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.

‘shinkle about it…..