An Incomplete History of Hipster Headdresses

Inappropriate appropriation in rock circles.

Jan. 22, 2008 Brooklyn band MGMT releases its full-length debut, Oracular Spectacular. Band members Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden appear on the album cover dressed in warpaint and pseudo native garb.

Oct. 13, 2009 Neon Indian releases Psychic Chasms on Lefse Records.

Jan. 15, 2010 Adrienne Keene, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, launches the Native Appropriations blog (nativeappropriations.blogspot.com). “It starts with a trip to Urban Outfitters,” she says in her first post. “It’s no secret that many hipsters have an obsession with all things Native…but I was a little surprised at how many examples I found.”

May 29–31, 2010 The ninth annual Sasquatch! Music Festival, an event that looks more and more like a hipster costume party every year, takes place at the Gorge. The grounds are crawling with folks wearing “war paint,” headdresses, and cardboard totem poles and performing tomahawk chops. Both Neon Indian and MGMT are scheduled to perform.

Asked what the deal is with the getups, befeathered attendees’ responses range from “It’s what we’re about” to “Why not?” and “Chief Seattle, baby! Chief Seattle!”

Leaders of Chief Seattle’s Suquamish Tribe aren’t buying it. “For us, it doesn’t seem like a relevant way to acknowledge Chief Seattle,” says tribal chairman Leonard Forsman. “I think the best thing you could do would be come to Chief Seattle Days (Aug. 20–22 in Suquamish). Most of those things are ceremonial in nature, and need to be used in a ceremonial context. As you know, we didn’t wear those things here. That’s why it’s not relevant, but that wouldn’t make wearing coastal regalia [right] either…without the appropriate context.”

May 31, 2010–Today In the comments thread of our coverage of Sasquatch!’s hipster-headdress situation (blogs.seattleweekly.com/reverb), excuses and justifications range from “I think you’re trying to make a big deal out of something that’s not” to “racism is a big deal no matter whom it’s aimed at” and “we went for the music and we are all naked Indians at heart.”

Keene tells us it’s not uncommon for otherwise culturally sensitive progressives to look the other way when it comes to Natives. “People who are so quick to jump on other causes…tend to kind of ignore that what they are doing may be completely offensive and hurtful to Native people.”

July 23, 2010 MGMT is scheduled to perform at the Capitol Hill Block Party (see the Short List).

Sept. 27, 2010 Neon Indian is scheduled to perform at Showbox at the Market.

ckornelis@seattleweekly.com

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