Here’s Why One Music Festival Banned Native American Headdresses

Cultural appropriation is so over.

People make a lot of poor decisions at festivals: drinking too much, letting their skin burn to a lobster-red crisp and committing an act of cultural appropriation that has been PO’ing Native people for years. … We’ll let that last one sink in for a few.

Although there’s probably little they can do about sunburns, one Canadian fest is taking a stand against cultural appropriation, placing a ban on festival-goers sporting anything resembling a war bonnet.

The Bass Coast Festival announced its decision to nix Native American headdresses via a Facebook post this week stating, “We understand why people are attracted to war bonnets. They have a magnificent aesthetic. But their spiritual, cultural and aesthetic significance cannot be separated.”

Paul Brooks, communications manager for Bass Coast Festival, told MTV News that the decision has been years in the making, as the festival takes place on indigenous land where aboriginal people such as the Coldwater Indian Band and the Lower Nicola Indian Band reside.

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“We’ve been working with some of these bands and they expressed that they would like to see this policy in place,” Brooks said. “We decided to take a stand on this issue.”

According to Brooks, feathered headpieces haven’t been much of an issue at Bass Coast, an electronic music and art festival that launched in 2009. The festival moved to its current location in Merritt, British Columbia, in 2013.

“The intention of this is not to bring other festivals into it,” Brooks explained. “This is our personal decision. Because of the circumstances of our location we felt the need to do this. … For us, it comes down to an issue of respect and safety. … It’s a very minor restriction to place on people.”

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In 2013, aboriginal groups even volunteered on site at Bass Coast and ran workshops on the pitfalls of cultural appropriation and how to properly appreciate Native culture without offending its denizens. They approached anyone wearing a headdress and explained why they should reconsider.

According to Simon Moya-Smith, citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and journalist, “The headdress is reserved for our revered elders who, through their selflessness and leadership, have earned the right to wear one.” He told MTV News that “wearing one, even an imitation headdress, belittles what our elders have spent a lifetime to earn.”

Despite Native people like Moya-Smith speaking out against the casual wearing of headdresses over the years, celebrities like Pharrell Williams, Gwen Stefani and a cadre of Victoria’s Secret models have sported the revered garb. Khloe Kardashian wore one just last month. That’s not to mention all the non-stars swarming festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo with bright, feathered heads.

Despite Brook’s assertion that Bass Coast’s decision has nothing to do with other fests, he said that they “still felt the need to take a stand.”

Perhaps other fests will follow?

Image courtesy of Flickr, Michael Gallacher

Senior writer/editor at MTV News. Former Mashable associate editor & CNN columnist. "Stuff Hipsters Hate" co-writer. Moshpit fan.
@BrennaEhrlich