In a country where there are over 600 nationally recognized aboriginal groups, Canada is quite sensitive to mockery or general cultural appropriation of Native traditions. And now Montreal’s musical festival Osheaga is cracking down by eliminating headdresses to be worn. In the festival’s website, it displays a rule that traditional First Nations headdresses are banned and will be confiscated upon entry.
Even the name Osheaga itself ironically references the native groups. During a miscommunication with local Mohawk people, Jacques Cartier (one of the first groups of european settlers in Canada) waved his hands about in order to try to talk with the natives, and misunderstood the word “O She Ha Ga” or “people of shaking hands” with the name of the area.
As an indigenous rights enthusiast, I am overjoyed by Osheaga’s zero-tolerance rule. Too often music festivals like Coachella or Bonaroo see dozens of people clad in artificial or even worse- authentic ceremonial clothing pieces. In celebrity news, Vanessa Hudgens received major hate after she was spotted wearing a headdress at the 2014 Coachella Music Festival. Speaking for my friends with native roots, this is wrong. Headdresses are an important part in many First Nations ceremonies and display a sign of leadership that needs to be respected.
Although some have criticized the rule, it is clear that the aboriginal groups of Canada side with Osheaga. Never would a truly indigenous person where an item to a festival in the first place. Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair who heads the Department of Native American Studies at University of Manitoba has stated that everyone knows the headdress is “strictly ceremonial” and would never be worn as a fashion statement.
I strongly applaud the efforts made by Osheaga and other music festivals that are beginning to take a more serious approach in sending an important message about cultural appropriation. Learning to respect a culturally and spiritually significant symbol for Native Americans can become a large step in discussing further sensitive issues with aboriginal groups throughout North America.