

The Guardian newspaper reports on banned items from music festivals and one item got their attention: headdresses.

As they report:


Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, head of the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, says the headdress is strictly ceremonial, so an indigenous person would never wear a headdress to a music festival in the first place.

“A headdress is bestowed to a person in a leadership position,” he explains. Its style is rich in meaning: “Each feather in the headdress represents a relationship that has been forged by that leader or a relationship that leader carries within the community and outside the community. A feather has thousands of little strands and they all represent different relationships. That’s what a leader carries: those relationships.”

Sinclair feels the ban is a long time coming because this sort of appropriation “happens all the time”. “People have been dressing up like Indians for 150 years,” he says. “It’s about celebrating the conquest of indigenous people. People don’t understand how degrading it is to have a sacred object within a culture stolen and appropriated and misused in an inappropriate setting.” Many indigenous people want to enjoy a music festival just like anybody else. “That’s impossible to do that when you have people celebrating genocide standing right beside you.”

But for Sinclair the proactive efforts of Osheaga and other festivals to address this offensive behaviour is a step in the right direction. “It takes a long time to educate people and this is one step in that re-education process,” he explains. “It’s only a matter of time now before people begin to understand that indigenous people will not tolerate the disrespect of their cultural objects.”

Cultural appropriation is doomed to go out of fashion, Sinclair believes. “Stupidity and ignorance never last in the face of reasoned arguments.”


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