White Clay Wendy mock dances at 2019 DMPW

Between Facebook and Twitter, there were plenty of video snippets shared of a white woman who had taken someone’s eagle feather bustle, slung it over her shoulders and danced Costner style with it.

While it’s obviously wrong to take things that don’t belong to you, it’s disrespectful to mock the dance of a multitude of cultures during an event that celebrates them. At the bare minimum, that’s what this woman did. But her disrespect wasn’t limited to what looked like a drunken shamble of someone trying not to step on swarms of snails after a heavy rain. This level of disrespect is something that Natives and First Nations peoples have witnessed or had directed at for as long as we can remember.

Dictionary.com defines ‘sacred’, in part, as “”reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object” and “regarded with reverence”.

Sacred tends to mean two different things with non-Natives when it comes to what we hold sacred. For most of us, eagle feathers are sacred on their own. Our regalia and clothes are not ‘costumes’ (looking at you Party City and Yandy). The time, energy, dedication and medicine go into making every facet of what we wear for pow wows, gathering, and ceremonies makes our regalia sacred. An eagle father drops to the floor, prayers and tobacco are offered before it is picked up. Pieces that are gifted between generations are sacred. Headdresses or war bonnets aren’t random things any of us can just create and put on (looking at you DIY headdress junkies like Lorin over here or this Spunky Squaw person).

For too many non-Natives, what we wear are costumes reflecting a long dead and highly romanticized past. A past to which we, despite living today, aren’t really part of somehow. Because our regalia, our culture – our HAIR – is something that they need to touch or take or appropriate no matter the protest.

This last weekend, the Denver March Pow Wow celebrated its 45th year. Thousands of Natives traveled near and far to participate, dance, connect with Indiginous artisans for cultural crafts and maybe have an Indian Taco by Tocabe. Among attendees are plenty of non-Natives, some of whom already have respect and some understanding of our cultures. Many come for the first time every year.

On the Denver March Pow Wow website, there is a spectator guide for the various dances in the competitions that take place during the weekend. Different styles of dance and regalia are described. During Saturday, I heard multiple announcements reminding attendees not to touch regalia or people without permission. That it had already been announced multiple times lends to the question of how often is this happening that it has to be said as much. That alone gives an indication of the lack of respect that some people have toward our regalia and persons.

Some comments between Facebook and Twitter have indicated that the woman was likely inebriated. I do not personally know of a pow wow that permits alcohol during the event. It being Colorado, this could have been a different type of inebriation. Either case is not a good excuse to do what this woman did.

The item in the video is a men’s traditional style eagle bustle. It’s large, most often made of eagle feathers, and fixed around the waist. Sitting with one means a chair without a back, something not easily attainable in the stands of the coliseum. Many bustle owners will fix their pieces to the railing to protect the feathers from being damaged and it sits high enough to avoid being hit by passersby below.

Comments have indicated that the bustle owner and his family had gone to the arena floor to support a family member dancing in a competition. It had been unattended for a short time period and had remained unmolested by those nearby. The woman went down the stairs, untied it from the railing and slung it over her shoulder to dance with it. According to the article by 9News, Chad Browneagle intervened and tied the bustle back to the railing.

Reactions throughout social media were immediate and strong once the videos began making the rounds.

Of course such a conversation couldn’t be made without white privilege attempting to take center stage.

In the original tweet, Ms. Yellowhorse isn’t ‘hating’, nor is it the responsibility of Natives to educate non-Natives who enter our spaces. Many of us enjoy teaching and correcting where we can. What Nickzo here is suggesting is that we are the ones at fault for not having educated someone who, by many accounts, was inebriated and stole something sacred to dance mockingly before she did any of those things. Reminds me of Bubba Otep suggesting that it should be on rappers and the black community to stop using the N-word and educating non-Blacks not to use it. #NativeTwitter was quick to point that out, too.

9News in Denver did an article and an on-air segment about the incident, view-able in the article, with the barest reporting on what such pieces mean to us and doing some educating of their own about why this incident was so wrong in the first place. Have you seen it covered anywhere else?

What were some of your favorite tweets and replies? For the non-Natives complaining about a teaching moment despite the announcements, info on websites and the constant announcements not to touch regalia, what would your advice be for NN going to a pow wow for the first time? Tag #NtvTwt or reply to the article tweet!

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