I don’t know what it is about outdoor music festivals that seems to invite headdress-wearing these days, but we saw it at Coachella, and Ke$ha at The Bamboozle, and now at Sasquatch! in Washington over memorial day weekend. The Seattle Weekly Blog posted about the phenomenon (more photos on the site), and questioned the reasoning behind the Native-inspired garb:
We are, after all, in an area of the country rich with Native American heritage, and the outfits du jour at Sasquatch! this year appears to be anything related to the kind of American Indian image painted by white oppressors of Native Americans. I understand we still live in the world of Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, but this seems like a step backward, right?
Among the responses I got when I asked those dressed up what the deal was:
“It’s what we’re about.” “Why not?” “Chief Seattle, baby! Chief Seattle!”
I don’t know if it’s a step backward as much as bringing to light something that never went away. These incidences have been happening for years-decades-centuries, but it wasn’t considered to be the ultimate in trendy or counter culture until more recently. To me, the responses when directly questioned show the absolute ignorance of the issues with wearing a headdress. Which is why my friend Ricky is amazing and made this to wear to a music festival recently (not sure if it was Sasquatch! or not):
On Friday May 14, 2010 at UCSD’s annual Sungod Festival, UCSD students dressed in mock Native American attire, including, but not limited to, painted faces, feathers, and headdresses. This act is disrespectful and degrading to the traditions and culture of Natives as the attire is sacred to many Native American tribes. Acts like this perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native American culture, breeding the insensitivity and misunderstanding that is already plaguing our university…As students at UCSD we should not have to see our cultures mocked and ridiculed during a student sponsored event taking place at our university.
Native American students were forced to witness these acts of disrespect and see their peers mocking and degrading what is considered to be sacred attire in many of the Native American cultures. Though the university was awakened to issues of diversity and campus climate at UCSD in the past few months, based on these numerous incidents of disrespect it is apparent that the university needs to take more action to promote diversity and cultural awareness among the UCSD community (particularly with regard to the Native American community with whom the university has had a long history of discontent).
They go on to note that there the presence of Native students on campus is ever-diminishing (which is upsetting considering that San Diego County is home to 13 Indian Reservations). The “numerous incidents of disrespect” are referring to the “Compton Cookout” party hosted by UCSD students, where guests were invited to dress up like urban/poor/black stereotypes. Clearly UCSD has some major work to do.
Especially when this was the response in the school newspaper, entitled “When Students Cry Cookout” by Alyssa Bereznak:
“…as a Sun God celebrator who peppered her hair with gold feathers the day of, I’d argue many costumed students never intended to emulate traditional American-Indian dress, but rather the aesthetic of the statue itself. The festival’s winged inspiration, after all, was created by artist Nikki St. Phalle’s indigenous handbrush. Even with all artistic classification aside, it’s still a bird splashed in primary colors — perfectly crowned with a row of gold feathers.”
This is the statue that she’s referring to, used in many UCSD publications, and where the name of the festival comes from:
So, ok, maybe YOU were inspired by the feathers on this statue, but what about the war-paint wearing, Indian headdress sporters?
But even if we’re talking about those who did aim to sport some Sioux-inspired gear because they thought it looked cool, it’s unclear why that would be classified as mockery. If students had decked themselves in moccasins and paint and skipped around howling a sarcastic war cry, I’d say we had another Cookout on our hands. But, seeing as they were simply borrowing from the culture’s style because they think it’s awesome, it seems like more of a case of flattery in the form of imitation. America is a melting pot of heritage and tradition; many a white boy has donned a kurta to demonstrate respect for the Indian culture, or a toga for the Greeks. While American-Indians have faced especially violent hardship in the U.S. — which shouldn’t be downplayed — that doesn’t take away a collective right to appreciate their art and culture.
…and there it is. The “appreciation” and “honoring” argument. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is absolutely no way a drunk guy/girl in a headdress and war paint is honoring, respecting, or showing appreciation for my culture or my ancestors. not. at. all. And a toga is not the same thing as a ceremonial warbonnet. Seriously?
She goes on to say that the Native students shouldn’t “cry cookout” and they should “choose their battles.” The whole exchange makes me so angry. I just can’t understand the level of ignorance that goes into composing an article such as Alyssa’s. If someone tells you, in a public forum, that what you’re doing is offensive to them and their culture, that takes some major privilege-laden huevos to defend your actions.
To illustrate my point, a quick story: I had a hipster-y green and yellow keffiyeh that I bought in the Haight in SF without understanding any of the background or implications of my “scarf.” The SECOND someone clued me in, I ripped it off, apologized profusely, never wore it again. I also continue to spread the word and educate others. The level of shame and embarrassment I felt in that one quick moment was enough to change my actions permanently. That’s (one of many reasons) why I simply cannot understand people who defend their headdress wearing. Don’t you have some level basic level of compassion and understanding?
For all the other reasons: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Seattle Weekly Blog: http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/reverb/2010/05/sasquatch_sunday_anyone_else_a.php
NASA statement on Sun God:
UCSD guardian student response to NASA: