British Columbia music festival bans culturally insensitive ‘war bonnets’

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Concert-goer wears First Nations headdress.

Here's something that should be common sense -- and common knowledge -- in North America these days but seems too often to go forgotten: It is culturally insensitive to wear an aboriginal headdress as a rave/ music festival fashion accessory, or any other time for that matter.

Don't do it. Wear a string of beads in your hair instead, or flowers. Or some feathers that aren't the intentional appropriation of a culturally honourific symbol that was intended to be restricted to the chiefs of some First Nations.

Thankfully, it seems some folks in Canada are finally getting the picture, and a British Columbia music festival is calling for attendees to leave the war bonnets at home, saying their aesthetic and cultural significance simply can't be separated.

The Bass Coast Festival made the request this week on its Facebook page, saying there simply wasn't a place for the controversial fashion accessory at the three-day event.

Here is the statement in full:

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 Bass Coast Festival, which runs from Aug. 1 to 4 in B.C.'s Nicola Valley, is an electronic music and arts festival that features scores of DJs and other artists. Their headlining act is A Tribe Called Red. The aboriginal rap group has previously spoken out against cultural appropriation, telling the Huffington Post that people who wear headdresses to their concerts are "creating a false idea of what it means to be Indigenous today."

This may be the first time a concert promoter has taken a hard line on the wearing of headdresses but it is far from the first time the issue has caused conflict.

Last year, H&M recalled pink and purple headdresses - part of a line of music festival accessories - from stores across Canada after receiving complaints about the insensitivity.

This shouldn't have come as a surprise for the clothing chain, considering Urban Outfitters was forced to take similar steps one year earlier, and Victoria's Secret issued an apology after putting a Native American-style headdress in its annual fashion show.

Earlier this year, singer Pharrell Williams made indigenous people unhappy by wearing a war bonnet on the cover of Elle UK. "I respect and honour every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry," he later said.

For the most part, Bass Coast's decision was celebrated online, with the vast majority of Facebook comments in support of the ban. The rest were, well, disappointing. Still, progress has been made.