I have my own tumblr and often I’ll see pictures crop up on my dash of some skinny white model wearing a Native American warbonnet as some hipster fashion statement. They aren’t. The warbonnets actually mean something, and a little research shows exactly what they were used for, and surprisingly, that there weren’t that many tribes that used the commonly seen warbonnet (that many hipsters decide to wear).
This first part of this post is a rant. My specific bitch is about white hipsters using traditional (or what appears to be traditionaal) Lakota Sioux warbonnets as fashion statements, and some even bemoaning that they aren’t Native American. Or worse, when called out on their appropriation, claim they have (most often) Cherokee ancestry. Which is bullshit, because there are more than one hundred tribes in North America, including Plains Indians, Pacific Coast Indians, Atlantic Coast Indians, Mexican Indians, and Gulf Indians. Many of those tribes were wiped out of existence thanks to the push to settle the west by both American colonists and British colonists in British North America, or what is now known as Canada. Large numbers of Dakota First Nation People were killed in this push. Look up Wounded Knee sometime. Many Dakota moved north, eventually settling in British North America, such as the Whitecap Dakota First Nation.
Now the second part of this post. Time to educate some people about the Native American headdresses that they so seeming like to use as fashion statements. As well as those that might want to “dress up” as a Native American for Halloween. The thing that a lot of people don’t understand, these symbols, such as the warbonnet, are very sacred to many tribes.
You can find complete information here, but I’ll describe a good deal in this post.
This image is the most commonly known headdress, which is actually a Lakota Sioux war bonnet. In truth, most First Nation tribes never used headdresses like this. While these may be the best known headdresses, they are not the most commonly used and they weren’t the only style of headdress. Headdresses varied depending on the tribe or location.
These warbonnets were the most commonly seen headdresses in westerns both on television and the silver screen. However, these bonnets were only used by a dozen or so tribes in the Great Plains, such as the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne and Plains Cree.
These warbonnets were ceremonial regalia worn by chiefs and warriors, much like the regalia worn by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip is considered traditional for the British Monarchy. Also important, only men wore these warbonnets, though it is reported that some women in Plains tribes did go to war, and there were even some female chiefs, but they never wore these bonnets. Sometimes men would wear these warbonnets into battle, but most often they wore what is called a roach bonnet.
Roach bonnets were worn by warriors and dancers and like warbonnets, the porcupine hair roach is traditionally men’s headwear, not worn even by female warriors. These roach bonnets also varied from tribe to tribe, and in many tribes roaches were worn into battle, while more formal tribal headdresses like warbonnets, otter-fur turbans or gustowah caps, were worn to ceremonial events. Other tribes wore roach bonnets primarily as dance regalia or sports costume. While some men in different tribes would wear a roach bonnet, others might not and they were not seen as spirituality meaningful as warbonnets, though a boy earning the right to wear a roach for the first time was an important ceremony in some tribes.
The page includes many other headdresses, including buffalo bonnets, otter-fur turbans, Seminole cloth turbans and Iroquois gustoweh caps, and includes tribal headdresses for women.
At the FAQ at the bottom of the page it mentions places to buy headdresses and where to go to make your own, but there was something important there as well.
If you are not Native American but are just trying to make a headdress for an art project, we recommend making a beaded headband, since headbands do not have the same sacred meaning of many other Indian headdresses and do not require you to understand complex cultural traditions to create one properly. The book North American Indian Beadwork Patterns includes a nice pattern for beading a Native American headband.
- Tribalism as Pop Culture Phenomenon and the Perpetuation of Offensive American Indian Stereotypes (indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)