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Headdresses Passed Out on First Day of School Spark Outrage

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A picture posted by mother Jennifer Dorner has started yet another conversation about why not to wear costume headdresses. She took the image while dropping her children off for their first day of school at Montreal’s École Lajoie on Monday, August 29. The image shows a Grade 3 teacher in a headdress in front of the children, and according to Dorner, smaller headdresses were being handed out for the children to wear.

According to the Montreal Gazette, when Dorner’s niece Zoe was handed a headdress she “didn’t know what to do. She wanted to rip it up,” Dorner said. “She was upset and sad and this really set a sad tone to the first day. It was heartbreaking.”

Sarah Dorner, Zoe’s mother, told thestar.com that her daughter refused to wear the headdress.

“We have been teaching our children that costumes like that are inappropriate,” Dorner also said. “The other kids in the class were all wearing them.”

“A lot of children aren’t necessarily taught cultural sensitivity or have much awareness about indigenous cultures,” she went on to say. “But in our family we have many indigenous friends, so it’s a conversation we’ve had many times.”

Gina Guillemette, a Margeurite-Bourgeoys school board spokesperson, told news outlets that the two teachers seen sporting headdresses have backgrounds in anthropology and history and are introducing indigenous history into the curriculum. Guillemette also told CBC News the headdresses worn by teachers were a way for the kids to know which “family, or class, to go to.”

Guillemette told the Gazette that “the teachers decided to wear hats to symbolize that they were Native chiefs,” to separate their students from another Grade 3 class.

“No offence was intended—if any parents were offended, we apologize,” Guillemette told the Gazette. “We didn’t want to offend anyone. It was the opposite; we wanted to sensitize the students to the contributions of native communities.”

Courtesy Jennifer Dorner/Facebook

Jennifer Dorner posted this image after dropping her kids off on the first day of school in Montreal.

But the headdress is not a costume with brightly colored feathers, it is an honor and part of a cultural tradition.

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“How can they possibly be teaching an authentic understanding of indigenous culture? Dorner asked thestar.com. “It doesn’t help their cause to say that. If anything, it makes it even more distressing.”

This isn’t the first time Dorner has addressed cultural sensitivity with the school either. In 2014, “they were doing a play where Santa goes to Africa and gets Ebola and gets sick and the local tribes are dancing around him and my daughter was going to be in blackface,” she told the Gazette.

“We managed to convince the school not to do blackface at the time, but they still kept the story line. Santa ends up being saved by scientists who come from the North Pole.”

She met with the school multiple times in 2014, according to the Gazette to discuss “cultural appropriation and this kind of insensitivity and was hoping that we had come to some kind of understanding, but apparently not. Which is why I’m particularly upset this time. The message doesn’t seem to be sinking in.”