Time to Give Thanks: A Mini Guide to Traditional Native American Clothing and Accessories

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Anyone with even a passing interest in Native cultures can learn more about the diverse ways of Native American and First Nations people by looking to items made by Native peoples. We tracked down Native fashion blogger Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe and Heard Museum curators to talk about the traditional wear and the meanings behind them. (Full disclosure, the author of this post is a former employee of the Heard Museum.)

"We try everyday to inspire others and to inspire our children and grandchildren to carry these things forward," says academic and Beyond Buckskin Native fashion blogger Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe, Turtle Mountain Chippewa.

Headdresses & Feathers

"The headdress is still immensely significant to many Native communities," says Metcalfe. Headdresses of course are made of feathers, many of eagle feathers, which hold a special meaning.

"That's what makes it so important, are the feathers," says Marcus Monenerkit, Assistant Curator and Associate Registrar at the Heard Museum, referring to the headdress.

While feathers are important to many tribes, headdresses are often worn by leaders of tribes from the Plains states in everything from parades to special ceremonies. Its "safe to make the generalization that there's a special respect offered to those in the role," says Monenerkit, Comanche.

Similar to a US solider who wears his or her military uniform at a wedding, funeral or special event; a Native person wearing a headdress is typically someone in a special role or leadership position. Bottom line, to take away its specialness by trotting out a non-Native made "headdress" as a trend or "nod" to Thanksgiving is not a good idea.

While not all groups of Native peoples wear headdresses as a part of their culture, feathers-- especially Eagle feathers-- should be treated with respect.

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Kate Crowley
Contact: Kate Crowley