Canadian music festivals ban First Nations headdress over cultural insensitivity
Dario Balca, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, July 16, 2015 8:43PM EDT
Music festivals across Canada are banning visitors from wearing aboriginal headdresses out of respect for First Nations cultures.
“At this time of greater awareness, (we) would like to ask our patrons to respect First Nations cultures,” organizers of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “Such headdresses have a sacred, cultural meaning and we ask that you respect and honour that by not using them as a fashion accessory.”
These items, the post added, would be confiscated by security if seen on festival grounds.
The Osheaga Music and Arts Festival in Montreal has also banned headdresses, asking fans and artists to respect the “spiritual and cultural” significance of the item. The Bass Music Festival in British Columbia and the Winnipeg Folk Festival have put in place similar policies.
The Calgary Folk Festival and Winnipeg Folk Festival said they would not impose an official ban, but they are asking patrons to avoid wearing headdresses.
Aboriginal leaders say the ban is a welcomed, but long overdue change in the way Canadian society treats indigenous cultures.
“I think it’s very disrespectful for people to be donning a headdress or what looks like a headdress,” said Manitoba’s Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. “It’s almost a passive form of violence against indigenous people and an insult towards and ceremonies and our history.”
“If it would come down to it I would support rules and regulations against this but it’s too bad we have to get to that stage,” he said.
In recent years, the fashion industry has been trying to capitalize on headdresses with celebrities such as Jessica Simpson, Pharrell Williams, Gwen Stefani, and Susan Boyle donning imitations of the cultural symbol in videos and runway appearances.
Demand for the item has grown as a result. Headdresses have become especially popular accessories at music and arts festivals.
“They want to wear them,” said Teekca Spencer who runs an aboriginal boutique in Winnipeg. “They ask if they can try them on and get some pictures and we say no because it’s not appropriate. It’s a really sacred and restricted item.”
This isn’t the first time the fashion industry’s use of headdresses has caused controversy.
In 2013, clothing retailer H&M removed faux headdresses from its Canadian stores after widespread criticism from aboriginal groups and indigenous rights activists who said the practice was disrespectful towards First Nations cultures.
Nepinak said a headdress shouldn’t be something that can be bought.
“(A headdress) is acquired through sacred and ceremonial processes that are beyond the material culture that exists in broader Canadian society,” he said.
And while imitation headdress has become an almost ubiquitous fashion accessory at many outdoor music festivals, it looks like this year, many festivalgoers will have to find alternative headwear.