Rock Stars Wearing War bonnet

The wearing of American Indian regalia by non-Indians, particularly the feather headdress or “war bonnet,” is a vexing issue in Indian country. It’s stirred up a lot of controversy in recent years as a hipster fashion trend, but it’s been with us for decades. Still, many people of all races wonder, what’s the big deal?

Adrienne K of Native Appropriations writes that a non-Indian casually wearing an Indian headdress “furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are one monolithic culture, when in fact there are 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures.

It also places Native people in the historic past, as something that cannot exist in modern society. We don’t walk around in ceremonial attire everyday, but we still exist and are still Native.” She also draws attention to the deep spiritual significance of a headdress and maintains that when a non-Indian wears one “it’s just like wearing blackface.”

In a post at the author writes of wearing the headdress: “Unfortunately if you’re a woman, you’re thumbing your nose at our culture which explicitly disallows you to wear the headdress. … If you’re a man, it’s still not appropriate to wear one, unless you’ve actually earned it, according to your tribe (no, you cannot pretend you’ve made a new tribe etc.)”

We won’t pretend that every single Native would agree with these statements—Indians are not a monolithic culture—but certainly many, perhaps even most, would say they dislike the headdress’s status as a gimmicky costume or hipster fashion accessory. But non-Native musicians seem particularly enamored of it—here are a baker’s dozen who’ve donned the feathers:

1. Jamiroquai

British band Jamiroquai gets its name from tacking “jam” onto (slightly misspelled) “Iroquois.” So lead singer Jay Kay obviously digs the Indians in his own jammy way. Although perhaps he does not dig them enough to do the research.

2. Outkast

Outkast’s performance at the 2004 Grammy Awards may be one of the most detested cultural misappropriations, largely because of the Poca-hottie dancers filling up the stage, but the buckskin getups worn by Andre 3000 and Big Boi certainly didn’t help. But it is the DJ (possibly Mr. DJ, Outkast’s go-to spinner) who really takes the cake, wearing a giant headdress as he scratches. Get down with your bad self, Chief. Suzan Shown Harjo, writing for Indian Country Today, described the costumes as “Indian drag” and remarked of her Grammy-watching experience, “I felt like I’d been mugged in my own home.”

3. Karen O

With this adornment the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs begs the question, “is a feather headdress sacred if it’s not made of feathers?” Karen O’s is made of hand-shaped fabric cutouts—they’re clearly meant to suggest American Indian garb (as are the rainbow-colored tennis shoe-moccasins), but has Karen (or her designer) “done enough” to distance this from a true headdress?

4. Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent probably thinks he can get away with anything he wants because he is crazy as a loon, and except when he suggests he might kill the President he pretty much does. So it’s little surprise that he busts out this enormous gag headdress whenever he can. It’s ironic that the man who wrote “Great White Buffalo” in praise of Native American lifeways could be so clueless about the significance of this headdress.

5. Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater

Chicago blues man Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater doesn’t have any known Native heritage, but he does have a hat. He often wears it on stage; like many of the musicians here he probably doesn’t see any harm in it. Now, naming one of his albums Reservation Blues—that was pushing it a bit, we thinks.

6. Ke$ha

Even those who have no interest in American Indian culture gave this outfit a hearty whaaaa…? when Ke$ha wore it on American Idol. And then they proceeded to rip her showmanship. Newsday blogger Jamshid Mousavinezhad wrote a post titled “Kesha Annoys Us All on American Idol“ in which declared it “a train wreck of a performance.”

7. Stevie Ray Vaughan

8. Thundercat

Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner is a bass player who’s worked with Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg, and has been the touring bassist for Suicidal Tendencies since 2002. You might for a moment think he’s going all in on the pretendian thing with the name Thundercat—but he’s not. It comes from the ’80s animated series about cat-like space warriors.

9. Steve Aoki

Steve Aoki ft. Kid Cudi & Travis Barker 'Cudi The Kid' from Jam Sutton on Vimeo.

Producer/DJ Steve Aoki wears it at the beginning and end of this video for “Cudi the Kid (ft. Travis Barker and Kid Cudi)”—he probably thinks the cultural mashup of a Japanese guy in a feather headdress looks cool. Not as cool as the burning clowns and psychotic nuns we see later in the clip, but still, not bad. Sacred regalia can’t really compete with burning clowns, but then, what can?

10- Juliette & the Licks

The Indian headdress was a favored accessory of proto-hipster Juliette Lewis during her run as the lead singer of Juliette & the Licks. For some artists, though, the goal is to be offensive, and all there is to do is congratulate her on achieving it.

11. 1910 Fruitgum Company

Sometimes an album cover doesn’t directly relate to any of the music on the disc—sadly, that was not the case with Indian Giver, an album by bubblegum popsters 1910 Fruitgum Co. Actual lyrics to the title track included “Indian giver, Indian giver / You took your love away from me. / Indian giver, Indian giver, / Took back the love you gave to me.” With a song like that, you might as well go whole hog and Skin it up on the cover. They’re mixing their metaphors here, though — Pocahontas (Eastern), feather headdress (Plains), and cigars (wooden).

12. Dr. John

In his early days, Dr. John performed as Dr. John the Nite Tripper, and wore a feather headdress that has some American Indian styling to it. However, Dr. John has always been fascinated with voodoo, so its possible that the real target of his disrespect is Haiti, with only a glancing blow struck against American Indians.

13. The Dirty Diamond

Here’s some not-bad psychedelia from a group that clearly worships at the altar of George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. You have to wonder, though, why nobody on the set thought to tap lead singer Sam Babayan on the shoulder and whisper in his ear, “Dude, wrong kind of Indian…”
Via Indian Country Today (Article originally published)

Feathered war bonnets (also called warbonnets or headdresses) are worn by honored Plains Indian men. In the past they were sometimes worn into battle, but most often worn for ceremonial occasions as is the case today. They are seen as items of great spiritual and magical importance.[1][2] The eagle is considered by Plains tribes as the greatest and most powerful of all birds, and thus the finest bonnets are made out of its feathers.

Its beauty was considered of secondary importance; the bonnet's real value was in its supposed power to protect the wearer. The bonnet is still only to be worn on special occasions and is highly symbolic.

The bonnet had to be earned through brave deeds in battle because the feathers signified the deeds themselves. Some warriors might have obtained only two or three honor feathers in their whole lifetime, so difficult were they to earn.

Responses to "13 Rock Stars Who’ve Worn Native Headdresses (and Probably Shouldn’t Have)"

  1. Anonymous says:

    FORGOT TO ADD LADY GAGA in her Video Dance People are Partying drinking WOmen are Wearing a Tradional HeadDress in the Video acting Drunk VERY VERY DISTASTEFUL LADY GAGA YOUR DISGUSTING!! why these people have to wear a
    HeadDress why doont they party and shoot Video's Wearing a YamaKah ?

  2. Anonymous says:

    What about dude from The Village People?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Or... not a rock star, Calvin Coolidge? But I think he was being made an honorary member of one of the U.S. tribes after passage of the Indian Citizen Act of 1924.

  4. Anonymous says:

    how about joey belladonna from anthrax, they have a song indians,not sure if he has native blood in him or not or how about cher she wore a headdress alot in the early days.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think you forgot the worst ! Ugly Gaga of course
    and yes, those guys :


  6. Anonymous says:

    I think Cher has First Nation blood in her, at least I read that back in the 60's. Much, much better that Lady Gag-Us!

  7. Anonymous says:

    and that weird dutch girl that entered the european songfestival in 2012.........

  8. Anonymous says:

    Let the dead (Stevie Ray Vaughan) rest in peace, jackasses.

  9. Anonymous says:

    So you're more upset about pointing out that S.R.V. should not have worn the headdress than the disrespect it shows to millions of native Americans that were killed, marginalized or otherwise exploited over the last several hundred years? Your priorities are...interesting.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Cher and her Cherokee People song.

  11. Cher does have Native Blood... however last time I checked she IS FEMALE... & it clearly says above females don't wear them

  12. Anonymous says:

    The tribes should come together to explore cultural property rights. Engage lawyers - it's the only way to cease this type of disrespect.

  13. Leo says:

    people uses native custom for halloween is also an issue...

  14. Anonymous says:

    Don't hate. Educate!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Cher is of Native decent but doesn't seem to know that Cherokees did not wear these head dresses. A turban like hat would have been more appropriate.

  16. Anonymous says:

    It's just shameful,damn want-a-be's where are the laws that is to protect tribal rights?

  17. Anonymous says:

    was Cher's DNA ever provened? And if so, who investigated?

  18. Anonymous says:

    I am a Native American, and it bothers me, but its not the end of the world.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Yes, Halloween costumes mocking other cultures is wrong.
    Yes, making a fool out of yourself in another culture's spiritual garb is wrong.
    Yes, non-native musicians could probably use a bit more respect and discretion when picking out and performing in costumes.
    I will however disagree that Dr. John should be on this list. The Voodoo religion is one of his main inspirations and the name he performs under is out of respect and fascination of a true historical figure of Louisiana. I feel like out of everyone on this list, he is doing the whole cross-culture thing correctly. Haitians are not the "target of his disrespect" nor does him wearing garb of a culture he respects and is inspired by constitute a "glancing blow struck against American Indians."
    It is tough to figure out where to draw the line between who "does it right" vs. who "does it wrong," but I do not think it is fair to point fingers at people we do not personally know and accuse them of being bigots just because they decided to have a photo shoot with a headdress on.
    In this case, a man growing up around and being inspired by Voodoo culture has a right to pay tribute to what has led him into his music career.

    Just a few thoughts, Nice job on the article.

  20. Anonymous says:

    so over it.

  21. Deanna says:

    If they did love the culture they would not emulate it...they may not understand it as an Indian would, but they dont mean any harm or disrespect. I'm thinking this sounds like Indians want to control freedom of expression...everything does not have to be turned into a big issue.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Okay if white people can't wear headdresses then American Indians can't wear crosses....this is dumb... I'm Native American and I could give two shits about this.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Here is MY opinion. I am full blood Lakota from the Oglala Sioux's. I was raised in my traditional ways and I respect them. This is to the native american who says, "two shits". I too wear a cross, BUT i RESPECT my Lakota ways and I RESPECT who i am. The Head Dress is used in HONOR. And we Lakota's are not trying to 'control' freedom, we are simply saying RESPECT. My name is Candi Red Cloud from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Pila Maya Pi!

  24. Anonymous says:

    You better leave Dr John off of this list.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Errr, it's not really the same as wearing a cross. Pop stars acting shit faced in a headdress is not even close to being the same as a native person wearing a cross 'cuz people wearing crosses weren't murdered and pillaged in this country. A headdress is a sacred symbol that's getting tossed around for a trendy hipster fad right now; crosses most certainly are not trendy.

    That's like saying reverse racism against white people exists. It doesn't.

  26. Anonymous says:

    yes, reverse racism DOES exist. what a silly thing to say. anyone can be a minority. i was the only white girl in my school in inner city atlanta, coming from a relatively well integrated school with several races before that, and on my first day of 4th grade, when no one had ever met me before and i was very shy, i was beat up three times for being a 'cracker' and a 'honky' and a teacher saw it and ignored it. racism exists in all races. people who are not racist also exist in all races.

  27. I never knew it was disrepectful for a female to wear a headdress. I apologize for doing it when I was younger and I in NO WAY meant to offend any Native Americans!!!! I respect them all!!!!

  28. I agree that more people should have inquired as to what a headdress means to native americans. It is an ignorant act. I was once at a graduation ceremony and was asked to take pictures even though i was just there to support someone. The students had a smudge and I, stupidly, took pics. NO ONE stopped me until one woman got upset and I realized I was doing something wrong. I felt beyond horrible. Yes I should have asked but there were many people who should have also told me because our culture takes pictures of EVERYTHING. I intruded on that womans personal spirituality ( not to mention all the others that never said anything) and I had no idea I was doing it because it was assumed that I should just automatically know..So, what i'm getting at is that, many of these people are not thinking and bringing this up is good to educated them. But please don't assume that they are doing it to be hateful. And to ANONYMOUS who thinks there is such a thing as reverse racism...i'm here to educate you...Racism is Racism definition it's this:

    The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as...
    Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different RACE based on such a belief. OR -
    Racism is generally defined as actions, practices, or beliefs that reflect the racial worldview: the ideology that humans are divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called "races". This ideology entails the belief that members of a race share a set of characteristic traits, abilities, or qualities, that traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural behavioral characteristics are inherited, and that this inheritance means that races can be ranked as innately superior or inferior to others.

    If you judge another race by these definitions then it IS racism and it's not only whites who are racist. Hate is hate no matter which you look at it.

  29. and i am aware my grammar is horrible.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Elaborate headdresses have been worn throughout history by many different cultures, but many Americans mistakenly believe it is unique to Native American tribes.

    Native Americans are not the only people in the world to come up with idea of wearing headdresses, or even feathered headdresses. They were worn by tribes throughout europe, asia, and australia in ancient times in various styles for thousands of years.

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