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Carnival mas band accused of appropriating Indigenous Canadian culture

PAM SEATLE | posted Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

carnival costumes

With preparations already underway for the 50th annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival this August, a mas band is coming under fire for appropriating Indigenous Canadian culture.

On Tuesday, Carnival Nationz unveiled its theme this year — “Oh Canada” to mark the country’s 150th birthday — and some of its costumes will incorporate headdresses.

In First Nations culture, headdresses are important gifts and carry with them responsibilities. The ones in Carnival Nationz’s costumes are masculine war bonnets chiefs and warriors earn with acts of bravery.

“I was kind of offended, yeah,” said Mi’kmaq-Jamaican woman Shaniece, who didn’t want her last name used.

“It’s very disrespectful when you see people just wearing them as a costume, because it’s not a costume. It’s very, very traditional, very, very cultural, and it holds a lot of meaning. It’s very symbolic.”

Shaniece, who plays mas at Carnival every year, said there are more sensitive ways of marking Canada’s birthday.

“I’m sure that there are ways that we could have integrated Aboriginal culture into celebrating Canada,” she said.

Carnival Nationz declined comment, but the leader of another camp, Atlantic Mas, said no offence was intended.

“It’s all in celebrating the culture of Canada and the history of Canada and I think that it should be looked upon as something good and something that everyone should celebrate,” Akil Heywood said.

“I can see that some people can misconstrue what we’re trying to portray, but I think if they would ask Carnival Nationz questions about how did you come about this theme and why, I think they would get the answers they’re looking for.”

Some have mentioned that mas is characterized by elaborate headdresses and was inspired by Indigenous people from South, Central and North America.

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