Feathers fly over chief’s gift to Pope

chief's gift

A chief’s gift of an eagle feather headdress to the pope during his penitential tour of Canada is shocking many commentators.

They include indigenous peoples from across the world. One, Hemopereki Simon, is a research expert in indigenous politics and Te Tiriti.

“I have survived the settler colonial education system and have come out on top in research fields that allow me to critique and speak back to power,” he says.

“In terms of cultural appropriation, the act by the Cree to offer the pope a warbonnet places all of our efforts on this subject into question.”

He points to the indigenous Americans complaints “about white people’s interpretation of indigeneity”.

This includes significant criticism about warbonnets because of what they represent to indigeneity, he says.

“They show leadership and are given as a sign of mastery of war.”

The chief’s gift is like saying to Aboriginal Australia “you deserve to be called fauna”.

An indigenous person who was raised as a Catholic, he says he struggles significantly with the Church’s actions throughout the world, particularly its cover-ups.

“Significant change is required towards indigenous peoples,” he says. The Catholic Church is responsible for legitimising colonisation.

“In this space, the conservative and flawed Ratzinger approach with a political apology is not enough.”

Compensation and a commitment to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery are also needed, he suggests.

This could start with church leaders conceding that “in the indigenous world they are an invading force and indigenous peoples are actually humans.

“What is needed is balance to restore indigenous nations towards an agenda of decolonisation.”

Simon notes reconciliation is a Christian-derived philosophy that does not reflect what is needed in the indigenous world.

“We require more than an apology.”

He wonders how the Church is contributing to decolonisation and cultural restitution around the world.

It still maintains the infallibility of every Pontiff and all actions taken to date.

Just because our collective colonial wars are over doesn’t mean the war with settler colonialism and its structures is over, he points out.

It celebrates the Church’s war against the indigenous world since 1492, he says.

“With respect to the Cree on behalf of your indigenous brothers and sisters everywhere – but what the actual hell?”

The Church’s purpose was to further the goals of the two invading settler colonial forces, being the white possessive state and the white possessive church, he says.

“In terms of cultural appropriation, the act … places all of our efforts on this subject into question.”

Chief Wilton Littlechild sees it differently

The Maskwacis Chief, Wilton Littlechild who gave Francis the headdress sees it differently.

“One of the things I learned [from my grandparents] is you don’t criticise … other culture’s traditions.”

As part of the traditional welcome many tribes give headdresses to dignitaries, he explains.

It was “tradition,” repeated Littlechild.

“We decided at home, as a community, to welcome him with a gift because he [chose to come] into our territory,” he says.

The headdress they gave the pope had belonged to the man who raised Littlechild – his late grandfather.


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News category: New Zealand.

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