ISSUE: Native American Headdress Misappropriation

Christina Fallin, daughter of an Oklahoma governor, received criticism when she posted this promotional photo on Instagram. In response, she wrote, "Please forgive us if we innocently adorn ourselves with your beautiful things. We do so with the utmost respect."
Christina Fallin, daughter of an Oklahoma governor, received criticism when she posted this promotional photo for her music on Instagram in March. In response, she wrote, “Please forgive us if we innocently adorn ourselves with your beautiful things. We do so with the utmost respect.”

Jessica Metcalfe, a Native American fashion boutique owner, always braces herself for this time of year – music festival season.

Metcalfe, 33, says during those festivals, some non-Native people in popular culture are misappropriating the sacred Native American headdress.

Last month, Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio posted a photo of herself wearing a headdress for the festival Coachella with the caption, “Becoming more inspired for @coachella with this amazing Native American headpiece.”

Metcalfe, who grew up on a North Dakota reservation as part of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, says misappropriation is an issue since the headdress is sacred in her background, since it’s made from eagle feathers. She says eagles are seen as an intermediary between human beings and their creator, and leaders have to do good deeds to earn those feathers.

“We need to protect our use and our traditional practices and our values,” Metcalfe says. “Whenever we see the headdress, it’s a major form of community.”

Ambrosio and other non-Native people often cite inspiration or admiration as reasons why they choose to wear headdresses or other Native garments.

“So what we want to do is use that as kind of a foot in the door, a way to kind of reach out to these people, to educate them a little bit more,” Metcalfe says.

At her online boutique, Beyond Buckskin, Metcalfe wrote a blog post about wearing Native-inspired clothing without misappropriating the culture.

Since Beyond Buckskin represents Native fashion designers, many of those items can be bought there. Metcalfe says everything at the boutique is meant for both Native and non-Native people to wear.

“Tying back to the headdress, that’s what people think is Native because that’s all that they’ve been exposed to,” Metcalfe says. “That’s why on Beyond Buckskin, you’ll see hopefully a lot of cultures represented.”

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