I see it happen the most in April, August and October.
My social media feed is filled with pictures of people dressed up as Native Americans for Coachella, Burning Man and Halloween.
It turns my stomach, every time.
I have a very dear friend who lost their father a few years ago. He was a badass war veteran. He fought for our country and to provide for his family, that he loved so dearly. My friend is always celebrating his memory and usually with photos of his accomplishments from serving in our military.
I am not sure exactly what medals he may have received during his lifetime, but I do know that if you are given medals you earned them, usually by risking your life. That seems to be something we all know when you grow up in America. We see stories in the paper, online and on TV about war heroes and how they are honored.
Now imagine if her father had been given The Medal Of Honor. There are roughly only 3,500 awarded Medal of Honors. This is a very big deal and a well deserved piece to have to wear proudly and to treasure. Maybe those who receive them are buried with them. Maybe it is passed down to the family to have in memory of those who bravely earned them.
Now imagine if I decided to accessorize my denim jacket at Coachella with a crude knock off plastic version of The Medal of Honor while I guzzle down $20 beers and take ecstasy.
I have my photos snapped and plastered all over Facebook and Instagram. My friend mentioned above sees these photos and two thoughts probably run through my friend's head.
1.) I am an asshole who has no respect for those who bravely earned this honor and no respect for their father
2.) I am not educated on why this is wrong and disrespectful
Now my friend may not say anything because they know I am not a total jerk and the truth is I may just not be educated on why this is disrespectful.
They may not say anything because they don't want to be THAT PERSON. You know....the overly sensitive social justice warrior.
There are a lot of issues with "Native American costumes", but I mostly want to focus on the feather headdress since it seems to be the most iconic element on what makes someone "look" Native American. I'm more specifically going to focus on the warbonnet style, as it is the most popular replica I see people wearing.
Headdresses are pretty similar to military medals.
The warbonnet style was worn only by about 12 of the 566 "recognized" tribes.
Usually a chief wears one. They are also given to warriors and other important tribe members. Fun fact, headdresses are not made in one sitting. Usually a single feather is added every time they would commit a brave act. So imagine this full headdress covered in feathers. Think about how much those tribe members had to do to earn their single feathers, let alone a whole headdress. Think about the battles they fought wearing them. Think about the honor of adorning a headdress. Think about those who may have these items still from their ancestors to look upon as part of their heritage and culture.
Now imagine yourself with a plastic version you got at a Halloween store for $10 and wearing it to go out and get drunk with your friends with no idea on the symbolic nature of that "costume".
Native Americans are not being sensitive, they are being silenced.
It's not about being PC, it's about respecting others cultures and sacred symbols of that culture.
Once upon a time I made a feathered headpiece for a shoot I was wardrobe styling. Below you can gawk at my pathetic take on a straight-up warbonnet. I was educated on why this wasn't okay.
"But I have Native American blood in me!" I chimed in.
Nope. Still not okay. First of all, women did not wear them and secondly the tribes that wore this particular style are not the tribe my ancestors are even from. GOOD JOB NICOLE.
Having a small percentage of Native American blood in you does not make it okay to exploit sacred Native American culture as you see fit. Even if you have Native American blood in you you did not earn the honor to wear a headdress. Your ancestors did. You should not be wearing a headdress for Burning Man, Coachella or Halloween. Just like my friend would not wear their fathers medals or replicas for those events. You are not paying tribute, you are accessorizing.
We have an obvious respect for war veterans and the medals and honors they have earned.
I hope one day Native Americans and their culture have an obvious respect as well.