Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Native American Headdress...What Does It Mean To You?

The fashion company Victoria Secret have issued an apology after dressing a model in a Native American headdress. Several tribes took offence to this exhibitionism, and have called the display rude and demeaning to their culture. For many tribes, the headdress is not only sacred, but personal - each one shows the bravery and honour that individual has achieved.

Many tribal leaders are disappointed with the show, claiming that it mocks the Native American way of life. Others think it is an overreaction. Last year, Urban Outfitters was criticised for its new range of "Navajo" clothing, so this debate is nothing new.

The headdress is effectively a religious object, and if the model wore a crucifix they would be facing the same kind of criticism (I'm sure this has been done in the fashion world at some point, since much is designed to shock). From this point of view it's easy to blame the people who made this decision, but the Native American headdress has become so integral to Western culture - through Halloween costumes or the age-old story of "Cowboys vs. Indians" - that people don't think twice about using it. Of course, it depends on the context - a public display such as a fashion show is more likely to invite criticism, but I would be interested to see how Native American tribes treat Halloween costumes or the numerous students who dress up as "Indians" for parties. Native Americans believe more education is needed about their culture, how it is treated and how it is perceived, something which I would welcome. But at the same time, if some tribes are trying to eradicate the use of the headdress as a meaningless symbol they are (unfortunately) facing an uphill battle.

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