Why wearing a pseudo-indigenous headdress is not OK at Calgary Folk Fest

Posted by Roger Kingkade on 20 July 2015

Osheaga posted its headdress ban on Facebook, saying they have "spiritual and cultural meaning" to First Nations.

Anybody who follows the continental cultural road show that is the music festival circuit knows that funky fashion trends are a big part of the experience. There are even websites out there that completely ignore the fact that bands ever take the stage at some of these places. Google “boho babes of Coachella” for proof. (Then Google “hobo babes of Coachella” for fun.)

Styles range from hippy, to street, to a whole bunch of other classifications I am simply not cool enough to comprehend.

Amongst the Instragramage and the Pinterest boards, you’ll see some “Indian” Headdresses of varying degrees of ornate embellishment.

And, friend… that’s not OK. And if it’s not OK at Coachella, it’s not OK at Calgary Folk Fest.

What is OK, is to go ahead and hear why it’s not OK, so that you can understand the issue a little better.

But please heed this: If you currently think a Native American headdress is kitschy attire, nobody is calling you racist, demanding you explain yourself, or going out of their way to be offended. You’re not on trial here. Just as having a fraudulent PhD is offensive to lots of doctors, and wearing unearned military medals is offensive to lots of veterans, wearing a headdress is offensive to lots of indigenous people.

Âpihtawikosisân, a Métis person from Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., explains that headdresses and war bonnets are sacred objects in aboriginal cultures. They aren’t on par with, say, a New York Yankees hat anybody can buy anywhere. Headdresses are earned through achievement and leadership that sets an individual apart. That’s why you usually only see them on chiefs.

To native cultures, these objects are sacred. What’s wrong with a few people asking non-natives to agree and respect that? After all, the headdress isn’t the only indigenous item we can incorporate into our summer music fest wardrobe to “honour the culture.”

Debbi Salmonsen, executive director of the Calgary Folk Festival, says they haven’t taken the same step as Edmonton Folk Fest has in banning the attire. They’ve left it to festival-goers to “make appropriate choices” and “respond respectfully” to the conversation this topic has generated. But they do not “endorse anyone wearing culturally inappropriate attire.”

Which brings me back to the point about “honouring the culture.”

If we really want to honour a culture, we should strive to learn more about it. It’s hard to argue we honour native culture by wearing a war bonnet when, if we knew much about said culture, we’d know this action is disrespectful.

A month ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released. It was a chance for us all to respectfully engage with one another. Or we can just dismiss this reasonable request for considerate decency and pretend we’re not contributing to the broad, and often racist, divide between native and non-native cultures in Canada.

Roger Kingkade co-hosts the Kingkade and Breakenridge show every weekday morning from 9 a.m. to noon on NewsTalk 770.