August 27, 2009

Wampanoag in Haudenosaunee headdress

Mashpee chairman’s photo sparks pro- and anti-casino blogger battle

By Gale Courey ToensingA photo of Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell published in Indian Country Today earlier this month has sparked a battle between pro- and anti-casino bloggers in Middleboro, Mass., where the tribal nation continues to develop plans to build a casino.

The photo showed a head shot of Cromwell wearing a variation of a gustoweh, the traditional Haudenosaunee feathered headdress, at the Mashpee Wampanoag’s 88th annual powwow over July 4th weekend.
And:The battle began when anti-casino blogger Mark Belanger posted the photo of Cromwell on his blog, Bellicose Bumpkin, Aug. 7, with the comment, “I nearly peed my pants when I saw this photo of would-be Middleboro casino tycoon and Mashpee Wampanoag leader Cedric Cromwell seen here in this Indian Country today photo. Classic.”

Pro-casino blogger Hal Brown took umbrage at both the comment and the copyright violation of using the photo without permission or attribution, and posted a response on his blog, Brownie’s Heckuva Blog, headlined “Mark Belanger’s insult and injury.”

“He mocked the Native American headdress Cromwell was wearing. … Then in his comment section he says that ‘It could be Carmen Miranda in drag.’ Making this insult worse was the injury, i.e., the fact that he violated copyright by publishing the picture without permission,” Brown wrote.

Brown was also annoyed at the posted comments and their misspellings.

“Those who commented on this blog demonstrate the same level of insensitivity to Indian tradition. Some excerpts (the word is actually spelled headdress): 1) ‘What the heck is that on his head is it an indian headress? Looks like a bunch of paint brushes.’ 2) ‘Buy a box of beads and feathers, labled made in china, and make your own headress.’ 3) ‘A picture is worth a thousand words. And in this case, a million laughs.’”
The GustowehThe distinctive feature of the men's Haudenosaunee dress is our headgear. The Gustoweh is a fitted hat made of strips of wood. The wood is then covered and adorned with eagle, hawk, pheasant, or turkey feathers. The Gustoweh is also used to identify an individual's nation. A man wearing his Gustoweh with one feather pointing upward and another pointing downwards, indicates he is Onondaga. A man who has one feather pointing skyward is identified as Seneca. Each nation has their own way of identifying each other by our Gustoweh.Comment:  I think the fair-use provision of the copyright law covers Belanger's use of the photo, but that's not the main issue here.

On the one hand, we have a bunch of yahoos insulting Indian culture. It's another in a long line of examples of racism against Indians.

At least Cromwell isn't wearing a Plains headdress. You occasionally see tribal leaders from places beyond the Plains wearing them--an unfortunate example of Indians stereotyping themselves.

On the other hand, the gustoweh doesn't look much like any of the gustowehs pictured here. And why is a Wampaonoag leader wearing a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) headdress when he isn't Haudenosaunee himself? Unless there's some subtle connection I'm missing--e.g., "My grandmother was an Iroquois princess"--this seems wrong.

For more on the subject of stereotypical chiefs and headdresses, see The Big Chief.

Below:  An Onondaga gustoweh.


Anonymous said...

uh, has anyone thought that this just might be a Wampanoag tradition too? The Iroquois don't necessarily have a monopoly on what they call the "gustoweh", just like the Lakota don't have a monopoly on the "war bonnet".

Anonymous said...

The Iroquois, Huron and Cherokee come from the Siouian/Plains peoples and likely wore plains style headresses before migrating into Algonquin lands in the east about 600-1000 years ago. At this time they likely borrowed the gustoweh style from the Algonquins. Sadly they all started trying to look more "Indian" and wore straight up and down feathers in a head band or a head dress starting in the 19th century. Even the Iroquois only returned to the gustoweh in the 20th century. Its time for Algonquins to do the same, just without the straight up and down eagle feathers denoting Haudenosaunee tribes.