Sunday, March 31, 2019

Indian Headdress? Gift or Commodity?

Two years ago the leadership of national First Nation lobby group, the Assembly of First Nations gifted an Eagle Staff to a white man, the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations. It seems the Eagle Staff was asked for by the Canadian Ambassador. AFN says he followed proper protocols when the request was made and accepted. The Gift was met with some controversy. It seems people don't take too kindly when they feel something is not right.  There seems to be a lot of "not right" things going on lately.

Folks of the Blood Tribe have decided to bestow a Headdress and a Traditional Spirit name to the Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley  A number of First Nation people were not comfortable with this gesture.  One of the things to understand none of the contempt should be on the shoulders of Notley. What was she suppose to say, "No, that's okay, I don't need a headdress or name?" In this case, not like the Canadian Ambassador situation, Notley did not ask for the gift. Instead some in the Tribe wanted to honour her.  I guess I understand the need and the want to honour. But why a Headdress and a Name?

The Headdress is a significant topic because of the way it is now viewed. Regardless of the Headdress origin and which Nation carried the Headdress, the Headdress is now a symbol for almost all Indigenous leadership. When the Canadian government was championing  the move to change the Constitution, the Indian Leadership of the time took up a fight to the changes. They did not want to be Constitutional changed out of their Rights. Rights through ancestry and through Treaty and Unceded Territory. So the Headdress was front and centre with their fight. They went to meet with the Colonial powers of England to ensure they were not cheated (again and again). They showed the world the image of the Headdress and Leadership. Of course this is not the only instance where the Headdress has shown up in a situation when Indians were standing up against oppression of some kind.

When you see a Headdress you immediately think of the Indian Leadership, regardless of which Nation in the United States and Canada. However, the Headdress has also become a commodity. White Women specifically have taken the Headdress and are using it as cosmetic accessary. Even have gone as far as to sexualize the Headdress in their utilization of it. Do a search on the internet with the heading Indian Headdress and the images which show up are those of White Women wearing all sorts of Headdresses. Many people claim ignorance of the appropriation of Indigenous wear and customs.  They are woefully ignorant or purposefully callous. Either way, the result is disrespectful actions and attitudes towards the people where the Headdress comes from.  That disrespect is of their own doing.

When we start selling our "gifts" which many of our people consider sacred, then what are we doing? We disrespecting our own and that is on us. In the case of the giving the Eagle Staff, the Headdress and the Names are not isolated incidents. They will occur over and over and in many ways and with many different gifts. In my past I have gifted Sacred items as well to non-Indians. Some of those times I deeply regret and some I still feel fine with. Still it did not mean it was the right thing to do, regardless of how I feel or rationalize it. Some gifts are meant exclusively for Indian folk. I just don't know which ones they are.

The Sweat Lodge is a gift many White people enjoy. Should they have been given the right to perform Sweat Lodge Ceremonies? I personally feel no but who knows? Or the Pipe; the Redstone from Pipestone Minnesota? The Kanyahte" Ka nowa, the Turtle Rattle? The Button Blanket? The Ceremonial West Coast Mask? The Bundles of the Navajo? The Water Drum and Gourd?  Where do we stop with the commodifying of Gifts?

Did we invite the mistreatment of our Sacred Gifts ourselves? Was our generosity the cause of all this appropriation of our Gifts? That is one of weaknesses but also what is great about our People, our generous way of life. We welcome so much and so many. Look at Turtle Island, and the amount of new comers, settlers living a good life here on our home.

There are many people out there fighting to stop the appropriation of our Gifts and our Sacred. Still there are many giving out our Gifts and our Sacred. Each are right in their position.

I think it is just who we are. We are Gift Givers.                 

To a fault.

Cherokee Fiddle, cause Good Whiskey Never Let Him Lose His Place

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