You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Purple Heart. It’s a medal that is awarded to certain military personnel under certain circumstances and only as a result of hostile enemy action where the individual is injured as a result of that hostile enemy action. It is a medal that acknowledges and rewards military merit. The original Purple Heart medal was created by George Washington on August 7, 1782 when he was a General. And yes, there’s an order of precedence when it comes to wearing medals.
And while it’s deemed protected speech to lie your face off about whether you have been awarded a Purple Heart, if you wear one you haven’t been awarded, you find yourself on the receiving end of a criminal charge based on how the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit interprets the action.
All right, so we all got the message.
No one can wear the Purple Heart, either as it’s meant to be worn or as decoration or to honor those who have been awarded the Purple Heart, if they haven’t earned the right to wear the Purple Heart through military service that resulted in being awarded the Purple Heart. It’s not a fashion accessory. It’s not something to treat disrespectfully.
It’s not honoring North American Indians to misappropriate Native American Indian culture and dishonor it. It isn’t fashionable. It isn’t cute. It isn’t respectful. And it isn’t right.
North American Indian War Bonnets are only worn by chiefs and warriors for formal occasions (just as with the Purple Heart for military personnel awarded the medal) because they are important ceremonial pieces. Those who wear them have earned the right and honor to wear them. Each feather in a war bonnet tells a story, and speaks to the honor and courage of the man wearing it.
Having nearly naked models in bikinis wearing a long-trail War Bonnet to sell a company’s products is to disrespect the culture from which the war bonnet was misappropriated.
Having pumped sports fans arriving at sports events with “war paint” on their faces and wearing a War Bonnet is not honoring the culture from which it was misappropriated.
And treating War Bonnets as fashion statements is to denigrate and marginalize the sacredness of the war bonnet.
It’s not a compliment when the daughter of the Governor of Oklahoma wears a War Bonnet in a publicity photo to promote her band. It shows no “sincere reverence for and genuine spiritual connection to Native American values.”
Telling Oprah in 2010 that you have Native American ancestry does not automatically mean that you have earned the right and honor to wear a War Bonnet in a major magazine photo splashed on their front cover four years later. And thank you to Pharrell Williams for apologizing for having done so.
When a group, organization, association, or corporation decides to host a Native American Heritage Night, don’t eject people from the premises — and have them detained by police — for pointing out that someone is misappropriating and disrespecting Native American culture by wearing a war bonnet headdress they shouldn’t be wearing.
If you wouldn’t treat a Purple Heart with disrespect and you’d speak up if you saw someone disrespecting a Purple Heart medal, then it’s time for respect to be shown to Native American culture and stop mistreating the Native American War Bonnet Headdress.
Yes, they’re beautiful. No, they aren’t fashion. And the Purple Heart isn’t a fashion accessory either.