Headdresses banned from Merritt music festival out of respect to First Nations

Published: July 29, 2014
Merritt music festival

Organizers of this weekend’s Bass Coast Festival in Merritt are asking attendees not to bring any native headdresses out of respect for First Nations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kim Wheeler


An electronic music festival this B.C. Day long weekend in Merritt has banned native headdresses from its campgrounds.

“Bass Coast Festival is banning feathered war bonnets, or anything resembling them, on-site,” says a posting on the organizers’ Facebook page. “Our security team will be enforcing this policy throughout the festival,” which takes place Aug. 1- 4.

“We understand why people are attracted to war bonnets,” the posting continues. “They have a magnificent esthetic. But their spiritual, cultural and esthetic significance cannot be separated.”

According to Bass Coast spokesman Paul Brooks, the ban is something organizers have been hoping to put in place for the past year.

“This year it was a priority,” he told Vancouver Desi. “It’s something that the core Bass Coast team feels strongly about.”

The music festival originally started out in Squamish, but outgrew the location and moved to Merritt’s Nicola Valley, which is located on indigenous land.

“When we moved to Merritt and we started having a relationship with the community and certain First Nations bands … in the area, we decided that this is something that we had to implement,” said Brooks. “It’s an issue of respect to them and Aboriginal people across Canada.”

And while Brooks admits that festival goers likely aren’t sporting the fashion accessory with malicious intent, “when you look at the spiritual and cultural significance of the headdress, it’s actually disrespectful we feel, and ultimately dehumanizing, so we don’t want that happening at our festival site, or at any of our events for that matter.”

According to Brooks, if attendees are seen wearing the war bonnet this weekend, they’ll be approached by a security supervisor, who will educate them on the matter and simply ask them to leave it in their car or tent.

While a number of other fashion statements and trends have come under fire for their cultural appropriations — like the Hindu bindi, recently sported by celebrities and concertgoers alike at California’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — Brooks said the Bass Coast ban is “extremely specific” to the native headdress.

“Nothing else is on the table at this point — we haven’t been approached by anybody citing these as things they would like us to consider,” he said. “This issue is very specific to the headdress and to the war bonnet for us and has everything to do with our location, our relationship with the community and also the feelings of the team that puts on the festival.”

Bass Coast has been applauded for their stance — the July 23 Facebook post alone has been shared more than 520 times and liked by more than 1,500 people.

“It resonated not only with our community but festivalgoers and, you know, music lovers … around the world,” said Brooks. “It’s about respecting our neighbours as well as Canada’s Aboriginal people.”



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