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Headdress at a Hockey Game: Is it OK if He's Native—or Is it Worse?

A Native hockey fan felt queasy when he saw one of the other team's supporters wearing a feather headdress; then he found out the guy was Native too!
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Controversies over the wearing of a Native headdress—"warbonnet" as they are often called—often center on the issue of cultural appropriation: Someone who is not Native using a sacred item as a fashion statement. 

What we don't see quite so often is criticism within the Native community—criticism that a headdress is being worn when or where it shouldn't be. But a Native fan showed up to a hockey game in Winnipeg on Sunday wearing a headdress, and a Native journalist in the crowd has called him out for it.

"It's one thing for non-indigenous people to don headgear without knowing the context, history or sacred aspect of the headdress," writes Jordan Wheeler in his account at CBC.ca. "It's another for one of our own to do it. I've always been quick to ask restaurant and bar staffers to remove their hats with the NFL's Washington team logo on them because I found it offensive. And they always have and with respect. To a person they have always responded the same way. 'I never thought about it.' This guy didn't have that excuse."

The Winnipeg Jets were playing the Chicago Blackhawks that night, and Wheeler is a die-hard Jets fan. The man in the headdress was wearing a Blackhawks jersey, which some people in Indian country—Wheeler among them—find offensive as well. According to Wheeler, the man turned out to be "an operations manager of an Indigenous owned casino in Saskatchewan," although Wheeler did not say how he came upon this knowledge.

In Wheeler's view, the incident undercuts the efforts of those who take a stand against mascots and cultural appropriation. "By wearing the headdress the guy told every non-indigenous person on Turtle Island and beyond that it was OK to do this," he wrote, adding that "an indigenous person wearing a headdress at a sporting event does not help the argument that offensive team names should be changed."