In a public statement yesterday, Bass Coast Music Festival announced that attendees will be banned from wearing Native war bonnets. Making nationwide and international headlines, a massive debate has been sparked regarding freedom of expression and celebration versus cultural and historical rights.
“For various reasons, Bass Coast Festival is banning feathered war bonnets, or anything resembling them, onsite. Our security team will be enforcing this policy.
We understand why people are attracted to war bonnets. They have a magnificent aesthetic. But their spiritual, cultural and aesthetic significance cannot be separated.
Bass Coast Festival takes place on indigenous land and we respect the dignity of aboriginal people. We have consulted with aboriginal people in British Columbia on this issue and we feel our policy aligns with their views and wishes regarding the subject. Their opinion is what matters to us.”
The Native headdress debate has been going on as long as I have been attending festivals, which is nearing a decade. Costumes and music festivals are synonymous with each other and this is most definitely a touchy subject. On one hand, costumes from all cultures are worn without malice, rather for a celebratory cause. I see people of all races wearing sombreros, bindis, saris, headdresses, middle eastern belly dance costumes…the list goes on. Most likely festival attendees are wearing cultural costumes because they enjoy their aesthetics and not for there polarizing appeal.
Last year I had the opportunity to sit down with A Tribe Called Red front man DJ NDN and asked him his stance on Native headdresses worn at festivals. “It’s Pan-Indianism again. It’s robbing us of our nationality. It’s robbing me of being Ojibwe and robbing Bear and Shub of being Cayuga. Cayuga’s don’t wear headdresses but their lumped into being Indian and it’s cheapening. These headdresses are imitation and they’re fake. They are representing a very stereotypical racist idea of what we are. I can’t stand it personally. We have had discussions on our Facebook page and on Twitter and it has sparked all kinds of conversation, with some being harder to deal with than others, but at least conversations are happening about it.”
Perhaps the team at Bass Coast should educate the public on what a Native war bonnet and headdress actually is, giving festival attendees a better understanding of the cultural and symbolic magnitude of these commonly worn items. War bonnets were worn by Chiefs and warriors during celebrations similar to a medal or another discerning decoration to show strength and service in a time of war.
Raising further questions, and what many outraged individuals lack in their argument on Bass Coast’s Facebook page is, well, did we ever stop and think about how the wearing of Native headdresses and war bonnets makes Native people feel? Take a minute. How does it look when a bunch of non-Native’s wear war bonnets and headdresses parading over colonized historic native lands? I don’t think I need to spell this one out, but it is disgraceful, ignorant and for the record, Bass Coast should be applauded.
It comes down to respect. The staff at Bass Coast hold their annual festival on Native land. Second, A Tribe Called Red, who have been at the forefront of this debate are also headlining. Bass Coast works closely with Native communities in Merritt B.C. and have made an executive decision, out of respect, to outlaw Native war bonnets. Bass Coast is not banning the wearing of feathers, headbands, vintage clip-in hair pieces, they are simply asking for people to stop wearing war bonnets. Bass Coast is a making a stand and we commend them.