Feather headdresses, burning sage, fake tribal designs, chances are, you’ve probably seen some kind of cultural appropriation of Native culture in the wedding industry and beyond. With November being Native American Heritage Month, it seems like the perfect time to learn about how to respectfully incorporate elements of your client's heritage into their big day. Let's dive in!
Having a conversation about where your client is at regarding infusing their culture or their spouse's culture into their day is vital. You may suggest a 'fusion wedding' where the heritage or religion of both wedding parties is celebrated. A fusion wedding fuses together the two different cultures or religions of each spouse.
When it comes to fusion weddings, it is important to be able to mesh together the cultures or religions of your wedding clients in a way that is both authentic and respectful. Sherrie Long truly enjoyed being able to celebrate her and her husband's unique cultural experiences on their wedding day.
Personally, it was nice to incorporate my heritage. Because I'm part Native American and my husband is Catholic, we wanted to honor both sides of the family.
Long intentionally chose a venue for her wedding ceremony that was situated in a spiritual location with respect to the land’s indigenous people for its sanctified meaning. The blessing portion of her ceremony began at sunset in Sedona, Arizona, and lasted about 10 minutes. One of Long’s favorite moments was when “the Native [Navajo] officiant held an eagle feather above our heads facing a spiritual location.”
This ritual was performed mostly in the Native language with parts in English.
Native American rituals that include prayers and blessings are an act of acknowledging that everything on earth has life and value. When non-Native couples feel committed to incorporate Native American culture into their wedding day the best first step is to find a way to educate them about the origins of Native prayers, blessings, and other traditions that pique their interest.
A Thin Line Between Appreciation & Appropriation
Is it considered cultural appropriation if a non-Native American couple incorporates Native elements in their wedding? Yes. But as wedding professionals, we know that if that couple’s vision of a perfect wedding day falls apart without those elements, we must press on to still help them produce the wedding for their dreams. This is why cultural literacy and education for couples and wedding professionals is so important.
Wedding trends come from many different places and cultures around the world. It’s not always easy to see when we appropriate a culture when meaning to appreciate its decorative accessories, attire, and overall style. We don’t need to tell our couples that they can’t do something on the count of cultural appropriation, but we can create teachable moments.
How a Fusion Wedding Can Address Appropriation
In the event that you find a couple attempting to appropriate Native culture in their wedding day, there are ways to restore the integrity of the appropriated culture. You may suggest fusing the Native elements that the couple does not hold as their own with something more personal to them.
There is also an opportunity for providing disclaimers. The officiant could make a short announcement to wedding guests before the ceremony about why the couple chooses to participate in a Native ritual or weave in Native American-inspired wedding attire or accessories. The couple and officiant may also consider expressing gratitude at the beginning of the ceremony to the indigenous people who once lived and worked on the land where they are intending to marry.
If the couple has arranged for their wedding party to incorporate any Native-inspired attire or accessories, there’s an opportunity to encourage them to inform their wedding attendants about what the attire and/or accessories represent. If a wedding guest compliments a wedding party member on their attire or accessories, that wedding party member has an opportunity to share the origin, inspiration, and their own personal appreciation of that cultural element.
Creating Teachable Moments
While these are not solutions to appropriation, these suggestions do present an opportunity to educate everyone involved on various Native cultural elements. Hopefully, as a wedding professional, you can help to instill a newfound appreciation and reverence for rich cultural elements and rituals that might have otherwise been perceived as just a trend.
Hero photo courtesy of C. Baron Photography