Though sports teams using names, gestures, and uniforms offensive to Native Americans has been a subject of debate for many years, the issue of ravers wearing garb inspired by tribes has flown largely under the radar.
Despite criticism from various media outlets (including the Weekly), the practice has only seemed to grow in popularity at popular festivals with an EDM component like Electric Daisy Carnival, Hard, and Coachella.
The controversy has come front and center this year to Lightning in a Bottle, which begins today at a new location north of San Luis Obispo – one which happens to be located on the traditional grounds of the Chumash Native American tribe.
Dede Flemming is one of the three brothers who founded the DoLab, which puts on Lightning in a Bottle. He tells us that, in advance of the festival, the organizers spoke with tribe members. “The Chumash were glad that we reached out to them and are happy that we're addressing this issue and hope it helps educate more people as to the significance of wearing traditional regalia,” Flemming says.
He adds that they also spoke about the festival's new location, Monterey County Park. “As a symbolic gesture, we reached out to them to ask for permission to use their land. We didn't have to ask them, but we wanted to do so symbolically, out of respect. One of the Chumash elders [Tribal Chairman Lone Wolf] will be with us for the opening ceremony.”
Lightning in a Bottle's website features a note about the issue of Native American-inspired fashion. (A larger version is near the bottom here.)
Flemming says the disclaimer was added last year. “We are letting people know what the implications are with wearing such attire,” he says. “It's become more and more popular to wear these headdresses. I get it that people that don't understand the meaning behind it, and people simply don't know that it's offensive. We thought we would address it.”
Nakia Zavalla, cultural director of the Santa Ynez band of Chumash Indians, says…
…that the tribe frowns upon such attire at these types of events.
“We'd prefer that people don't wear war bonnets to music festivals. It doesn't represent us well as Natives,” she says.
“The Chumash don't wear war bonnets; we have different regalia, but Chumash headdresses are worn for specific, cultural reasons. 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.”
Some ravers we've talked to say there's a respectful way to go about this – it's not dressing up like a Halloween costume, for starters. (Or even wearing the headdresses like the ones on this Etsy page, which have very little to do with Native American culture.)
One person's fashion evolution can be offensive to another. So this issue is not likely to go away soon, but if you're planning your Lightning in a Bottle outfit and are looking for a general rule of thumb, we'd say leave the headdresses at home.