"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Going Native in Ireland Part I

I recently spent some time in Western Europe backpacking through several countries including that beautiful green emerald isle of the north known as Ireland.

If you have never been to Western Europe, and Ireland in particular, you must first understand that many of these places thrive on tourism.  Huge segments of the Irish, Spanish, French, and Italian economies depend on the billions of tourist dollars brought in every year.

And what vacation is complete without a few souvenirs!

Carroll's Irish Gift Stores is a huge chain of souvenir shops strung out along the main tourist thoroughfares in downtown Dublin.  They sell everything from Leprechaun key chains to Guinness slippers to "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" T-shirts.  If it can be made green, white, and orange, it will be sold at Carroll's.

I thought I had seen it all when my eyes fell upon the most mind-boggling souvenir imaginable!

The Irish Indian Chief Head Dress

"Everyone's an Indian on St. Patrick's Day!"

Oh, and if you can't make it to Ireland anytime soon, you can just pick one up online!

I suppose this is no worse than the typical Indian costumes you see around Halloween but when you take it out of the context of Halloween, it seems even weirder!  And when you consider that donning this headdress means you are appropriating one culture to celebrate another, that just blows my mind!

So does this finally prove that the Indian Headdress/War Bonnet has moved beyond mere Indian dress up and instead is a broader fad?  Do people don the Irish “Indian Chief Hat” not to become an Indian but rather show Irish pride in a unique and “fashionable” way?

Others may say yes, but I say no. You can never fully divulge the associations with American Indians. The thing is clearly supposed to be a send-up of Plains Indian War Bonnets.  (Look at the name!)

Decades of western media stereotypes have taught Americans and Irishmen alike that the headdress wearing Plains Indian is the ultimate Indian.  To wear any other Native head covering would simply be second rate!  Even when rooting on Irish teams, people want that universally recognized "fierce" look of the Plains warrior with headdress and war paint.

So who exactly would ever buy the headdress and why?  My money goes on those young hipster types such as the Glastonbury “Indians.”  The types who sport nostalgic clothing in an effort to look hip/ironic but instead look like they're stuck in some multi-dimensional multi-cultural time warp.

Just check out the grinning fools on the packaging!

...cause it just wouldn't be complete without side pieces.

In the end, this is just another fine example of drawing on Indians.  And if you think this Irish Headdress is silly, just wait till Part II!

For more info, check out these earlier posts:

Tribal Chic: Native Appropriation Appropriation?

Hipster Indians



  1. Thank you for this, I'll be sending Carroll's an email of complaint.

    Living in Dublin, we're used to (and ashamed of) the shamrocks and shillelaghs output of the giftshops, but I'm pretty gobsmacked and appalled by that.

  2. Christ. I'm not surprised considering there's a shop in Dublin still selling Golliwogs - and proudly displaying them in their window ._.