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Cultural Appropriation at Festivals Devalues Indigenous Heritage

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Cultural Appropriation at Festivals Devalues Indigenous Heritage

artwork by: Avalon Owens

artwork by: Avalon Owens

artwork by: Avalon Owens

Luke Minnick, Staff Writer

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   As Coachella comes to a close and the thousands of “music fans” return home, social media becomes a platform for many to flaunt the fun they had and show off the outfits they spent plenty of time putting together. Coachella is a massive event, often seeming more for social media’s sake than for music’s. Thus, one can expect festival-goers to boast about their attendance to their friends and family. Unfortunately, many people’s outfits often include wearing other ethnic group’s cultural accessories as fashion statements without taking into account the detrimental backlash this causes.

   Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture (dictionary.cambridge.org). According to Teen Vogue, the most popular culprits of the cultural appropriators at festivals are Native American headdresses, the Hindu symbol of spirituality called a bindi, and an African American hairstyle called box braids (teenvogue.com).

   One problem with the use of other culture’s accessories for fashion rather than tradition is that the people wearing them see them as a mere prop to enhance their outfits, completely disregarding the heritage from which the costumes are derived. For example, feathered headdresses were an important part of Native American culture, as the feathers were earned and signified power. In one segment on the Teen Vogue website called Pop Feminist, Fashion Editor Jess Andrews empathized, “…those bonnets signify they’re earned… so to take that war bonnet on as a prop and wear it doing all kinds of illegal activity at Coachella, it’s disrespectful and it’s offensive” (teenvogue.com). Festival-goers have begun wearing this ritualistic attire out of context. This is especially insulting since Coachella is held in Indio, California, a state which has been home to over 100 Federally Recognized Native American tribes (courts.ca.gov).

   The problem is worsened by of the behaviors of celebrities. Rather than using their platform to condemn cultural appropriation, celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Vanessa Hudgens, and Alessandra Ambrosio have encouraged it by joining in. The Teen Vogue Website states, “Like several other festival-goers, they’ve chosen to dress in styles plucked from someone else’s culture, often disregarding the historical and sometimes spiritual significance of their looks” (teenvogue.com). Celebrities like them are blessed with massive platforms, social media followings and influence. It would be so easy for them to post something regarding the issue on social media and redirect their followers’ attention to being sensitive to other cultures than their own. However, it seems as though trend-following is more important to them.

   Luckily, something is being done. Music festivals in other countries have already begun to take action against the offensive attire by stopping guests from wearing certain accessories. According to the Vice News Website, “…after Montreal music mainstay Osheaga banned the feathered headdresses, the Edmonton Folk Festival followed suit, declaring that security would confiscate such headwear at the gates” (news.vice.com). As these festivals recognize the issue and educate their public, they are doing the world a favor by decreasing instances of cultural appropriation. However, large festivals such as Coachella and Summerfest have yet to release any such statements, therefore encouraging offensive behavior to take place in their environments.   

   Festival goers constantly plead ignorance as an excuse for their actions. Yes, they are ignorant, but this is a half-hearted attempt at justification, and it certainly doesn’t heal any of the damage done.Andrews explained, “Even if you search cultural appropriation at Coachella, you’ll find so many pieces written about it over the last few years,” (teenvogue.com). People have many opportunities to educate themselves, so they have no excuse for being ignorant about the disrespect they are displaying.

   Although we cannot blame the festival and celebrities for the actions of thousands, we must demand some initiative for change. The wearing of important artifacts and accessories from other cultures is offensive and never okay. It’s so easy to simply come up with something else to wear. Since Coachella is such a popular festival, it would be a great place to start educating and stopping problematic and simply uncomfortable cultural appropriation.

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Cultural Appropriation at Festivals Devalues Indigenous Heritage