Native American Headdress

A background on Native American headdress.

When many of us picture Native Americans, we see a stately chief, standing tall wearing a large feathered headdress.  The headdress is a very important part of Native American culture.  Typically made of beautiful bird feathers, it is more symbolic than anything else.  The Sioux were thought to be one of the first Native American tribes to use these head pieces.  Not everyone among the tribe could wear one, however.  The Native American headdress was reserved for the most powerful and influential among the tribe.

Perhaps there is meaning then as to why we usually picture the chief wearing one.  It is a little known fact that Native American headdresses were not made completely in one sitting.  In fact, each time the chief, warrior, or other important tribe member committed a brave act, a feather was added.  Therefore, the more feathers in the headdress, he braver and sometimes much more ominous the wearer was.  In certain tribes, the brave act itself was not enough.  The warrior would have to provide himself by fasting for several days and meditating the entire time to show his steadfastness.  This fact alone makes the significance of the Native American headdress very important.

It is also a very surprising and little known fact that women did not participate in making the Native American headdress.  Only the men would help to make them, and this was often made by the chief or warrior’s closest friends and allies.  Of all the feathers, the Golden Eagle feather was the most coveted and the most significant.  If someone had one of these in their headdress, they received a great deal of reverence and respect from other members of the tribe.

The Native American headdress can be many colors at once, or can consist of several feathers of one singular color.  This often depends on what birds were indigenous to the area in which the tribe lived.  For example, those living in the desert may only have feathers of one or two particular species of bird, while those living in the forests would have several colors.  The strap that held the Native American headdress stationary on the head was usually made of leather or deer sinew.  Sometimes cloth would be used to improvise, but typically leather was the material of choice. 

The back of the headdress was usually tied together, allowing the headdress to be adjusted fairly easily.  Today, we see the Native American headdress as symbol of strength and bravery.  It is often worn during the Halloween season as a costume accessory, but the seriousness of this item is often overlooked.  Wearing a Native American headdress was a real honor, and those who got the opportunity to wear one were revered and respected. 

This same tradition should also be kept sacred and honored today. In most modern Native American tribes, the headdress is mostly used for weddings and ceremonial purposes, and not as much as for battles.  When one sees a Native American headdress in pictures, they can now see how brave and important that particular person was to his entire tribe.

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