Juan Bendana // Flickr
Icelandic artist, Jonsei performing at Coachella April 18, 2009 at Indio, California. Jonsei is wearing a Native American headdress even though he does not identify with Native American culture. Cultural appropriation is a problem found in festivals since people choose to wear things of other cultures they have little knowledge about

As festival season comes closer, more and more participants are choosing their outfits for these occasions. For some of these outfits, people choose to use aspects of other peoples’ culture and heritage. This is not okay. Just like Halloween, someone’s culture should not be used as an outfit — people need to respect them.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, cultural appropriation is the act of using a thing from a culture that is not one’s own without showing one understands or respects the cultural significance of that thing.


Native American headdresses’ or war bonnets’ colors, symbols and meanings vary between each tribe and each individual. According to Indians.org, warriors earned feathers each time they committed an act of bravery. When a warrior collects enough feathers, they create a headdress.

It is no secret how many people wear these sacred headdresses for festivals. Are festivals an act of bravery now?

“Unless you are a native male from a Plains nation who has earned a headdress, or you have been given permission to wear one … then you will have a very difficult time making a case for how wearing one is anything other than disrespectful, now that you know these things,” graduate student and Cree language instructor at the Faculty of Native studies at the University of Alberta, Chelsea Vowel, said in a blog post titled “Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses”. “If you choose to be disrespectful, please do not be surprised when people are offended … regardless of why you think you are entitled to do this.”


According to Ebony, braids originated in Africa around 3500 B.C.  A common braiding style African Americans use is box braiding. Box-braids are pre-braided strands of hair which are woven into someone’s real hair. They were popularized in the 1990s.

Some African Americans have issues with other groups of people wearing box-braids because many African Americans have faced discrimination due to their hair.

“I think people have definitely looked over the history of braids and where and whom it originated from and how special and sacred it is,” freshman Chidera Abiakam said. “Now, it seems like something fun or different to do since it’s not a part of their everyday lifestyle or culture. I don’t think it’s always done with malicious intent but it’s done sometimes with purposeful ignorance, which is staying uneducated on the subject while knowing you can learn more. I think some people do it because they genuinely think it’s beautiful, and it is, but it’s necessary to know where it’s coming from and whose culture you’re wearing, especially when it comes to hairstyles and clothes, or else you shouldn’t wear it at all.”

Personally, I have no issue if other groups of people wear these braid styles any other time, but during festivals, it’s clearly about the ‘look’ and not the culture. There are many other hairstyles a person can use for their outfit without appropriating culture.


Dashikis are colorful shirts and tunics which derive from West African culture. They were used as symbols of rebellion during the Civil Rights Era, as more people were embracing their African roots.

Due to their colorful nature, other groups of people wear dashikis for festivals. During black empowerment rallies, non-black people are okay to wear dashikis. It shows others they are supporting African American advancement. For festivals, people clearly care more about ‘the look’ than supporting African Americans.

“I’ve always known cultural appropriation was wrong even as a child but not necessarily knowing there was a name for it,” senior Cheyenne Vance said. “I’ve always made it known that I don’t agree with non-black people using our cultural identifiers as a costume. The older I get through the more tired I am of explaining the same thing to people. It’s a slap in the face at this point when I see non-black people participating in our culture but not being a part of it when everything goes sideways. It’s wrong as hell when white women and all them wanna wear box braids, big hoops and have ‘ghetto’ nails but that’s my identity. I get patronized for my honest self. It’s annoying but it’s more common than not to see non-black people participating in black culture when it’s convenient and returning to their lives without the other hassles of being black.”


A Bindi is a colored dot or jewel traditionally worn on the center of a forehead which derives from Hindi culture and Jainism. They are often served as signs of marriage and represent the ‘third-eye.’

Bindis are subjected to being culturally appropriated during festivals when people place these bindis on themselves without knowledge of their cultural roots.

“Be curious, ask questions, do your research,” writer and law student from Sydney, Vidya Ramachandran, said in an article on Junkee. “Understand your position and be mindful of the impact of the decisions that you make. What is your understanding of the bindi? Why are you wearing it? Is your behavior likely to cause somebody pain or discomfort? Are you contributing to a wider culture of disrespect or dispossession that you would otherwise not support? And sure, if you decide to wear a bindi anyway, not all South Asians will be offended. But some definitely will. And to me, that’s enough of a reason to err on the side of caution.”


Taylor Johnson can be reached at tjohnson@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.