Oh, Pharrell Is Part Native American? Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter

Source: Elle UK via showbizgeek.com

Indian Country Today

Oh, Pharrell Is Part Native American? Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter

The internet is a wonderful place for people who don't really know what they're talking about to openly speculate and confuse those who'd really like to understand the issues—that's not news. But with the latest cultural-appropriation scandal, involving Pharrell Williams wearing a feather headdress on the cover of Elle UK, Pharrell fans and self-appointed experts are pushing back by citing a detail buried in an article on the O, the Oprah Magazine New Zealand site:

"The young man whose name is derivative of his father’s (Pharaoh) and who says he has Native American and Egyptian heritages…"

Bloggers, Facebook pundits and even journalists are speculating that this claim may dull the outrage over the image—but does it work that way? Does some American Indian DNA in Pharrell's double helix make the headdress fashion choice OK? In a word, no. Here are four reasons why:

1. Not All Indians Wear Feather Headdresses

While the feather, specifically an eagle feather, is a sacred symbol in many Native American cultures, the "war bonnet" style headdress Pharrell is wearing is very specific to Plains tribes. An article at native-languages.org cites the figure of 12 tribes; this is a very small number considering that there are 566 federally recognized tribes and innumerable others that either aren't federally recognized or simply gone due to assimilation or genocide. Some of the feather-headdress-wearing tribes are large and well-known—the Lakota, the Crow, the Cheyenne—but saying that all Indians wear feather headdresses is—to use a very superficial example—like saying all Europeans wear lederhosen.

RELATED: Hipster Headdresses at Coachella: Yep, It Happened

2. Feathers Are Earned Over the Course of One's Lifetime

Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations explains this nicely in her oft-cited "But Why Can't I Wear a Hipster Headdress" post:

"Eagle feathers are presented as symbols of honor and respect and have to be earned. Some communities give them to children when they become adults through special ceremonies, others present the feathers as a way of commemorating an act or event of deep significance. Warbonnets especially are reserved for respected figures of power."

3. "Part Native American" Doesn't Cut It

A lot of people who don't self-identify as American Indian have some American Indian heritage. Many of them don't even know it. Others have a vague idea of Native heritage—there can be a grain of truth to family lore or even the "my grandmother was a Cherokee princess" cliché. But having an American Indian ancestor or relative isn't a license to use that relative's culture spontaneously and without context. Here's another way of looking at it: Many of the people who are appalled by this image are deeply connected to their Native culture and live it every day. If they say the picture is hurtful, it's hurtful, and a Cherokee grandmother doesn't change that. (By the way, the Cherokee did not have "princesses" and did not wear feather headdresses—these are two topics covered in the FAQ at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.)

Having a Native ancestor doesn't get you off the hook if you don't bother to do the homework—and if you bother to do the homework, you will not wear the headdress, and there will be no hook off of which to get… Q.E.D.

4. He's Not Paying Tribute to His Culture

For the sake of argument, say some of the above points didn't hold up. Say, perhaps, Pharrell's Native ancestor was from a Plains tribe that wore feather headdresses, and that he had studied the culture and it informed his daily life, and he had been given the feathers for accomplishments. The headdress remains a sacred ceremonial item, to be worn on special occasions. There's no tribute in wearing the headdress on the cover of Elle UK, flanked by "The Secret Life of Keira Knightley" and "All Natural Hair: 23 Products to Try Now." This is a spiritual item; on the cover of Elle UK it becomes secularized, trivialized, accessorized. Those who hold the headdress sacred might well say this is the opposite of a tribute.

We said it before: You really should have stuck with the mountie hat, Pharrell.

Comments (153)
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ShellyM
ShellyM

I tire of people today now, NOW using the Native American heritage to THEIR ADVANTAGE....ELIZABETH WARREN, anyone? Just because someone in their line may or may NOT have been native American. My husband has a woman not far back in his line that was full blood native American from the area of the Sasquahana nation...but does he claim to be native American? No, of course not. I know a young girl that is half italian and half full Navajo, her Dad is a member of the Navajo nation, and she was welcomed into the nation..not her mother, who is Italian, she was...she KNOWS her people. But now that it is in a way "cool" to be natie American everyone is jumping on the wagon; I think it is reprehensible.

CHARLES WALKINGCROW
CHARLES WALKINGCROW

Donate your money for the Elle review to the tribe he says he is from?

them cheese
them cheese

You have to understand racism and white supremacy to understand the rejection and dismissal of Pharrell's claim by many.

SupaDupaJ
SupaDupaJ

I just wanted to say to people who are native American and part of a tribe that it is hurtful when you dismiss people who have had their heritage stolen from them as I. Having a family who has lived for many generations in the same place in Texas, my DNA says that I'm 40% native American with no knowledge of my ancestors. When you say oh that DNA doesn't matter because you're not part of a tribe it's like telling me, oh you're not black cuz you're only half black it doesn't count. Think about what you say and how hurtful is to people. The area where my family has lived for many generations is where the Karankwa have gone extinct.

SupaDupaJ
SupaDupaJ

However I do agree that sacred tradition should not be disrespected

-PRH
-PRH

It is nice to have a family history. BUT what you do today is what earns one rightful recognition.

Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams

fax

KingJerel
KingJerel

I'm confused, I didn't know Native Americans were the only people who wore feathers in a headdress a simple Google would've shown you that the Natives and Dogon tribe have a eerily similar "religion" and attire.

BritheWolf
BritheWolf

I find it funny that whenever people of color claim their heritage back and find out who they really are, many people have a huge problem with it. I see white people dress up in feathers and headdresses and have dream catchers for fun all the time, but no one seems to have a problem with it. All of a sudden, it's an insult when a dark-skinned person embraces and expresses their native culture, but celebrated when a white person does it.

arsplastiques
arsplastiques

I'm late reading this, but this is an excellent article, thank you.

Rudymoreno0512
Rudymoreno0512

Well my name is Rudy Moreno and I know I'm Native American from Navajo and also Asian. My mother chicana in other words Mexican. And the reason I know that is because I asked my Uncle Bear which is Navajo and my Father Mario Sunica Moreno. I look up my heritage because I want to learn it more and to know where my family is from.

RhysGalenRigsby
RhysGalenRigsby

Pharrell didn't earn those feathers.. he needs to take them tf off.

Prof_Goods
Prof_Goods

Since everyone is so insulted by Pharrell’s discovery of part of his ancestry you should be embarrassed how he became. Because I guarantee you his African ancestor was raped by Native American. Go ask the elders!! Guarantee the tribe lost those records. They seem to lose records of Africans captured and raped for hundreds of years before the Indian nation itself was conquered!!

10 Replies

LiannaCostantino
LiannaCostantino

What a shame to see Black people trying to take from the First People's of what is now known as the U.S. with this nonsense. We should be on the same side.

hazcatken
hazcatken

yeah like seriously what your enemy here is white patriarchy as are the first people's at what point along the way did you accidentally get racist too

CrazyEyes
CrazyEyes

5% of Trans Atlantic Slave Trade came to U.S. There are Federally recognized Copper colored tribes still around. Whites described dark colored copper complexion curly haired people in the East when they arrived hundreds of years ago. If you think Plains indians are Siberian and Blacks are Africans, or whatever doesn't change the fact that we were both here prior to Colonials.

Joe The Eurosquatter
Joe The Eurosquatter

Go look at copper tubing at Home Depot and tell me that it is, broadly speaking, the colour of Black people.

autochthonous
autochthonous

Look at various shades of copper pennies for what we copper-colored people look like. Better yet, do some research and read some first-hand accounts of who the autochthonous people of this land were and are.

BlackCloud.
BlackCloud.

They seem to lose, or they want you to think the lost the records, Did you ask Pharrell if his ancestors are nubian? Don't assume

BlackCloud.
BlackCloud.

U think they had copper tubing at Home Depot back in the 14-1700s? Don't divert. the closest we can get is probably old copper from back then.. Don't use modern day stuff that is refined and shined, cause back then it wasn't modern.

David Franklin
David Franklin

Dude. Does it matter whether you're native to a place? Someone who's ancestors have been here thousands of years can be a major scumbag, and someone who's fresh from Laos or wherever could be honorable and respectful.
So your ancestors came from Africa as slaves - so what? It's not your shame they were slaves, and there's nothing wrong with African ancestry.
But it is important to have respect. Kufuneka ukubek' intlonipho.

BlackCloud.
BlackCloud.

Those weren't "Africans"
Those were other Native Americans...
Also " The Spaniards Reclassified the Tainos that they enslaved as African"

BlackCloud.
BlackCloud.

the problem is that
The history you speak of
Is not our history....
My family has a totally different story ...
The History book that europeans introduced to us, might contain what they saw in our culture, but I don't know of any of my people actually WRITING the history book itself...
Whose history is this really...

Horsecreek Steve
Horsecreek Steve

Your comments needs a response. When a person clams to be Native American Indian without being a Federally registered Tribal member or proven ancestry it is stealing the heritage of those who are and it works to break down the fiber of Tribal Sovereignty. While DNA can prove a direct connection to another person it is very lacking in proving one's American Indian ancestry. Those who represent these DNA companies have made billions from suggesting that one can prove American Indian ancestry. Being native American and Native American Indian are two different classes of people. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129554-400-there-is-no-dna-test-to-prove-youre-native-american/

hazcatken
hazcatken

No matter who you are, I think something we can all take away from this article is NA culture isn't a cute look and NA ancestry isn't a fun fact. A person benefiting from and voluntarily remaining in the system founded off Native American genocide and erasure will never have the right to don that culture, regardless of what the little 123andMe kit they got for Christmas said when it came back. Your genetic makeup doesn't excuse you to walk in and choose what parts of a culture you want to show off and what parts ignore. It's a way of life. And that is insulting. I have zero Native American DNA. In fact, I have zero "minority" DNA, period. When my parents (to my dismay) did a test I found out I am indeed as white as Christopher Colombus (or maybe even more). I have lived my entire life benefiting from that. And if it came back 14% plains peoples that fact wouldn't have changed. Your genetics do cause people to treat you a certain way (racism) thus forming a personal culture and contributing to preexisting ones, but they don't mold a culture by themselves. They aren't a golden ticket. Justifying this offensive ideology perpetrated by Elle and a clearly misled Pharrell Williams with DNA is exactly what we need to fight against if we want to understand race, culture, and intersectionality in a healthy light

jorgemontiel
jorgemontiel

Thank you so much for the information. Very good post https://apkmoto.com/

coolhorse
coolhorse

There were over 500 Nations and who is to say what each of them did or did not do.

Some of those Nations were lost forever so again who knows what is what.

If he is proud of his heritage and he shows the headdress in a positive light then so be it.

I can see the complaint if it was portraying his love for HIS heritage in a negative way.

Bottlefinger
Bottlefinger

I understand your thoughts on the ALL OF A SUDDEN native with a picture with a head dress. I grew up and saw Redbone on Midnight Special. They are native and have every right to attire themselves thusly BUT it inspired in me a desire to know more. I was blown away by the dance, the attire and their look. I ended up in rock-n-roll bands wearing moccasin boots but that was it. I have since then read many books that have illuminated a great respect and love for the culture and I list Black Elk, Chief Joseph and Crazy Horse as some of my heroes. Jumping on the band wagon is very nauseating for me, let alone natives. The culture is due its respect and the spiritual part of it is proven truer to me everyday. Sometimes an awkward moment opens the doors to inspection into something new and enlightening.

Getoveryourself
Getoveryourself

No body better wear a cowboy hat cause they might offend some rednecks. Jeez, get over yourself. Come on you're no longer hunter-gatherers; you go too Costco. I respect everyone. Until they start aggressively whining for 'equality'. Have a little pride. Take the high road. So some lame pop star wore a headdress. Shows how lame he is. But you getting your feathers all ruffled over it makes you lame too.

johnsmith101
johnsmith101

this is an excellent article, thank you.

Redpaint _37
Redpaint _37

Nervy

Ms Peggy Lee
Ms Peggy Lee

all my relations❤

BlackCloud.
BlackCloud.

There is great misunderstanding...
And it still is killing people silently today..
It is separating families
The Whole "Black" and "White" narrative was created by a man named Walter Plecker.
He was a eugenist and hated the fact that Darkskinned people were truthfully putting Indian, on the birth certificates of their babies.
So Amerindians that "seemed" white were changed to white
and Amerindians that had darker skin were reclassified as black.

There were no cameras back then, but people drew paintings of Amerindians.
Plenty of people try to cover this up, but when dealing with the truth, truth will reveal itself , u just gotta look.
Many people self Identify as "African American" or black, but they never really look into their actual heritage through the years.
Plz do research on this because "black people" are the other Indians that the government has been covering up.