from across the country explain the stories of indigenous headdresses
When headdresses make the news, the story usually revolves around
non-indigenous people wearing them and whether that's appropriate.
Recently Tsuu T'ina First Nation made national headlines, and
stirred up debate, when it gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a
headdress and an "aboriginal name," Gumistiyi, which translates
to "the one that keeps trying."
Some music festivals have banned headdresses, and last year
the Winnipeg Jets hockey club decided to bar fans from wearing headdresses
at home games after a Chicago Blackhawks fan showed up sporting
So what is the significance of the headdress and who should
be allowed to wear one? CBC Aboriginal reached out to First Nations
leaders in Canada to find out how they received their headdresses
and what it means to wear one.
Headdresses Are Gifts
The headdress is not something that leaders pay for. Leaders
receive them as gifts and go through ceremonies and protocols when
Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs,
is Anishinaabe from Minegoziibe Anishinabe (Pine Creek) First Nation.
Chief Derek Nepinak, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, describes
the headdress as being 'tied to my ceremonies and the fasting
that I've done over the years on the land and that's where
the eagle feathers come from.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
He has received two headdresses in his lifetime. The first one
was given to him while he was chief of his home community. That
headdress belongs to the community.
"You don't ask for a headdress, I never asked for a headdress.
Just because you become a chief under a popular election, doesn't
mean that you're granted the authority," says Nepinak.
The second headdress is the one that you see Nepinak wearing
these days. It is a Dakota or Plains style headdress he was
given permission to wear it from the Dakota which was given
to him by his sundance family.
"It is tied to my ceremonies, and the fasting that I've
done over the years on the land, and that's where the eagle feathers
Copage, chief of Sipeknekatik First Nation, wears a
traditional Mi'kmaq headdress. (CBC)
Many Styles of Headdresses
The Plains (or Dakota) headdress is the style that is most commonly
seen in pop culture, but there are many styles, depending on what
First Nation you come from.
Rufus Copage has been chief of Sipekne'katik First Nation since
2012. He was given a traditional Miq'maq headdress by his community.
He says the headdress "represents who I am." It includes
six feathers on each side, and a mink in the middle.
Tied to Responsibility
Chief Isadore Day Wiindawtegowinini has received four headdresses.
"You can't put them behind a glass. They're not there to
be showpieces or anything like that. These are very, very important,
and they go along with the work that we do," says Day.
Before being elected the Ontario regional chief, Day was the
chief of his community, Serpent River.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day talks
about the responsibility that comes with having a headdress.
(Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)
"When you're given a headdress, there's a responsibility
that comes with that, and often those responsibilities are a direct
tie and connection to who you are, your identity, your place within
the context of nationhood."
Day has one headdress that he refers to as his treaty advocacy
headdress. He is a descendant of Shingwauk, and Wiindawtegowinini,
who were signatories of the Robinson-Huron Treaties, and he takes
the role of being a treaty advocate seriously.
The headdress he wears right now has floral designs, a wampum
belt, and golden eagle feathers. Day says, "It doesn't belong
to me. It represents all of the people in the community."
Traditions Are Changing
There is a lot of discussion in indigenous communities across
Canada about who should be given a headdress.
Cook-Searson, chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, received
her headdress as a gift from the community. (Chief Tammy Cook-Searson)
Traditionally there was variation from nation to nation about
who wore headdresses. But for many years the Indian Act dictated
that only men were allowed to be chiefs, influencing the tradition.
Now it is rare to see a First Nations woman wearing a headdress.
Sylvia McAdam, one of the co-founders of the Idle No More movement,
says, "Men are ready to give a headdress to a white man (Trudeau)
but cause an uproar when indigenous women are gifted one."
Nepinak says, "At some point, indigenous people need to
sit down and have a discussion about the headdress, and have that
discussion openly, under the light of day, amongst all of our people,
and have a good discussion about where does the headdress come from,
why and who wears it.
"It's definitely a grey area, it's not a black-and-white
discussion," says Nepinak.