Electronic music and arts festivals across North America (Turtle Island) take place on the Ancestral Homelands and Unceded Territories of Indigenous Peoples ~ many of whom are still here defending Mother Earth and their communities from massive resource extraction, racism, pollution, and government neglect, if not abuse.
As festivals deepen their efforts toward sustainability and environmental justice, we must recognize the intersections between Indigenous Peoples and their Ancestral Homelands in relation to this emergent festival culture. There has been a growing practice at festivals of attempting to involve Indigenous Peoples, and though intention may be from a place of respect, there are many common mistakes made that actually result in the opposite, thus creating an impediment to our unity.
These festivals nevertheless have the potential to catalyze personal transformations and can offer a chance to model new behaviors and cultural norms. However, the very same social hierarchies, power structures, gendered, racist and classist inequalities that underpin our society are often reproduced at these events. These behavioural patterns fuel long-standing exclusions, undercut alliance building, and severely hinder overall efforts for lasting change.
Recent publicity for festival culture purports that there are innate transformational qualities in festival gatherings; that by celebrating music, new-age culture, healing and art in majestic natural space, a momentum will automatically be built the creates a psychic and cultural shift in society, locally and globally. Claims are made that this counter-culture is in fact a new planetary culture, an agent of a sort of global spiritual revolution. Countercultures are not necessarily or innately revolutionary, and most often, counter-cultures merely riff on mainstream culture, replicate it, or become co-opted by the very systems festival goers are trying to escape by attending these ephemeral events.
This guide serves as an educational tool to promote deeper understanding, active participation, and protocols in building a bridge towards our collective liberation. Together we can create a culture of awareness around these issues that builds community and inspires resilience and resourcefulness. Here are six steps on that bridge:
1. Acknowledge whose ancestral homelands you're on.
2. Learn about and build relationships with the local Indigenous Peoples.
3. Create ecological events that respect the established Indigenous land stewardship practices.
4. Avoid wearing costumes that are disrespectful of the diversity and continued existence of various Indigenous Cultures & Nations.
5. Ground in your own historical roots, your familys known and hidden histories, and your ethnic background.
6. Support your community in understanding privilege and supporting efforts to decolonize our actions and behaviors.
1. Acknowledge whose Ancestral Homelands youre on: Whether or not land has been officially declared tribal jurisdictio n or band council, these lands were stolen from Indigenous Peoples and devastated through acts of colonization. When one considers that many festivals are taking place without permission of Indigenous representatives (bypassing time-honored Indigenous protocols) we need to stop and address this error with our festival communities and begin to mend the harmful blind-spots in our habits, behavior, and mindsets as participants within this growing festival culture. By first acknowledging the peoples of those ancestral homelands where we gather, we are taking one small but important step forward on a bridge to reconciliation.
2. Learn about and build relationships with Indigenous Peoples: As a beginning step we need to make adjustments within the festival circuit such as adopting culturally appropriate protocols. Before an event, ask yourself if roles were reversed, how would I like this process to unfold?
? Learn about the Indigenous Peoples' histories, struggles and resistance, especially the peoples whose ancestral homelands are currently being intruded upon.
? Inquire if the festival is being conducted with permission by the local Indigenous Peoples.
? Learn about what the local Indigenous reps of the territories have to say about the event location and any potential impact to the site. (e.g. Are there local watersheds to be concerned about? Are there nearby salmon-spawning grounds? Could animal habitat, sacred sites, places of cultural significance, and the environment be adversely impacted?) There must be a sincere commitment to work closely to understand local communities, their culture, needs and hopes related to their lands, and how these will be incorporated and reflected in plans.
? As guests know your relationship & potential impact to that land. Do no harm!
? Were the local Indigenous communities invited?
? Are they there? Why or why not?
? Are their land, presence, and issues acknowledged in some way at the event?
? Is there a panel by the local Indigenous Peoples to give attendees an opportunity to hear and engage directly with them?
? Was there Indigenous-inspired iconography at the festival that came by way of explicit permission from community members of that Indigenous nation?
? Will the Indigenous guests be compensated for their presence and participation?
? Inquire if there are ways to work with the local Indigenous community on issues they/we face.
? Seek out and support workshops delivered by Indigenous Peoples at festivals.
? Both within and outside festivals find ways to support movements of Indigenous Peoples by supporting local Indigenous-led organizations.
? Learn about The Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples (DRIP). There are specific articles regarding Cultural Appropriation and Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights (link below).
3. Create ecological events that respect the established Indigenous land stewardship practices:
Making an event ecologically sustainable means, for a start, respecting time-honored Indigenous-land stewardship practices that have been in place since time immemorial. Festival producers should be creatively reconsidering the very structure and intent of these gatherings, so that the idea of a "green festival" doesn't turn into a version of "green capitalism," where "sustainability" is used as branding for something that is rather unsustainable if not ecologically destructive, as opposed to sustainability as an integrated structural strategy, practice, method and value.
Accountability to and collaboration with local Indigenous communities plays a crucial role in ensuring gatherings have an ethical and sustainable foundation. Indigenous Peoples have been engaged in movements for environmental justice, sovereignty, and political change for over 500 years on Turtle Island. Now more than ever our times demand that we restore balance: with fires burning out of control, impacted salmon runs, oil spills, and so much more, Indigenous communities are at the forefront of restoring balance. Bringing back the use of prescribed fire as a tool to protect communities and ecosystems is just one of numerous examples in how traditional knowledge is helping restore balance. ?
To truly honor Indigenous-led movements for sovereignty and change is synonymous with protecting, defending, and healing Mother Earth for future generations. Building a truly "green"or "sustainable" event means accountability to the local Indigenous communities.
4. Avoid wearing headdresses & encourage a 'no headdress policy' at festivals:
A growing number of festivals are adopting culturally-respectful initiatives, including taking a stand on the war bonnet issue by encouraging attendees not to wear these native-inspired headdresses. Tall Tree Festival, Bass Coast, and Lightning In A Bottle have taken steps to support this initiative. The Tall Tree Music Festival even confiscated headdresses at the door. Cultural appropriation, in general, has been a growing conversation in the Festival scene as more and more people take a stand. Here's why:
? Headdresses, feathers, and war-bonnets have deep spiritual significance. Eagle feathers are presented within some but not all indigenous cultures as symbols of honor and respect and they have to be earned through acts of valor and selflessness to the greater community. The feather symbolizes trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, freedom and many more things. To be given one of these is to be hand-picked out of the rest of the tribe – its like getting a gift from a high official. To wear a full headdress takes a lifetime to earn all of those feathers, leading to why these headdresses are identified with Chiefs of high status within their community. Additionally, buying these feathers is considered sacrilegious.
? Headdresses promote stereotyping of Native cultures. When the only images of Indigenous Peoples that most of us see are incorrect, romanticized stereotypes (noble savage, warriors, pristine, native princesses/pocahontas, shamans or magical indians), it places them in the historic past, thus erasing their current presence and cultural diversity.
? Playing Indian is just like wearing blackface. Mocking a culture has no place in a community committed to healing, liberation, and cross-cultural respect.
? The act of donning a headdress and adopting the latest popular fashion trends situates the wearer in a position of power that continues to oppress Indigenous Peoples. Cultures have always borrowed, stolen, adapted, exchanged ideas. The difference is looking at the power relationships that exist between those cultures. Indigenous Peoples arent relics of a bygone age, they are everywhere in modern society. Indigenous Peoples attend and specifically get invited to festivals to represent their culture or teach. Lets create a respectful and welcoming environment & ongoing commitment to the well-being of everyone.
? Honor Indigenous Peoples craftsmanship. If you choose to wear something Indigenous, buy it direct from an Indigenous artist instead of plastic totems from China, or mass-produced trinkets sold by importers. There are federal laws that protect Indigenous artists and craftspeople who make genuine jewelry, art, etc. Look for Indian made or Native made.
? Talk with festival organizers to instill a No Headdress Policy and ask how they will implement it.
"Non-Natives that come to our shows, we need to talk, please stop wearing headdresses and war paint – it's insulting." – A Tribe Called Red.
5. Get grounded in your own ancestral roots and culture: Too often people forget to discover their own roots while sampling others. The implications of these choices will ripple out further than expected. Explore and research your own family history as much as you can. Often our families have rich, sometimes painful, and complicated histories of migration. Deepen your understanding and honor the wisdom of your own Ancestors and traditions. This is especially important in a consumer culture pushing us to exoticize and appropriate other cultures as part and parcel of the next big fad in lifestyle and fashion.
6. Support your community in understanding privilege and supporting efforts to decolonize our actions and behaviors: Amongst the emergent festival culture, some are claiming to be transformational. Moving from "transformational" to true, lasting transformation means understanding privilege and working towards justice for all: People cant just show up to a transformational festival and be transformed. There is much potential for this work, to jump the gap from novel ideas into life-transforming community practices.
As many of us are seeking to heal the lands we call home, we must recognize that these lands were stolen from Indigenous Peoples and devastated through acts of colonization. Like it or not, if you are not Indigenous to these lands then you are participating in and benefiting from an ongoing crime against the people of these original nations. As tough as that is to understand, for we cannot choose our race nor where we are positioned at birth, we ARE capable of addressing and challenging historical and current injustices. A deeper understanding and a commitment to ongoing education, self-awareness, and acknowledging one's privilege are steps toward the collective liberation we all dream of. But our collective liberation demands that we first face, and not deny, the wounds of the past and present as we begin to heal them.
As a result of the systems of oppression, injustice and colonization that we inexorably live amidst, some of us have privileges or rights that others are denied. So as we identify our own individual privileges and our relationships to others around us, it is important to address and work at deconstructing and dismantling these systems that give so much privilege to some at the expense of others. Look around you and take note at who attends these festivals and whom is paid from them. Note the gender divisions of labour and status, and who can afford or take time to attend these events. A more just and peaceful world requires an examination of these power relations. It is through this collective work of education and change-making that we can achieve collective liberation.
Don't shy away from conversations about "privilege" and "racism" just because they are uncomfortable. As with any process, the discomfort is alleviated when it is faced, and moved through, and if it is denied, the issues and inequalities only grow. We must challenge the intersections of privilege that created and continue to create such damage in the first place. Without this dialogue your transformational work on this planet will only be superficial and short-lived. By avoiding discussions on privilege and race, we end up reinforcing the structures of domination that well-intentioned festivals purport to transform.
? Cultivate an ethic of responsibility within the festival circuit that begins with non-natives understanding themselves as beneficiaries of the illegal settlement of Indigenous Peoples land and unjust appropriation of Indigenous Peoples resources and jurisdiction.
? Ask yourself how you will meaningfully undertake the deep and life-altering work of decolonization through powerful solidarity and work.
? Balance putting aside your own privilege while working for each others allied interests and struggles.
? Be able to articulate your location in relationship to the Indigenous Peoples whose land you are on.
? Share what you believe are good strategies and resources. To get you started we created a list of articles, blogs, and Indigenous-led organizations on our website.
Caroline Casey host-creator, weaver of context for The Visionary Activist Show on Pacifica Radio Network Pacifica station and keynote speaker at Symbiosis festival has this to say about festival culture and the issues brought up in this article: "is our manner of relating an offering or an imposition?" to the indigenous, to the birds, the four legged animals, the plants, the rivers and the forests which host us as we travel to these festival locales. We envision that going forward, festival producers and attendees will reflect upon this potent question, integrate it, and use it as a compass to track our own behaviour, social and interpersonal relations, and our relations to animals, plants and the land.
We believe that for festivals to truly be revolutionary and transformational, they have to be thoroughly committed to lasting social change and actively supporting the efforts of those most directly impacted by our actions and presence indigenous peoples whose lands these events are held upon, and the diverse animal and plant life that unwittingly host us. It is indigenous peoples who embody a vision that everything is sacred which has resulted in much of the world's last remaining 'resources' and untouched areas being preserved, albeit now precariously, on indigenous territory.
We have recently reached a dangerous climatic tipping point Earth now surpasses 440 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. Three to five species disappear each day. In this moment of global warming, resource depletion, biodiversity loss and species extinction, it is crucial that we meaningfully recognize and support the leadership coming from Indigenous communities as their ancestral territories are increasingly being targeted in a seemingly unquenchable thirst for quickly diminishing resources. It is only through developing an awareness of historical trauma and ongoing injustices that we could even begin to dream of building emancipatory multicultural movements towards lasting transformation, ecological sustainability and collective liberation.
This article was authored by members of Forward Alliance. We are an alliance building bridges of solidarity between artists, festival communities and Indigenous Peoples throughout Turtle Island. We support Indigenous self-determination and cultural empowerment as a step towards our collective liberation. Be on the lookout for our forthcoming Best Practices Guide geared towards producers of music & arts festivals and events.
2. Richard Rogers, an intercultural-communications expert and professor at Northern Arizona University.
3. Kevin KoChen, Symbiosis.
Decolonization is a dramatic re-imagining of relationships with land, people and the state. Much of this requires study. It requires conversation. It is a practice; it is an unlearning. ~ Syed Hussan, a Toronto-based activist.
? Wanting to Be Indian: When Spiritual Searching Turns into Cultural Theft by Myke Johnson http://www.oocities.org/d0n0harm/Wanting2BNDN1.html
? For All Those Who Were Indian In a Former Life by Andy Smith: http://www.thepeoplespaths.net/articles/formlife.htm
? Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sundances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality Lisa Aldred http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3aldred.html
? Colonization and Decolonization: "A Manual for Indigenous Liberation in the 21st Century" by ZigZag http://www.anti-politics.net/distro/2009/decolonization-read.pdf
? Colonialism on the Ground Waziyatawin
? Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy Andrea Smith
? White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh -I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html
? What is white supremacy? Elizabeth Betina Martinez; http://www.soaw.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=482
? White Supremacy Culture – Tema Okun
? From White Racist to White Anti-Racist by Tema Okun
? The Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples (DRIP). The U.S. is one of only several countries in the whole world that has yet to adopt the Declaration. http://www.iwgia.org/human-rights/international-human-rights-instruments/undeclaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples
? Native Appropriations is a forum for discussing representations of Native peoples, including stereotypes, cultural appropriation, news, activism, and more. www.nativeappropriations.blogspot.com
? F.A.I.R. MEDIA – (For Accurate Indigenous Representation): https://www.facebook.com/realIndigenous
? Idle No More
? Indigenous Environmental Network
? Honor The Earth
? Look for local Indigenous-led organizations near you.