Winnipeg Folk Festival urged to ban headdresses

Winnipeg Folk Festival urged to ban headdresses

Angry festivalgoers took to Twitter over the weekend to air their frustrations after a woman was spotted at the Winnipeg Folk Festival Saturday night wearing a traditional feathered headdress and face paint.

First Nation headdresses are usually only worn during special ceremonies. Even then, the headdress is reserved for a select few people — typically from the indigenous community — who earn the right to don the garment.

That is why some people are now calling on festival organizers to ban the wearing of headdresses at the festival going forward.

People at the Main Stage during Saturday night's musical performances saw a woman standing in the crowd wearing one of the traditional head pieces.

Déne Sinclair said she was taken aback when she saw the woman.

"We were walking by on the way to a show last night and saw a young woman wearing a headdress and paint all over her face," Sinclair said. "I thought that was very strange and probably not appropriate, as a lot of other festivals have had a headdress ban in the past."

Sinclair said she approached the woman and asked her about what she was wearing. But the woman declined to talk to her, Sinclair said, adding others approached the woman as well to explain why they found it offensive.

Sinclair tweeted the Winnipeg Folk Festival several times about the incident.

"I think this is an opportunity for the Winnipeg Folk Festival to be a leader towards reconciliation in this time of history," Sinclair said.

"Huge international festivals, like Glastonbury, have banned headdresses. There's a festival in British Columbia that banned the sale of them, as well as the wearing of them last year, so there is precedence out there for the folk festival to follow."

Osheaga, a big annual music festival in Montreal, announced on Monday that wearing headdresses will no longer be permitted at its festival.

"The First Nations' headdresses have a spiritual and cultural meaning in the native communities and to respect and honour their people, Osheaga asks fans and artists attending the festival to not use this symbol as a fashion accessory," the festival said on a post to its Facebook page.

A Winnipeg Folk Festival spokesperson said historically faux headdresses haven't been an issue, because most festivalgoers are mindful of what is or is not culturally appropriate.

"We have talked in the past about having a policy about such things (cultural appropriation), but because it's never come up before it's something we deemed not necessary at the time," said Rebecca McCauley, the festival's manager of marketing and communications.

After this year's incident, McCauley said festival administration is going to sit down and discuss whether to restrict the wearing of headdresses in future years.

"After the festival, it is absolutely something that we will talk about and revisit."

The festival wrapped up Sunday night.