the case against headdress chic is powerful, and it’s threefold. First, the trend ignores the differences between indigenous peoples. There are 564 federally recognised tribes in the US alone, but fashion smushes them into one vague stereotype with all the sophistication of a B-grade 1950s western. “You’ll see someone wearing a headdress in the same picture as a totem pole and a canoe when actually those are from three different cultures,” says Bear Witness. “The totem poles are from the northwest, headdresses are from the plains and the kind of canoes you usually see are woodland canoes. So it’s robbing us of our individual cultures.”
Second, it disrespects the sacred significance of the headdress. Among the plains people, they are worn only by male chiefs, and only on special ceremonial occasions. “Headdresses are something that has to be earned,” says academic, activist and Cherokee Nation member Adrienne Keene, who chronicles the misuse of indigenous culture on her Native Appropriations blog. “That’s completely lost when it’s this chicken-feather thing that you bought at a costume shop. That deep sacred meaning is eclipsed by the desire to just dress up and play Indian.”
Finally, far from being a trivial issue, the trend reminds indigenous peoples of all the more serious crimes and indignities they have been subjected to over the past 500 years. Even after their land was stolen and vast numbers were killed, the remaining Native Americans were not granted full citizenship until 1924, and their religious rights were not protected until 1978. Tribal chic treats them as other: exotic creatures in their own land.