Native Headdresses and Cultural Appropriation

Native Headdresses and Cultural Appropriation

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This article discusses the importance of honouring and respecting cultural symbols. Some cultures legally restrict some items from being replicated or used, therefore these items need to remain unused by those that do not have permission to wear them and the ones that are unrestricted need to be treated with dignity. The author focuses specifically on Native headdresses. They are very important to the culture and are often degraded by individuals who are not Native. They are only to be worn by Indigenous men who have worked hard for them or people who are authorized to wear them (Vowel).

Cultural appropriation occurs when other people disrespect the headdress by wearing it without approval (Scafidi). Often this type of clothing is worn on Halloween (Weston), which causes a number of problems. For one, it takes away from the culture because people don’t really know the true meaning behind why the clothing looks the way it does and they often don’t understand the cultural significance this clothing has. Also, dressing up as a Native individual dehumanizes them (Weston). They are not seen as human beings but rather fictional characters to imitate. The image Native people are stereotyped as is known as the “Imaginary Indian” (Crosby). Many individuals view all Indigenous people as wearing moccasins, feathered headdresses, war paint, and beaded jewelry. Often this is not the case, as there are many different tribes who have their own set of practices and ways of living. The majority of people who participate in wearing the headdresses are from Western culture, the culture that oppressed and forced Native people to assimilate to their norms (Scafidi). This makes the situation worse, even if people don’t realize what they’re doing. Colonialism exploited Native people and destroyed their families. The history of internal colonization within America makes the improper use of Indigenous headdresses an even more sensitive situation.

I found an article online that discusses the Bass Coast Festival’s decision to ban Native headdresses from being worn at their event. This event is a music festival taking place on “indigenous land” and the conclusion was made to show consideration for Native people (Freda). Celebrities wear cultural items, including headdresses and bindis, all the time without knowing any background on the culture. The problem is that when they do this, people who idolize them think it’s appropriate for them to do the same. The people who decided to ban headdresses at their festival are the people who are helping the situation and taking action to assist in eliminating cultural appropriation. We need more people in society like them to really change things but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

For a high school field trip I visited a Native Reserve. We were given a tour through their museum and they had exhibits showing many different aspects of their culture. We were also shown what was once a residential school and had a guest speaker talk about his own experiences. The part that confused me the most was when we took a picture in front of the residential school as a group and we were smiling. Why were we smiling in front of a place that had done such awful things to these people? It was all very odd to me, especially since we had just learned about everything that took place within them and how horrendously Native people were treated.

In grade 9, I dressed up as a “French person” for Halloween. I wore a black beret, a black and white striped shirt, and I drew on a moustache. Looking back on it now I wish I hadn’t done that because I was supporting the stereotype that most people imagine when thinking of French people. At the time I didn’t realize what I was wearing was disrespectful and I was partaking in stereotyping. Majority of people who are French don’t dress like that and it was ignorant of me to do. Reading this article really opened my eyes to consciously think about how cultural symbols are being mistreated because people don’t understand the meaning behind them and use these items to produce a stereotype of this culture.

I am intrigued to find out more about other cultures’ symbolic items and how special they are to different people. I would love to know the meaning behind them and what makes each culture unique from one another. I also intend to inform anyone I know who may be donning restricted items, or may be participating in stereotyping, that they should understand the culture before they do so and only wear what is unrestricted out of respect.


Freda, Elizabeth. “Music Festival Is Banning Cultural Appropriation, aka Hipsters Wearing Native American Headdresses.” E! Online. n.p., 28 July 2014. Web. 9 March 2015.

Vowel, Chelsea. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” âpihtawikosisân. n.p, n.d. Web. 9 March 2015.



5 thoughts on “Native Headdresses and Cultural Appropriation

  1. It is interesting to think that in order to wear something, permission must be granted first. I don’t think many people understand that not having permission and wearing a headdress means that they are disrespecting someone’s culture. What are some ways society can learn how to appreciate the meaning behind headdresses and other cultural objects? It is a scary thought that “dressing up as a Native individual dehumanizes them” which makes me believe that if others knew about this, they would be more reluctant to wear a headdress as a costume. Introducing another article about this issue and talking about your own story of dressing up like another culture adds a personal perspective to your blog which keeps it engaging and very interesting. Well done!


    1. Thank you! I think teaching youth in school about the meaning behind cultural items, like you mentioned in another post, would really be beneficial for them and others. There could also be more Aboriginal information sessions available at universities and maybe in the workplace. The music festival I talked about in my post that banned the headdresses from being worn is a great example of what needs to be done with all music festivals.


  2. I completely agree with everything you said and the part which I found the most interesting was that on a couple of occasions you pointed out that stereotyping can occur without that person or group of people recognizing that they are being disrespectful. Unintentional stereotyping in most cases occurs due to a lack of information or misconception about certain cultures customs and traditions. I also found those two personal examples very effective since you clearly demonstrated that a lot of times people are just misinformed or not aware of the boundaries and limitations when it comes to portraying one cultures cultural expressions, folklore and knowledge. The article about Bass Coast Festival shows that the global community is progressing in regards to understanding one another and is becoming actively involved in eliminating cultural appropriation and I think that small steps like that will lead to mutual respect between cultures, races, and nations.


  3. You made many great points outlining the issues with cultural appropriation. One point that you made expressed the use of cultural items on Halloween. A point that I would like to add to this issue is how many individuals hypersexualize the cultural components. This is another way that cultural importance is disregarded. To indigenous people the symbols used may have a prestigious or spiritual importance that is taken away when used in the context of costume. You expressed that learning about this topic has opened your eyes. After reading and learning about cultural appropriation I found myself noticing mild forms of appropriation in television shows I watch regularly. Have you become more away of such issues in the media you consume? Overall I believe you created a well thought out analysis of the topic and raised points that allowed myself as a reader to become engaged.


  4. I felt you presented a really through analysis, of the dangers of cultural appropriation. The point you made with regard to celebrities wearing cultural items I found to be very intriguing. In today’s society celebrities are the people youth look up to most. If these so called “role models” are disrespecting the garments of other cultures it will set an example for those who look up to them. This then perpetuates the cycle of cultural appropriation. As much as it is the responsibility of the parents to educate their children about these issues, celebrities are now so prevalent with social media that it is difficult to avoid their influence. I also agree strongly with the notion that dressing as “native” dehumanizes the indigenous people. In doing this they are “othered” and made to seem less than because they are viewed as “characters.” This article as well as you analysis really opened my eyes to the severity of cultural appropriation.


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