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Pope's Indigenous Headdress Elicits Controversy

Pope Francis being gifted a headdress by Chief Wilton Littlechild has not been received well by everyone.

Headdresses historically are a symbol of respect, worn by Native American war chiefs and warriors.

For many Plains tribes, for example, each feather placed on a headdress has significance and had to be earned through an act of compassion or bravery.

Some modern-day First Nations leaders have been given war bonnets in ceremonies accompanied by prayers and songs.

“It’s honouring a man as a chief, as a honourary chief and leader in the community and in doing that it’s actually adopted him as one of our leaders,” Maskwacis elder Lorne Green said.

Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey issued a news release decrying the gift.

“That kind of a gift is the one in question, it represents leaders from our culture,” said the grand chief of the First Nations in northern Alberta, northwestern Saskatchewan, the southwest portion of the Northwest Territories.

“The apology is one thing — but that is celebrating this person, so what are you doing? Are you celebrating the atrocities of our people? That’s what I thought (when I saw it) — it’s just totally inappropriate.”

Cheryl Whiskeyjack is with the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in Edmonton and was watching the events live on television.

“My words as I watched him was, ‘No’, but it wasn’t my gift to give,” Whiskeyjack said.

She doesn’t agree with the gift either. “In our community those are given to a real position of honour. You don’t come and apologize for something so horrible and be gifted something that is so honourable.”

She said she understands it’s complicated.

“Another take I’ve seen online, is that it is an exchange and the person who gifted that headdress had his reason — we may or may not know what his reasons are, and it’s not for us to judge.”

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