February 12, 2012

Indian Headdresses Should Not Be On Etsy

But, they are.

And you can find a couple hundred options to pick from.

Native Appropriations blogger Adrienne Keene has already explained over and over again why you can't wear a hipster headdress, and other writers Kate Burch, Mimi Thi Nguyen, and Julia at a la garconniere (among others) have also shared their perspectives on the matter (yes, it is beginning to feel a weensy bit repetitive).

The most recent case against the misuse of the Indian headdress has been brought forth by Metis author Chelsea Vowel, who noted in a HuffPo article that unless you have earned the right to wear a headdress, don't. It's really simple, but Vowel recognizes that some people still don't get it, so she does a wonderful job of explaining it again. She states the following: in some cultures, some items are off-limits. These items cannot be possessed/reproduced by just anyone. And, for the most part, headdresses are restricted items.

But I often wondered where people were getting these headdresses. Clearly, someone is making them and selling them. And it turns out that one of the places where you can buy yourself a nifty little Indian headdress is on Etsy. (Side note: It is quite fascinating to see who the makers are, and how they market these headdresses to potential buyers.)

The last time that I wrote about the 'interesting items' floating around on Etsy, some people did not like that I named names. So, there will be no naming names in this post, just linking.

Exhibit A: Feather and Leather Headdress (for the chiefs in London)

Exhibit B: Rainbow Chief Headdress (made with magical materials)

Exhibit C: Little Indian Headdress (to teach your kids how to play Indian)

Exhibit D: The Native American Indian Hooded Towel (for post-shower chiefs)

Exhibit E: Custom Indian Chief Headdress (for the chiefs on a budget)

I think you get my point. But now I have a question: Who do you think should be able to make/sell Native American headdresses?

  • A warning: After my first Etsy post, I was told that instead of discussing the misappropriation of Native American cultures found on Etsy on my own blog, I should have instead contacted the artists in question directly. However, I was then informed that if I directly contact an artist I would be reported to Etsy (Sounds like a catch-22). So, be aware that if you approach any of these Indian Headdress Artists you might be reported to Etsy. If you think you have a right to say something, ask yourself first, 'Am I willing to sacrifice my Etsy rights for this?' But another option we have is to send the faux Indian stuff to Regretsy (click here to learn more about this amazingly wonderful site), and they have the logistics figured out.

I would like to leave you with this video by Dallas Goldtooth - a lovely tale of racism, ignorance, and shoes.

(Note: special thanks to Joni for the Little Indians link.)


  1. Another great post.

    I feel no one should be making and selling headdresses for profit. As far as Etsy, do not expect them to take the higher road, even as they provide a platform for merchants to sell in direct violation of IACA.

    Regretsy is a great idea, she has a massive audience. This is an critical issue for Native American artists that does need to be addressed publicly.

  2. I was just (I can't even remember why) looking at a headdress on etsy. I went to report it but of course they don't have a button that says "this violates a law" - the only options are etsy specific violations.

    Regretsy is a fantastic idea!

  3. Hello... please do not take anything I say the wrong way and know that I am coming from an honest heart. I clearly found this post linking from my etsy which is the shop that carries two of the headdresses listed above. I was heartbroken to see this blog post, and it fully embarrasses me. I feel like I have been ripped apart behind my back. I read the article you posted within this blog post and even then can not see why you would judge someone who is trying to make an honest living. As a artist and with Cherokee  blood running through my veins I take offense to this post. I make my headdresses for artistic expression. I have total respect for the native american culture and feel that if you want to pick on someone you should go to the local convenience store where you can find plastic Indians and cowboys and toy tomahawks. There is the root of your problem yet you shop and support them and they make millions. Instead you attack those who are just trying to make ends met and enjoy life doing and exploring what they love. As for the article you linked. My Headdresses is purely sold as a work of art... no a ignorant costume. I researched and handcrafted this thing. Is that not sacred enough to just be a human being and create something. I did not mass produce it! We go through the world borrowing from others to take into our own light just like native americans sport jeans. Are you making fun of america or wearing as a trend? Maybe you are just wearing them because that is how the world works. Do you enjoy any other cultures.. think about the food we eat in america from other countries but we almost fully disrespect it by throwing it in a drive through. That is what this world is.

    I do have to say though that I was ignorant for not thinking about how others would take it but I had no idea that someone would get offended. I think that your post and the others I have looked are eye openers and I appreciate the opinion. I wish I could have been contacted privately honestly and it could have been a teaching learning experience. 

    Would you rather we forget about the native american culture all together? I know there is a big difference in a real headdresses and one from etsy. 

  4. Clearly, the road to appropriation is paved with "honest hearts"..... and idiocy.

  5. Courtney, 
    Did you read any of these articles???:http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/but-why-cant-i-wear-hipster-headdress.html http://beyondbuckskin.blogspot.com/2010/10/headdress-zine-download-for-free.html http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/linkage-the-feather-in-your-native-cap/ http://alagarconniere.blogspot.com/2010/04/critical-fashion-lovers-basic-guide-to.htmlThey are all listed above in the first main paragraph:"Native Appropriations blogger Adrienne Keene has already explained over and over again why you can't wear a hipster headdress, and other writers Kate Burch, Mimi Thi Nguyen, and Julia at a la garconniere (among others) have also shared their perspectives on the matter (yes, it is beginning to feel a weensy bit repetitive)."

  6. Thank you Jessica. I am going to check all of them out. Thanks for posting an interesting eye opening topic. This is for sure a learning experience.

  7. Also please remove my images from your post or I will have to report.  
    Please understand.

  8. Hi Courtney,
    Sounds like you share some of the same concerns as those found on Regretsy. Items listed for sale to the public on a public website can be reposted with commentary without obtaining permission. Click here to read more: http://www.regretsy.com/faq. 

  9. LOVE your blog. Don't get me wrong....I adore Etsy.....or at least, I used to.....until I noticed the ridiculous amount of appropriation going on when going Native became all the rage over the past two years.  Since then, I cannot even be bothered to open the email they send me of daily finds and I haven't logged on in a few months when I used to be an avid buyer. I like the natural soaps and cosmetics....but I still have to see the garish "Native inspired" items that grace their front page when I log on, so I avoid it altogether now. 
    Many people I meet will often equate a headdress...or a dreamcatcher.....to a Christian cross. They will say something along the lines of: "Christians don't get mad when people incorporate crosses into their art/clothing/accessories/etc......Why should Natives?" Of course, these are the same people who will argue that we should feel honored by team names like the Redskins, or team mascots like Chief Wahoo.
    Facts they don't seem to realize, is that we do NOT seek out converts like Christians do. We do NOT look for recruits and want our symbols out there so it makes people think of us in that sense, like the images a Christian cross brings up. And it just plain flabbergasts me to see all these WOMEN wearing headdresses....dressed scantily........They don't get the sexualized, romanticized stereotype it puts forth. Like those ridiculous shirts of Indian maidens lounging with wolves in front of waterfalls or under the starlit sky.

    Ms. Courtney's assertion that you should be attacking the root of the problem--plastic Indians sold in gas stations???--because someone else paved the way by doing something wrong gives her full creative license to commit another wrong on top of it, is nonsense and smacks of 'privilege'.

  10.  Hi Courtney,

    I've just stumbled on this post, and I wanted to let you know that if
    you truly do carry native blood, you will want to ensure you educate
    yourself as to the perspective of native people.  This fashion trend is
    really laughable (in a "I have to laugh through the tears to survive"
    sort of way) to really try and understand what makes a headdress a
    fashion object. 

    People (like you) producing these current trends aren't promoting blackface, or
    wearing swastika earrings or pokey white hats along with with their
    barely clad nethers in some sort of mysterious pose.  It's absurdity to
    sexualize or objectify an item that hold unfathomable depths of
    spiritual and religious significance to an indigenous group.  I think
    even beyond this, the fact that selling these items toes or crosses the
    line of law as established in the Indian Arts & Crafts Act.  It also
    crosses the line of taste, though that is my personal judgement.

    I hope that you read those articles with an open heart and mind.  If you
    found offensive replies here, it is because people have found these
    particular pieces so offensive and by failing to recognize that is salt
    in the wound for a group of people who have been ignored for generation
    after generation.  I think the fact that you posted here shows courage
    and I hope you consider these words with love. 

    How would you feel showing up to a powwow with one of those things on
    your head?  I can tell you that the people at those events would let you
    know exactly how honored they felt as a group about that type of
    'inspiration.'  You'd best not do it, as your personal safety would be
    at risk.  Just an example of the context in which this community views
    this type of thing.  Putting a disclaimer at the beginning of your post doesn't excuse it. 

  11. art creates and destroys everything. If they don't like your art, they don't have to look at it. Don't be upset by someone's very close minded opinion. I'm a tattooer and I get the same kind of sad rants. However, in the long run, none of these issues matter... not like, say, starving children or genocide. :)

  12. Funny if the Indians can make money off my dead relatives without getting our families permissions then guess what I will wear all their crap anytime I feel like it and really don't care how what the tribes all think about it!!

  13.  Who give a hang damn about the tribal scrolls !! It is a big bunch of bull shit and i know for a fact they are not right or fair! If they were you would find the Shanks and Cromer names on these scrolls and you don't. Yet their great grandmother was the first medicine Indian woman to speak before the Cherokee councilEven the books we teach our children out of is one big fat lie and it has been proven over and over again!!!. Ernie Shanks of Lorain Ohio has fought for years and years to get the facts straight and to claim our dead relatives belongings from these money grubbing folks! So far they have refused to admit defeat!! Shame on the Indians and shame on you !!I am of Indian blood guess what that also c can't be proven because back then you would have been killed . The blood line lives on and you can claim fame if you want to my blood is as red if not redder then yours is!!

  14.  How does it make you feel when you see images like this woman I posted here wearing a headdress? Seems to me that the things we hold sacred should not be able to be sullied by others. If we are strong in ourselves even oppression cannot destroy what is sacred. Mimicry is often a form of flattery, even when clumsy. Is it not possible that clumsy mimicry in Europe for example, can be turned into an awareness of contemporary Native life? Too much of the world thinks we no longer exist as it is, I know, I have traveled all over the world. A cheesy pop celeb like Cher sitting on a horse with a headdress on her album cover, tied in with Marlon Brando sending Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf at the Oscar's and the real action-the policy changes wrought by the American Indian Movement. Maybe as Native people, we should use clumsy acknowledgement to make friends, we can gently educate and also learn.

    Oops, here is the link to the photo!

  16. I completely agree with you and how disgraceful this is to Native Americans. I am Ojibwe and find this very offensive but I guess I have bee used to it. 

  17. Dear Dr. Metcalfe, 

    I am a big fan of your blog- and I completely agree with you on the point made about appropriation. But I am so disappointed that you didn't moderate this conversation better, or at least have some kind words of wisdom in the end. Mary's message might be right on, but the way she conveys it is just plain nasty. You acknowledge that, don't you? 

  18. Hi Karina,

    Yes I've been thinking about how much moderation I should be doing on this post in particular, it seems to really bring out the nasty in people. 

    There's a part of me that wants to let the nasty sit, so that non-Native people can see how much racist crap Native people have to put up with on a daily basis.

  19. Hmmm, interesting. Yes, it definitely has an educational value. thanks for the quick response. 

  20. I actually found this post because I wanted to know if there was a listing of actal Native American artists on etsy (not to buy a headdress, just a painting). It is wrong to usurp someone else's culture. I want things simply because my grandmother is in the late stages of alzheimer's and my mother has serious health problems. It helps me think about them when they weren't sick, and it's comforting because I'm far away.

  21. My grandfather is full-blood Cherokee indian. My mother is half. So therefore I too have Cherokee indian blood running through my veins. I've always loved hearing stories from my grandfather about his culture. Very fascinating.

    I remember in the 80's when is wasn't "wrong" to say or do a lot of things that are so politically incorrect now. Lighten up people! On the other hand I know a lot of different religions have come a long way in sticking up for their beliefs and they deserve the upmost respect.

    I know what a headdress means due to my grandfather telling me what it means. It is sacred.

    I don't live my life as anything but spiritual. I don't claim to belong to any specific religion by choice. I have a headdress in my home that dates back many, many years. I sometimes put it on on from time to time to feel closer to my now deceased great grandfather. It really is a work of art! I don't dress up for Halloween in it though. It is sacred and made one feather at a time to show honor. Hand sewn by the women closest to the warrior that once wore it generations back.

    I personally don't feel offeneded by people who like the "native american" look or culture and decide to dress up or wear a fake one. People dress up as priests, pregnant nuns etc. I don't think people purposly wear the headdress to make fun of or to be disrespectful in any sort of way. Some people do take that the wrong way, I don't. I have a lot more to worry about in life than what everyone else is doing that might offend me. Try spending your time helping people in need and stop worrying about how others make a living. Seriously!

  22. If your father was black would that be ok for YOU to make fun of all black people and propagate racist costumes that degrade and humiliate and reinforce stereotypes? If you loved your grandfather why don't you have any contact with anyone else who is native? If being native is such a huge part of your life, why are you not up to date on issues that concern us?

  23. this wouldn't fly in Australia who has many laws that protect Indigenous art from being knocked off for profit.

  24. sorry this was directed at @mary and I cannot delete it.

  25. wow cannot believe no one would want you as part of their tribe, you seem so nice and manage to sound like a sane person about .0000004% of the time.

  26. argh, sorry again trying to post this @mary, I am having post issues then can't delete so sorry mel2cuteluv

  27. Headdresses that are made and sold for these purposes (as opposed to 'authentic' pieces sold to collectors) are not REALLY, that is to say AUTHENTICALLY Indian or Native. They do not have anything to do with the purpose of headdresses that aboriginal people would require specific rights to wear, as they are most likely made by non-Natives, and even if they are, have no where near the amount of significance that such a headdress would. In order for a headdress to be an important piece it requires certain qualities attained through such things as who the creator is (status, etc.), who has owned it in the past (important chiefs), and what it is made of (symbolic materials). The headdresses sold on Etsy are by no means related to these except for the fact that they imitate the style slightly. People making these for 'hipsters' are not using symbolic Native techniques to create them, or trying to make them appear culturally accurate; they are simply responding to a market demand for the hipster headdress based on what people think headdresses look like.

    For these reasons, I do not think that there is nothing wrong with wearing a 'hipster headdress.' They do not apply to the rules that would allow Native people to wear an important headdress. Headdresses that are made and sold by people of Native background would most likely not be sold for the purpose of wear by 'hipsters' but for collecting by respectful buyers, whereas people who desire their own headdresses to wear a few times would most likely pay less attention to accuracy and would be wearing things that hardly resemble Native headdresses at all. In my opinion there should be no offense taken to these if one can just recognize that the headdresses to not actually reflect real headdresses but are simply a different product of a new culture that has taken inspiration from a few examples of Native art.

  28. I don't think it was necessary to personally insult her for speaking her point of view based on things (like doilys) that she makes. What she does is her own choice and she is not implying that she is the most authentic Native out there. Just because a person is Native does not mean that they have to restrict themselves to making only "Native" things in only "Native" ways. Courtney is right, she is connecting with her culture through making these pieces at the level that she knows her culture and that is better than simply having nothing to do with them because she thinks they are not authentic enough. If someone were going out buying (or unjustly taking, as has been done in past decades) headdresses that have been made for specifically spiritual purposes, using specifically spiritual methods, and selling them for profit to users who have no respect for their intended purpose, I could see how someone would be offended. But these are not made with such methods and therefore do not hold significant spiritual value. And if people want to learn about the uses and making of Native regalia they are most likely not going to look for answers on Etsy... Therefore there is no reason to see them as a threat to Native culture. And there is definitely no reason to be picking through every aspect of someone's life to look for something to insult them with just because you do not agree with their position, that just shows lack of a real argument for your own position.

  29. I sat down and read all the comments on this page and I disagree with any notion that 'nastiness' will teach a lesson. It doesn't. If Mary thinks for a second that she changed Courtney's mind because of her harsh tone she is sorely mistaken. Regardless of the validity of any/all of her claims, the moment you attack someone on a personal level they shut down. They don't hear what you said, especially if the attack was unprovoked. Courtney came here upset but definitely civil as she asked her questions and any kind of personal attack just makes her less likely to consider the effect of appropriation the next time she creates a 'costume'.

    I know topics like this make people upset, they make me upset too. However if you can't calmly and coherently argue your point, you are not changing anything--you are just arguing. And fortunately for people like me who hate people that hide behind the anonymity of a username, nasty words are quickly forgotten, but well thought out ones actually can influence social change.

  30. I think she does have the right to sell them and god forbid the rest of the Western civilization telling people who's craft it came from they can't sell it if they choose. We have the same situation in Australia: there is no copyright on dots, yet people seem to think only Aboriginal people can use them: in Aboriginal culture they are in fact, the lowest form of expression and actually there to cover up their 'true' maps when they were originally done. Plus, it depends who you talk to: our uni lecturer was adamantly against it, as is this article (to that kind of thing), however, talking to an Aboriginal curator at the Art /gallery (who I also went to uni with), he said go for it: he was a modern artist who didn't see his culture as only what was done in the past: he saw it as a living breathing thing. While my first reaction was, actually the same as this article: whoa ' it's really a war headpiece?' Then honestly, should we not then be happy that now people use them to instead to celebrate all things good about Native Americans, which is a peaceful connection to nature. The aim is to hold to the beauty of the world as sacred, not just the past and traditions. The reason people are attracted to these items is to feel that lost feeling of connection. That is beautiful, gentle and considering our purpose in life is to enjoy it, thinking about it too much is just as much not honouring the opportunity we have in life. Live and enjoy without damaging anyone: and if wearing a headdress reminds people of a time when people lived in harmony with the earth, I can see how that is of benefit. As Sassafrass says below: lighten up people!

  31. exactly. I suppose I can understand a culture being offended - but look at the REASON people are attracted to all things native american. Educate them if you must, but yes, lighten the hell up. Everyone takes things too personal.

    oh, and by the way, why is it that everyone who has native blood claims it is Cherokee? Always Cherokee. Strange.

  32. The link to regretsy no longer works. It is an archived website now. The link goes to the website though of the original creator of that project: April Wilson.

  33. I am an academic assignment services provider and Academic Write, associated with sampleassignment.com since the decade. Sample Assignment is leading plagiarism free assignment help Brisbane Australia, UK, USA. We provide online conflict online assignment help customized assignment help service. We are leading the market for more than a decade now and have acquired the name of being the best academic help service for our comprehensive services at pocket-friendly rates online supply chain online assignment help and We also serve our Service to those who search assignment help Perth.