Bass Coast festival headdress ban ruffles feathers and sparks debate

Bass Coast music festival organizers say they're overwhelmed by the international response to their headdress policy that bans attendees from wearing the culturally significant head wear.

Organizers of the B.C. music festival say they're overwhelmed by the international reaction

Headdress ban sparks debate

8 years ago
Duration 2:12
Headdresses have been springing up at music festivals from Coachella to Bonnaroo. But they're not welcome at this weekend's Bass Coast Music Festival in B.C., Zulekha Nathoo reports

What started as a policy decision by the Bass Coast Music and Arts Festival in Merritt, B.C., has exploded into an international discussion on cultural appropriation and a movement to stop revellers from wearing First Nation-style headdresses to parties around the world.

The feathered headdress has become a sensitive pop culture phenomenon, springing up in fashion shows, music videos and on the heads of partygoers from Coachella to Bonnaroo. 

But in a statement posted last week on Facebook, Bass Coast organizers explained that headdresses are unwelcome at this weekend's festival, which takes place on indigenous territory, and that security would be enforcing the ban.

'We want to be good neighbours'

Paul Brooks, the festival's communications manager, told CBC Arts reporter Zulekha Nathoo that the ban is about respect:

Paul Brooks, the Bass Coast Music Festival communications manager, told CBC News that his team felt it was time to take a stand. (CBC News)

"This has been an ongoing topic of debate within electronic music and within festivals and our core team felt it was time to take a stand," he said.

"There are many Indian bands in the area, many reservations, so we want to be good neighbours. We want to be respectful of aboriginal people not only in the area … but across Canada and North America."

Brooks said he's received an outpouring of thanks and support for the ban, including international media attention from Buzzfeed, Jezebel, and the British online publication the Guardian.

He also got a tweet of approval from Juno-award winning aboriginal DJ group A Tribe Called Red, who are headlining Bass Coast this year.

The headdress controversy became front-page news, literally, when Pharrell Williams wore a headdress on the cover of Elle magazine, a fashion choice for which he later apologized.   

Chanel, Victoria's Secret, H&M, Urban Outfitters and Paul Frank have also come under fire for inappropriately using First Nations symbols or imagery in their fashions. 

Pharrell Williams apologized for posing in a headdress for Elle magazine. He said he respects 'every kind of race, background and culture.' (Doug Inglish/Elle Magazine)

Wanda Nanibush, a First Nations artist and activist in Toronto, says that if artists really want to honour First Nations people then they should find out what the symbols mean first.

"The headdress is a sign of honour, so really the only way that someone like Chanel or Karl Lagerfeld​ or Pharrell could actually get one legitimately would be if they did something quite amazing for our people, and they haven't done that, so they don't deserve one."

CBC Arts has the full story Thursday night on The National.

The Bass Coast Music Festival takes place Aug. 1-4 at the Merritt festival grounds in Merritt, B.C.


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