Still sad, but I'm willing to discuss it. ( Long post, read at your discretion - I don't claim to repesent all Native peoples, just me.)
Now first off -- I can totally see why artists enjoy doing it. The first time I saw it, I wasn't offended, not even a little bit. As an artist myself all I saw was a beautiful piece. It was when it was being used to advertise products I got a little sketchy but still not too bothered. Even though not every Native American group uses headdresses (they are represented as being used by all tribes...which is just, ignorant.) Still I wasn't bothered.
It wasn't until it became a hot topic that I decided to educate myself on the matter. But first, some background on me.
I am Cree First Nations woman - part of the Fox Lake Band in Manitoba - Canada. I didn't grow up on a reserve or had many fellow "Aboriginal" friends. Being "Aboriginal", "First Nations", "Native" was just a fact about me, not really an identity thing. My parents were big on First Nations issues politically, socially and such but I never bothered to get into it. (Even when my father was elected Chief of our band, I still didn't bother much w/ it. My grandfather was also a chief...runs in the family I guess..)
As I got older and started learning about my "native" culture and its roots, I still couldn't quite get a foot hold on it all, it still felt too "religious" to me. It wasn't until recently that I've started to identify with it and its slowly becoming a part of me. I'm learning some traditions and what it means to some First Nations people and what they mean to me.
So going back to Headdresses, I asked on my facebook what the majority would think if "I" myself took the same photos. Or if I took a picture of myself in a headdress. I had a 50/50 of positive and negative reactions. Some said, you are an artist, go ahead. Others said I would need to tread carefully, just because I am native doesn't give me greater right to do it. Others explained constructively that the Headdress or War Bonnet is something very sacred and earned. The comments were all polite (probably because they were facebook friends and not strangers).
Technically the last War chief (documented anyway) was in WW2 ( I think ). The bonnets now are ceremonial..modern chiefs only wear them during ceremony or during high government dealings - and they are only worn by men.
As a feminist I find that...a bit backward that only men can wear it ---AND that's where I find the appeal of a beautiful woman wearing a headdress, it's different, its daring and bold, at least aesthetically. However, though its a bit..old fashioned of men just wearing them, it's still tradition. I don't agree w/ that..but, I'll explain a bit more.
Another example of tradition is that at all ceremonies, women must wear a long skirt. Or if you are on your period you cannot participate in some ceremonies because you are considered..hmmm..not unclean..but not in the right state of..spirit? Your body is going through a cycle so it isn't receptive to ceremony, at least that's my understanding of it when one ( just one ) spiritual guide/man explained it to me. I still think that's silly and I don't agree but I won't argue because..well..I don't choose to participate in most ceremonies so it's never been an issue.
Back to Headdresses; now folks say that Native peoples are being too sensitive about the issue. Not just this, but many others - the whole Redskins football thing too. I both agree and disagree.
I think we can all agree that Native Americans got a raw deal in history - almost killed to extinction (as a race) and then who ever was left were forced to live on reserves and go to residential school. My parents when to residential school so I have heard stories. It sucked. As a whole, most Native people are still recovering from this trauma as each generation is affected. One thing that was taught in Residential schools was that being Native was wrong, the language, the culture, the traditions were wrong, evil, sinful, etc. As a result, many traditions and stories have been lost. So, Native people today are struggling to re claim that old identity. At the same time - my parents also suffered many hardships but managed to make the most out of their education and worked hard. They over came...addictions/struggles/trauma..and raised us kids to work equally hard. So therefore I don't have huge sympathy for those who struggle, as far as I'm concerned if my parents could do it...why can't you? ( A bit biased I know...but that's how I feel..) So like I said, I agree and disagree. We as a people can argue all we want about the troubled past, but until we start picking ourselves up and helping ourselves..we aren't going to get the respect we deserve. The treaties were a good thing, our ancestors protected future generations, but at the same time they kind of...hold us back. A different topic for another day...so...(just my opinion..)
The Headdress, the War Bonnet was this great honor, only so many people earned it. Today it is still regarded as a sacred thing. I'd compare it to a purple heart, medal of honor, or the stars of a general in the military and sticking that on a sexy model. I imagine some veterans might be upset at that. There was hardship, struggle and pain that earned those military honors..the same goes for the war bonnet. Yes modern chiefs wear the same war bonnet today without going to war, but they are elected figures by fellow native peoples and native folks only vote for those who they believe will represent them properly (same upbringing, same struggle, same trauma, same pain).
Now..how to wrap this up? As you've read..I have strong opinions. My own father has warned me that my ideas could cause me trouble within my own peoples if I dared said this aloud. He's even scolded me -- but to protect me. Because I haven't experienced these same hardships some might say I have no right to speak about the issue, but as a First Nations person I think I have every right, after all, when people see a Headdress, they think about my people. Others ask me questions all the time about Native issues as if I represent us all and my opinion will validate their opinions, which it doesn't.
This is just MY opinion, MY thoughts, MY education on the matter so far. I still have much to learn. With that said -- if you read this and are an artist, photographer, think twice about putting a headdress on yourself, or a model. Yes, it will make a beautiful looking piece but step back and think what you are saying about yourself with it. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes, and if you have already taken a photo of this..that's okay, just don't use the photo anymore and don't photograph it again...please? That's just me though.
You don't know me...and why should you listen to me? You'll do whatever you think is right anyway -- and you have that right. Isn't that nice?
Thank you for reading.
Listening to: Boneless - Steve Aoki
Watching: Call the Midwife