Problematic Headdresses at Coachella

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (commonly referred to as Coachella) is an annual festival held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. The event features many genres of music, including rock, indie, hip hop, and electronic dance music, as well as art installations and sculptures. The festival’s origins date back to a 1993 Pearl Jam concert that was performed at the Empire Polo Club because the band refused to perform at any venue controlled by the company Ticketmaster. Coachella began occurring on an annual basis in April 2001 as a single-day event. In 2002, the festival expanded to a two-day format. Coachella then developed a third day in 2007 and eventually added a second weekend in 2012. It is currently held on two consecutive three-day weekends in April, with each weekend offering identical lineups. This year, Coachella was held on the weekends of April 15-17 and April 22-24. The festival hosted acts such as Guns N’ Roses, Calvin Harris, and Ice Cube. Richmond’s own Reggie Pace, trombone player from NO BS! Brass Band (which includes Collegiate’s own Jazz and Middle School Band teacher Byran Hooten) played there this year with Sufjan Stevens.

Coachella, along with similar music festivals, draws in huge and vastly diverse crowds. However, one thing that binds them all together is fashion. Festival fashion, as it has come to be known, cannot be defined in one single category. Festival looks can be as simple as a flower crown and fringed jean shorts, or as wild as a full Santa Claus suit. Business Insider says, “The annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival has become as much a fashion show as it is about the music.”  

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Coachella goer outfitted in a Santa Claus suit. Photo credit: Buzzfeed.

Popular clothing sites such as Topshop, Free People, and Forever 21 have even dedicated sections of their websites solely to festival fashion. On top of that, top fashion magazines including Vogue, Elle, and Glamour publish countless articles displaying the best and worst of Coachella fashion.

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Photo credit: Matt Cowan/Getty Images.

MADRID, SPAIN - JUNE 09: Two people dressed as hippies pose for a picture at the Jarama Circuit on June 9, 2013 in Madrid, Spain. The Jarama Vintage Festival seeks to revive the 1960s, 70s and 80s attracting classic cars and motorbikes against a background of public orientated activities and shows. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Photo credit: Pablo Dominguez/Getty Images.

While the fashion trends seen at Coachella are definitely not something people typically see on a day-to-day basis (at least outside of New York and L.A.), they are usually not offensive. However, one Coachella trend has always caused a significant amount of controversy. Native American headdresses have been seen on the heads of both male and female attendees at Coachella for years. Many people who find the headdresses offensive believe that when non-natives wear them, they are disrespecting their deep cultural significance. Every year the internet is plastered with outrage pieces and explanations on why Coachella attendees should not do this. Unfortunately, while a good majority of people do listen, there is a population of people who ignore the annual reminders, believing they will miraculously be the stylish, ironic, or cool exception to years of people telling them otherwise. 

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Photo credit: Jason Sheldon.

In 2014, Los Angeles Weekly reached out to Nakia Zavalla, cultural director of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, who said, “We’d prefer that people don’t wear war bonnets to music festivals. It doesn’t represent us well as Natives… Our feeling is that we don’t like that and we don’t want our culture to be represented in that way. There are different ways of expressing an appreciation to Natives. You can get to know our traditions or come to our public gatherings.” The article further explains that the wearing of feathers and warbonnets in Native communities is most certainly not a fashion choice, like many festival goers may perceive it to be. Eagle feathers are awarded as symbols of honor and respect and must be earned. Some communities give them to children when they become adults through special ceremonies, and others present the feathers as a way of commemorating an act or event of deep significance. War bonnets, especially, are reserved for revered, powerful figures. The other issue is that war bonnets are reserved for men in Native communities. However, most Coachella pictures show women outfitted in headdresses as well. Academic, activist, and Cherokee Nation member Adrienne Keene, who chronicles the misuse of indigenous culture on her Native Appropriations blog, says,“It’s really frustrating to me that we still have to have this conversation because the information is so easily accessible now… If anyone would have googled ‘native headdress’ it pops up. It’s not just me, it’s everywhere! It’s a choice at this point to be ignorant because this is popping up every couple of weeks, to the point where I struggle to find new ways to talk about it.”

INDIO, CA - APRIL 19: Guests attend day 2 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 19, 2014 in Indio, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella)

Photo credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella.

While most crazy Coachella fashion may be in good fun, it is important to be smart, conscientious people. The recurring trend of headdresses at Coachella is deeply disrespectful and misrepresents an entire culture. Next time, Coachella goers should trade in their headdresses for more flower crowns and Santa Claus suits.

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About the author

Kate Kinder is a junior at Collegiate