BC preschool admits it ‘didn’t do our research’ after flapping the headdress

The Port Coquitlam Kindergarten made “headdresses” of feathers as a craft project to recognize the Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

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A mother from Port Coquitlam was in disbelief when she saw the children in her son’s nursery wearing Native American “headdresses” made of construction paper and feathers for the Day of Truth and Atonement.

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The headliners were a craft project at her son’s French immersion school. But it’s inappropriate and sends the wrong message to kids, Sam Sinclair said.

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“I didn’t even know what to say,” Sinclair said. “This is just insane for me. I was in shock.”

Headdresses are one of the most appropriated items in Indigenous culture, said Sinclair, a member of the Lytton First Nation and an advocate for Indigenous rights.

“It’s something we’re constantly fighting against,” especially around Halloween, when Native American “costumes” are still rife, Sinclair said.

Headdresses are generally a symbol of respect and honor worn by Native American warriors. It’s something gifted, Sinclair said, not for someone to create and wear.

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Particularly disturbing was the fact that the project inadvertently perpetuated the stereotype among young children who happily wore the headgear without knowing its meaning.

Sinclair’s three-year-old son called it a crown and was very proud of his work and insisted on wearing it, much to Sinclair’s dismay.

“It continues the appropriation of Native American culture,” she said. “You make it right for kids and bring it in a new generation when we try to break it.”

Sinclair expressed her shock in a TikTok video posted on Wednesday.

“So I just picked up my son from kindergarten…and this is what all the kids were wearing to march out,” she said as she sat in her car. “This was their craft for the Day of Truth and Atonement: a headdress.”

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She showed the headdress, made of orange construction paper with “every child matters” written in French and covered with three feathers.

Some kindergarten parents have emailed the school board to express their concerns. On Thursday, the school called Sinclair to apologize.

Mila Banfield, co-owner of the nursery, said the school should have consulted Indigenous community members on how best to celebrate the day.

The kindergarten teacher had put a lot of love and care into preparing for the day, including creating art with orange handprints and asking children to wear orange shirts. But the teacher, who is from Afghanistan, didn’t know what the headgear symbolized to indigenous people, Banfield said. And neither does she.

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“We didn’t do our research here,” Banfield said. “I could see where we were offended, and it just broke my heart to know that we were doing that — for (Sinclair), for all Indigenous people, and for parents who contacted us who are not Indigenous.”

Banfield said the experience was humbling and she was, “in a weird way, grateful” for the opportunity to learn.

“Here we thought we were standing with them. But we learned differently and I’m grateful for that opportunity,” she said.

“It just shows how ignorant we still are and how much we don’t know.”

Postmedia agreed not to publish the kindergarten’s name at Banfield’s request. Sinclair did not mention the school in her social media posts, as there was no malicious intent behind the headgear, she said.

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Banfield has contacted the school district, which has an Indigenous worker who will be bringing resources to the school in the coming weeks. The school also plans to add Indigenous Studies to its current curriculum.

Sinclair said there are many different ways to celebrate the day and celebrate Indigenous culture, including inviting an Indigenous author to read a story to the class, playing drums, or even bringing in an actual headdress and the meaning explain it to children.

“There are many ways to do it,” she said. “You just have to figure out what is appropriate and what is appropriation.”

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan

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