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. http://ca.eonline.com/news/563845/music-festival-is-banning-cultural-appropriation-aka-hipsters-wearing-native-american-headdresses
Vowel, Chelsea. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” âpihtawikosisân. n.p, n.d. Web. 9 March 2015. http://apihtawikosisan.com/about/