Aboriginal headdresses distributed on 1st day of school rile Montreal mother

MONTREAL — A Quebec mother says she was shocked that two Grade 3 teachers were wearing aboriginal headdresses and handing them out to students on the first day of classes Monday.

Jennifer Dorner said she found the scene in the Montreal schoolyard distressing and offensive and posted a photo and commentary on Facebook, where it began making the rounds.

“I was pretty horrified, I was hoping that this kind of thing stopped happening a long time ago, but apparently it continues so I took a picture and posted about it,” she said in an interview.

Dorner, whose daughter and niece are both Grade 3 students, said her niece Zoe was particularly upset by the headdress and wanted to rip it up.

School board spokeswoman Gina Guillemette says the headdresses — fashioned from cardboard and coloured feathers — were distributed to students at Ecole Lajoie as part of a focus on teaching about native communities in Quebec.

Dorner said that explanation is even more upsetting given the very people introducing the topic don’t seem to grasp the disrespect of portraying the headdress in this way.

“How can they possibly be teaching an authentic understanding of indigenous culture?,” she asked. “It doesn’t help their cause to say that. If anything, it makes it even more distressing.”

Such headdresses are generally only worn by elders or those who’ve earned the right to do so.

Non-natives donning them is seen as disrespectful as there is a spiritual and cultural significance attached to them.

Many concert promoters and sporting venues have banned the wearing of such First Nations headdresses as a costume or fashion accessory.

Dorner said a friend who is native has offered to attend a meeting she’s requested with the principal at the elementary school in Montreal’s Outremont borough.

Zoe’s mother, Sarah Dorner, said her daughter refused to wear the headdress.

“My daughter is very sensitive to these things, we lived in New Zealand for most of 2015 so we’ve had a lot of conversations with her about when it’s OK to be invited and to wear a costume or participate in song and dance,” she said, referring to Maori culture in New Zealand.

Sarah Dorner said she just wanted her daughter to enjoy her first day of school.

Some of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focus on education and she said the need to implement them is clear.

“I’m hoping that maybe, because this has hit a nerve, they’ll consider more appropriate ways of introducing that curriculum,” she said.

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