Educating non-Natives at Lightning in a Bottle

In headdress, hipster headdress, Lightning in a bottle by Adrienne K.11 Comments

My friend Ricky (who made this awesome graphic I’ve posted before) headed out to the Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) music festival a few weeks ago, and was prepared to approach the concert-goers in headdresses and other forms of cultural appropriation in the mindset of an educator. He encountered many headdresses, and more. I’ll let him tell the story himself:

I went to Lightning in a Bottle a few weeks ago. As a Native who is considered pretty ‘alternative’ (ie goes to festivals frequently and likes Electro House music, although I also love Swing Dancing, Break Dancing, and Freestyle MC-ing) I knew that this trip would be wrought with challenges of Fashion Identity, Racial Politics, and overt appropriation of Native American Cultures, Symbols and Practices… It was very difficult to be amongst so many people of the new age belief, and to constantly stay silent so as not to be rude. Speaking out then would be akin to quantifying the Pope as the Anti-Christ in a Catholic church in Boston. That’s the kinda heat I was around.

In this journey which i prepare for by sweating, I also needed feathers from my Eagle which I had recently cleaned. I prayed for a whole day on these two feathers so that i would have the A) Strength to continue educating non-native, as i predicted it would be very fatiguing to do so, and B) Patience so that i would not get frustrated by their lack of perspective, respect or recognition of Native Symbols. While I had some good conversations and even had people offer to take off their feathers, i also had people viciously defending their ‘right’ to expression. Its’ a very American concept, this right to act however you please. Its also this kind of thinking that lead to the genocide 100+ million original natives from the America’s over 500 years.

I went as an educator of expression that is too often undeserved, and more than not, ignored. By being a Native presence at this kind of festival I attract a lot of attention to my self, especially when i wear my feathers, for the purposes listed above. When I offer cleansing I make sure to be in sober spirit. More then I can say for many of the Plastic Shaman that I saw out there. I was also fasting for about 30 hours and with dancing and constant walking in the mix, I did not need to partake of other medicines to be enlightened. At that point it was pretty full on.

May we have greater recognition amongst Non-Natives so that we are not merely known about, but understood. If you live in America then you benefit from our subjugation, please do not perpetuate the actions of the past, by staying ignorant and blind from our shared History.

I can only imagine the strength it took to remain calm and collected in that environment. Here are the pictures that Ricky sent over of other concert goers:

and here’s Ricky (he shaded out his eyes):

The other interesting part about LIB is that they bill themselves to be a progressive, environmental, save-the-rainforest type event. If you go to their website here, and look under the tab that says “environment” you can see more about their mission. This page caught my attention as well: which includes two images of Indigenous men from the Amazon and information about the “critical beats” organization, which uses indigenous songs, music, stories, and spoken word combined with western artists’ music to create new songs that they sell to raise money and awareness on Indigenous issues. Interesting stuff, but I don’t know enough about it to formulate a total opinion.

Anyway, my point is that I always find it hard to believe when people who are “aware” and “tuned in” still think it’s ok to don a headdress or offer “Native” ceremonies. I’m sure they would use the “honoring” argument, which we know is just as offensive as wearing the headdress itself.

So, thanks to Ricky for the story and images, and I’m so glad he was there to talk to the participants, though I know it must have been exhausting and frustrating. Keep fighting!


But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?:

The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella:

Headdresses and Music Festivals go together like PB and…Racism?:

  • Thank you.

  • Rob

    I wonder what would happen if a Native went a festival wearing an anti-headdress t-shirt? With a message saying something like “I’m Native and you’re not” or “Cultural (Mis)appropriation” along with a hipster in headdress.

    Would showing people the problem visually be better than talking to them about it? Would it make them less defensive? I don’t know.

  • Remember, being “aware” and “tuned in” and saying you’re all for the environment can be its own fad that people simply go along with!

    Ricky- Thanks for taking the message out of the blogosphere! I admire any man who can do what you did.

  • Miigwech Ricky!

    I have found the same in educating non-Natives. Some are viscous and some are open. I have dealt with that whole American “its my right,” to express myself attitude. Well, in a way they are saying its their right to colonize, annihilate and appropriate indigenous/native peoples cultures. By the way “progressive, radical and alternative” movements have all sorts of flaws from what I have found. People have wanted me to present or engage in a dialogue about diversity simple because I am Native. This has problems because I am being used as a token based on being Native. In these alternative, radical or progressive movements I have brushed up against extreme privilege, race, gender and class issues.

  • At LIB I approached two designers about the appropriation of Indigenous art and was met (by one in particular) with the argument that these arts belong to all of us (the ‘we are all one’ argument I suppose) and that it’s positive for it to be shared. My concern is akin to what you have expressed – there seems to be a failure to recognize (and thereby begin to reconcile) our shared history and the atrocities that have been committed. ‘Good intentions’ are not sufficient – plenty of missionaries and militants have had glistening intentions and messages from God and justified the killing millions of people.

    It’s a challenging conversation to hold – people hold their spirituality, art and expression very close to their hearts and this information can feel like a very personal attack. Still, my prayer is that the conversation comes alive so we can continue to healing to be done in this arena.

    And as I write this and ask these questions I also know that I am of European ancestry – my own lineage has faced oppression and been oppressors – so how do involve myself in this work in a good way? The answer unfolds… I pray

  • I was wondering if would be alright if I printed off some copies of the graphic that Ricky made and put them up around a music fest I’ll be going to. I haven’t seen the hipster-headdress phenomenon in person, but expect there will be at least a few there……

  • Out of curiosity – where are these hipster headdresses being sold? Or made? If there are online stores I think we should start a petition on (I have a profile on there) to stop these stores from appropriating our culture. What does everyone think?

  • I’ve been reading your blog and posted this on an older entry. I wasnt sure if you went back and read it so I thought I’d post again on a recent article. My past one said this:

    I’ve just recently found your blog and have started reading every post from the most recent to this one. I will be continuing! Congrats to your sister. I am really interested in both the work that you and her are doing. I myself am a McNair Scholar doing a research project in the visual arts on the Representations of Native Americans in Contemporary Society so I am surprised I have not come across your blog before. This is going to be GREAT for my research project and to keep me updated on the trends in Native American appropriation which is what most of my artwork is based on.

    I am very interested in your sisters research project as well. Is there anywhere I could find out more about this? I recently made a response to Edward Curtis where I took portraits of contemporary Native Americans and didnt ask them to dress up in inaccurate regalia or disregard western influence. It turned out pretty well and I’m still working on it. If you’re interested some of the photos can be found at:

    I look forward to reading your blog. Thanks!

  • also, you may have a laugh at this:

    especially at 52 (the counter counts down) the commentary is a bit quiet, but turn it up there!

  • Sorry for so many comments but just one more question. did you ever find out who made that “No, its okay its not like your ancestors killed them all or anything”?

    I’m about to appropriate it myself and make a t-shirt if its not one already.

  • Thanks Ricky for your efforts. Like Anishinaabekwe I have also been wondering where these headdresses have been coming from.