A photo of a woman in a traditional Plains headdress at Toronto Pearson Airport has started circulating the Internet after it was posted to Twitter by Cree artist Christi Belcourt.
Response to the photo has been varied, from confusion to disappointment and anger. See some of the Twitter reactions below as well as an explanation via Belcourt on why this appropriation is so out of line.
TL;DR People on Twitter are in a state of shock and awe after seeing a photo of a woman in a traditional Plains headdress... a Pearson Airport in Toronto. Scroll down to read why this is so upsetting, from the Cree woman who took the photo, as well as many Twitter reactions.
Here is the original tweet, sent out by Cree woman Christi Belcourt:
Arrivals. Airport. Toronto. Looks like this Canadian didn’t get the memo of how incredibly wrong this is. 🤢🤮 pic.twitter.com/mtWoPXOBen— Christi Belcourt (@christibelcourt) February 15, 2019
For anyone who has yet to do some reading in why this is offensive please read this : https://t.co/H6WqqdZEsj— Christi Belcourt (@christibelcourt) February 15, 2019
The most important response was the first one, made by Belcourt herself. It is a comprehensive letter explaining exactly why it is so hurtful to appropriate headdresses in this way.
Other people were just straight up confused...
I have SO many questions— Partunia (@Partunia) February 15, 2019
“I’m so curious about what her story is.” Who is she? Where is she from? Why did she do this? What is her message. In her words.— N8iveSoccerBum (@N8iveSoccerBum) February 15, 2019
The flight was apparently coming from Costa Rica so... did she fly down there with it? Or purchase it there as a souvenir?!
The intricacy of the feater and beadwork make it seem like an authentic Indigenous piece.
wonder where she got it from.. she didnt get it from no halloween store.. but it is beautiful though— NOVA SCOTIAN (@blackiejames1) February 15, 2019
No, but those headdresses are VERY exclusive to the Nations they belong to, and every single feather on them has to be EARNED. Wearing one when you didn't earn it is stolen valor, just like wearing medals that weren't awarded to you. It's beyond disrespectful.— GodzillawiȟópečA (@LeftistGodzilla) February 15, 2019
As people explained, wearing a headdress like the one in the picture above carries similar weight to displaying a diploma. Each feather represents a milestone in a person's life.
When you wear them without having earned them, it can feel fraudulent and appropriative to people that truly understand the weight of these pieces.
Which is why most people's reactions were just... not impressed.
Or otherwise, people couldn't help but express their shock and disappointment.
Those Damn Ojibway Boys meme pic.twitter.com/COQ7VCFLPR— Janine Manning (@NewStarWoman) February 15, 2019
What a week we're having... first chair girl, now this woman.
C'mon Toronto, you gotta step it up.
What the AF?! pic.twitter.com/CZziT0kIGP— Moana Maniapoto (@moanatribe) February 15, 2019
Some people brought up the point that it's impossible to know this woman's heritage.
However, even then this choice raises questions.
You are assuming she isn't indigenous.— Dave Waddling (@waddling) February 15, 2019
I was on this plane and she was wearing it all the way from Costa Rica. Who knows her story...the flight attendant kept it at the front for good keeping. Maybe it was passed down from family? Without hearing her side, we cannot make assumptions that this was a disrespectful act.— Nova Paws (@nova_paws) February 15, 2019
As the Open Letter above explains, even someone with partial Native roots can still be disrespectful towards symbols they don't completely understand.
Generally, these Plains headdresses are worn only by men and it is "very rare for women in Plains cultures to wear these headdresses, and their ability to do so is again quite restricted."
So even if this woman was gifted this headdress by someone, the donning of it on an international flight seems... strange. We need answers!
We will update you if any details come to light or if the woman comes forward.