Jay Kay of Jamiroquai always seems to have sacred Indian regalia on the brain.

13 Rock Stars Who've Worn Native Headdresses (and Probably Shouldn't Have)

ICTMN Staff
6/8/12

The wearing of American Indian regalia by non-Indians, particularly the feather headdress or "war bonnet," is a vexing issue in Indian country. It's stirred up a lot of controversy in recent years as a hipster fashion trend, but it's been with us for decades. Still, many people of all races wonder, what's the big deal?

Adrienne K of Native Appropriations writes that a non-Indian casually wearing an Indian headdress "furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are one monolithic culture, when in fact there are 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. It also places Native people in the historic past, as something that cannot exist in modern society. We don't walk around in ceremonial attire everyday, but we still exist and are still Native." She also draws attention to the deep spiritual significance of a headdress and maintains that when a non-Indian wears one "it's just like wearing blackface." In a post at mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com the author writes of wearing the headdress: "Unfortunately if you’re a woman, you’re thumbing your nose at our culture which explicitly disallows you to wear the headdress. ... If you’re a man, it’s still not appropriate to wear one, unless you’ve actually earned it, according to your tribe (no, you cannot pretend you’ve made a new tribe etc.)"

We won't pretend that every single Native would agree with these statements—Indians are not a monolithic culture—but certainly many, perhaps even most, would say they dislike the headdress's status as a gimmicky costume or hipster fashion accessory. But non-Native musicians seem particularly enamored of it—here are a baker's dozen who've donned the feathers:

1. Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai

British band Jamiroquai gets its name from tacking "jam" onto (slightly misspelled) "Iroquois." So lead singer Jay Kay obviously digs the Indians in his own jammy way. Although perhaps he does not dig them enough to do the research.

2. Outkast

Outkast's performance at the 2004 Grammy Awards may be one of the most detested cultural misappropriations, largely because of the Poca-hottie dancers filling up the stage, but the buckskin getups worn by Andre 3000 and Big Boi certainly didn't help. But it is the DJ (possibly Mr. DJ, Outkast's go-to spinner) who really takes the cake, wearing a giant headdress as he scratches. Get down with your bad self, Chief. Suzan Shown Harjo, writing for Indian Country Today, described the costumes as "Indian drag" and remarked of her Grammy-watching experience, "I felt like I’d been mugged in my own home."

3. Karen O

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

With this adornment the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs begs the question, "is a feather headdress sacred if it's not made of feathers?" Karen O's is made of hand-shaped fabric cutouts—they're clearly meant to suggest American Indian garb (as are the rainbow-colored tennis shoe-moccasins), but has Karen (or her designer) "done enough" to distance this from a true headdress?

4. Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent probably thinks he can get away with anything he wants because he is crazy as a loon, and except when he suggests he might kill the President he pretty much does. So it's little surprise that he busts out this enormous gag headdress whenever he can. It's ironic that the man who wrote "Great White Buffalo" in praise of Native American lifeways could be so clueless about the significance of this headdress.

5. Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater

Eddy The Chief Clearwater

Chicago blues man Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater doesn't have any known Native heritage, but he does have a hat. He often wears it on stage; like many of the musicians here he probably doesn't see any harm in it. Now, naming one of his albums Reservation Blues—that was pushing it a bit, we thinks.

6. Ke$ha

Kesha

Even those who have no interest in American Indian culture gave this outfit a hearty whaaaa...? when Ke$ha wore it on American Idol. And then they proceeded to rip her showmanship. Newsday blogger Jamshid Mousavinezhad wrote a post titled "Kesha Annoys Us All on American Idol" in which declared it "a train wreck of a performance."

7. Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan

SRV, WTF?

8. Thundercat

Thundercat

Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner is a bass player who's worked with Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg, and has been the touring bassist for Suicidal Tendencies since 2002. You might for a moment think he's going all in on the pretendian thing with the name Thundercat—but he's not. It comes from the '80s animated series about cat-like space warriors.

9. Steve Aoki

Producer/DJ Steve Aoki wears it at the beginning and end of this video for "Cudi the Kid (ft. Travis Barker and Kid Cudi)"—he probably thinks the cultural mashup of a Japanese guy in a feather headdress looks cool. Not as cool as the burning clowns and psychotic nuns we see later in the clip, but still, not bad. Sacred regalia can't really compete with burning clowns, but then, what can?

10. Juliette & the Licks

Juliette Lewis and the Licks

The Indian headdress was a favored accessory of proto-hipster Juliette Lewis during her run as the lead singer of Juliette & the Licks. For some artists, though, the goal is to be offensive, and all there is to do is congratulate her on achieving it.

11. 1910 Fruitgum Company

1910 Fruitgum Co, Indian Giver

Sometimes an album cover doesn't directly relate to any of the music on the disc—sadly, that was not the case with Indian Giver, an album by bubblegum popsters 1910 Fruitgum Co. Actual lyrics to the title track included "Indian giver, Indian giver / You took your love away from me. / Indian giver, Indian giver, / Took back the love you gave to me." With a song like that, you might as well go whole hog and Skin it up on the cover. They're mixing their metaphors here, though -- Pocahontas (Eastern), feather headdress (Plains), and cigars (wooden).

12. Dr. John

Dr John the Nite Tripper

In his early days, Dr. John performed as Dr. John the Nite Tripper, and wore a feather headdress that has some American Indian styling to it. However, Dr. John has always been fascinated with voodoo, so its possible that the real target of his disrespect is Haiti, with only a glancing blow struck against American Indians.

13. The Dirty Diamond

Here's some not-bad psychedelia from a group that clearly worships at the altar of George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. You have to wonder, though, why nobody on the set thought to tap lead singer Sam Babayan on the shoulder and whisper in his ear, "Dude, wrong kind of Indian..."

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Comments

jenniferbeardpeoples's picture
jenniferbeardpeoples
Submitted by jenniferbeardpeoples on
I felt offended as soon as I saw Ke$ha perform, it was terrible.

leelynch's picture
leelynch
Submitted by leelynch on
I saw Jonsi (from Sigur Ros) play in Iceland and he wore a huge headdress for his encore. It looked more Aztec though...

candyo's picture
candyo
Submitted by candyo on
I didn't like the Cudi the Kid video but, I saw Cher in Las Vegas and she wore a Warrior Headdress at Caesars Palace. It was pretty good. She looks the same as she did in the 80's. I think she's had a lot of work done... but only she would know. I really enjoyed her show.

madalynparrish's picture
madalynparrish
Submitted by madalynparrish on
I don't think Karen O's headdress is offensive, because it's made with the hamsa, (the hands) which is a symbol of peace and good will toward others. It's obvious she's trying to promote a very peaceful and positive message. Rather than just wearing the headdress in an attempt to be trendy, she's at least put some thought into it.

Joe's picture
Joe
Submitted by Joe on
Stevie Ray Vaughan had Indian heritage. His grandmother was a full blooded American Indian, that explains why he wore that from time to time. Normally he wore it on Conservation sites where he performed the Native American communities.

Ronald Thomas West's picture
Ronald Thomas West
Submitted by Ronald Thomas West on
Going to the point of 'monolithic', strengthening the idea of diversity in the Native cultures would be an exception to "Unfortunately if you’re a woman, you’re thumbing your nose at our culture which explicitly disallows you to wear the headdress" is the Blackfeet. Certain women were entitled to wear the Blackfeet Chief's headdress and not merely as a token. The Blackfeet word for wife is nin-aki which translates 'boss', nin-aki is the lesser form of the Blackfeet word nin-a-waki which was the highest form of Blackfeet chief in pre-contact times and could only be a woman. The tribe was, in its original state, patrilineal & matriarchal (one does not preclude the other)
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