Festival headdress ban called unnecessary, raises debate
A Merritt music festival ban on aboriginal headdresses is being called unnecessary by some Plains Indians who traditionally wear the feathered war bonnets.
The Bass Coast music festival banned the headgear from festival grounds this year. Organizer Paul Brooks said it was to prevent stereotyping of First Nations people. He said that having festival-goers wearing headdresses is disrespectful of the native tradition where only male warriors who had earned the honour were allowed to wear them.
Ernie Heavy Runner, the cultural advisor for Blackfeet Heritage Centre in Montana, disagrees. He said, “I don’t see how it would be a problem if you felt comfortable wearing it.”
He said the conception that only male warriors wear headdresses is wrong. “Women would wear it if the man had died. It depended on the individual,” he said, stressing the importance of individual discretion in deciding when it is appropriate to wear a headdress.
Heavy Runner said that festivals and celebrations are where this type of decoration is traditionally worn. He said he doesn’t feel his culture is threatened when “white men” dress up in traditional native garb. “We know who we are.”
“Bass Coast Festival takes place on indigenous land and we respect the dignity of aboriginal people,” said the Bass Coast Facebook statement, which originally announced the ban.
Brooks said that festival organizers consulted with First Nations bands around Merritt – none of whom traditionally wear feathered headdresses – but did not contact any Plains Indians.
This raises a great question. If the festival were attempting to dispel stereotypes and give due respect to the diverse first nations of North America, why would they have consulted Pacific Northwest groups about a cultural icon of the Great Plains Indians?
That is akin to consulting french communities in the departement of Basse-normandie about the usage of the Central Asian Cossack Papakha.
I don’t disagree with the ban, (war bonnets at raves are tacky lol) but this is an issue worth considering if a social justice minded association thinks one nation can speak on behalf of others or as a whole.
Bass Coast, a Canadian music festival, just instated a policy banning concert-goers from wearing headdresses on-site this week in Merritt, Canada. Paul Brooks, Bass Coast communications manager, wrote the announcement and posted it on Facebook on July 23; it quickly went viral. I spoke with Brooks about the decision behind the ban, why he doesn’t want to “force other festivals” into following Bass Coast’s lead, and how to know if you should be wearing a headdresses at all. (“If you’re asking yourself the question of whether or not you should be wearing it, you probably shouldn’t be wearing it.”)
The festival started in Squamish in 2009, closer to Vancouver, but we eventually outgrew our site and moved to Merritt, which sits on Aboriginal land and has a lot of Aboriginal people living there on reserves. When I started with Bass Coast last year, the conversation about the ban was already on the table. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the resources and couldn’t get the message out to our security team for 2013’s festival. We regretted not being able to implement it but did have some education on site, including a few Aboriginal groups set up with workshops talking about cultural appropriation.
Headdresses have not historically been an issue at our event and the number of people who have appeared has been very small. However, we’re a community that looks out for itself. We wanted to start discussions with people. We felt that we had to deal with this issue as it made all of the core members of our team uncomfortable. Throughout our decision process, we worked with some of the local bands here, including Coldwater & Lower Nicola as well as Upper Nicola, Nooaiatch, and Shacka, and they were all on board with us making up a policy for this. We wanted to implement this dress code not just for the Aboriginal people of the area, but also for Indigenous people across Canada and North America.