Significance of the Native American Headdress
If you are looking to find out what the real significance of the Native American Headdress is to indigenous people, here are the TOP 5 important points on what the meaning of the headdress really is, so you can confidently share this knowledge with your friends and family, avoid offending anyone and help others be respectful to indigenous peoples. You’ve seen this popular native symbol used in so many places - but why is it an important symbol?
What exactly is a headdress?
A Native American headdress is a head-piece with feathers that are attached to the entire top edge of a leather headband.
The headband can be embellished with beadwork or natural leather. The feathers on the headdress are typically used from a fallen bird that is indigenous to the local area of the tribe making the headdress.
The feathers are held together with leather thread or sinew and can be designed in many different ways depending on how the artist wants the headdress to look.
It’s important to note that there are actually many different types of headdresses that have different styles, and are from different areas of turtle island.
It is believed that the Sioux were of the first tribes to wear the feather headdress.
Why is a headdress important?
The Native American headdress is a well-known symbol of strength and bravery to the indigenous people of North America. Headdresses are important because they have been worn by the most powerful and influential members of the tribe.
We’ll expand on this later but headdresses are not made in 1 day - they take a very long process and the process itself displays how meaningful and important it is for the person who’s earned it.
Another reason for the importance of the headdress is that it is not only the greatest honor to wear one of these beautiful pieces of art.
But to be able to be a close friend, brave warrior, or chief who is making the headdress is also an incredible honor. Now that you know why the headdress is so important - let's move on to how it's actually made.
How is the headdress made?
To make a headdress, one single feather would be added to the band each time that the recipient committed an act of bravery. Headdresses were only made for someone to earn this honorable headpiece, some tribes required the person headdress wearer to fast for several days before they received each additional feather to display their loyalty to the tribe.
The process of making the headdress itself shows the great significance that the headdress has in the Native American culture. Like we mentioned in the first question there are many types of headdresses that serve different purposes and come from different territories and regions.
Who would wear a headdress?
Only those who were known as being admired and greatly respected from other members of the tribe would wear a headdress, as its symbol represents bravery and honor - a distinguished community member such as the chief, a warrior, or a person being honored for something would wear the headdress.
It was once common for a headdress to be worn during battle as well among the native American people of Canada and the United States.
Currently, you would most likely see a headdress was worn during a traditional native wedding ceremony, or another ceremony such as a pow wow, or other ceremonies.
There are many types of headdresses that have different styles and meanings but one similarity among them all is that they had to be earned to be worn.
Both men & women can wear a headdress - the only difference would be some men wore the war bonnet style and women would wear a beaded headband style.
Now that we know who should wear a headdress - who shouldn’t wear one?
That basically means everyone else shouldn’t who hasn’t earned it, or something to earn the right - shouldn’t wear a headdress.
How can we be respectful regarding the headdress?
There are many sides, and opinions surround headdresses and other cultural symbols being worn appropriately or not. Many activists take major offense to people wearing the headdress who haven’t earned them as it is seen as disrespectful to those who have earned theirs.
Many people would also say that wearing a headdress when you haven’t earned it is extremely offensive to the validity and meaning that the headdress has.
The headdress symbol itself is seen on other pieces of clothing, and accessories, which can be ok or might offend a traditional native person depending on their beliefs and attitudes about it.
From observation - most native people get upset or offended when headdresses are used as a costume or mascot - so I would recommend trying to steer clear of that if your intention is to be respectful.
There is no general rule or consensus on whether wearing the headdress on clothing or accessories is appropriate or not.
After following along with these 5 important points on the significance of the native American headdress, you can feel confident about your knowledge of this important native cultural symbol and how it fits in with our society today.
If you are wanting to learn more about the various sacred medicines in the indigenous culture or the smudging process, download our free Smudging Guide.