• Shara Michelle Wolf made a post to her Facebook showing her in a Native war bonnet using a photo filter
  • Wolf claims an unnamed elder gave her permission to use the war bonnet filter
  • Another claim by Wolf is that she was given a Native name by an unnamed tribe at an unnamed ceremony

In a stunning display of cultural appropriation, self-proclaimed journalist Shara Michelle Wolf, 55, claimed on social media that an unnamed Native elder gave her permission to use a war bonnet photo filter in an image posted to her Facebook last year.

What Happened

Wolf — who goes by ‘Shara Michelle’ on Facebook — initially implied an elder had given her permission to wear the war bonnet in the picture. Years before the post, Wolf claims she was given the Native name ‘Moon Eyes Singing’ at a ceremony, but refused to give any details of the tribe related to the ceremony where she was given her name.

It was after being confronted about the picture being nothing more than a filter Wolf began claiming an elder gave her permission to use the filter. A claim that is even more ridiculous than her being allowed to wear a real war bonnet. Wolf implied she asked permission to use the filter through text with the unnamed elder.

What Is A War Bonnet

The eagle-feathered war bonnet shown in Wolf’s picture is only worn by male warriors in tribes such as the Cheyenne and the Sioux. These war bonnets communicate rank in a given warrior society. Someone cannot just decide they want to wear a war bonnet as they are acquired by displaying above-average bravery in battle. Those with elaborate war bonnets hold desirable traits. After accomplishing honorable deeds, a warrior receives an eagle feather. So the more decorated a war bonnet is, the more honorable deeds he has accomplished.

Typically war bonnets would only be seen at ceremonies, but were also at times worn into battle. War bonnets would not be surrendered under any circumstances. Currently, you can still see them at powwows and other special events around the country, but there are concerns the eagle-feathered headdresses are an “endangered element of North American aboriginal culture.” Native spiritual leaders have shared concern over the future of the ceremonial regalia as making them is becoming a “dying art.”

They are all handmade, and making them is a dying art.

Siksika (Blackfeet) elder Tom Crane Bear of Gleichen, Alta Via The Globe And Mail

The Dakota, Nakota and particularly Lakota Sioux are believed to have first made the war bonnets. The ceremonial regalia were later adopted by Western tribes, such as the Crows, Cheyennes, Blackfeet and Kiowas. It is reported that war bonnets have almost vanished from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The remaining stronghold for the area belongs to the Blackfeet Confederacy in Alberta. As elderly Natives pass away, so does the traditional knowledge behind crafting the war bonnet.

Naming Ceremony

Along with claiming an elder gave her permission to use a photo filter, Wolf also claims she was given the Native name Moon Eyes Singing. Much like the alleged permission she received for the filter, this appears to be another highly unlikely claim. In order to receive a Native name, the recipient must be either Native American or formally adopted into a First Nation family. Many Natives will receive more than one name throughout their lifetime. These names typically reflect a certain strength in a person and are often represented by an animal symbolizing their strengths.

While naming ceremonies are different from tribe to tribe, generally a name is requested from an elder. Once permission has been received, the elder will consider an appropriate name. The name will then be kept secret until the naming ceremony. The ceremony is held outdoors with a ceremonial fire being prepared. Suitable ceremonial regalia is worn if available and the elder explains his reasons for the name that has been chosen. The name is not said until the end of the ceremony and the recipient must wait until he is deemed worthy of the name. The process of proving the recipient to be worthy of the name could take weeks or even months and can be stripped away should the recipient dishonor it. In other words, Natives do not just handout names to anybody.

Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is defined as the “adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of the people who belong to that culture.” The majority of the time, cultural appropriation will be conducted by a dominant group with a less privileged group being the victim. A general way to decipher cultural appropriation from adoption is by asking yourself three questions. Does the person have a genuine interest in the culture or are they just hopping on a trend? Are the items being displayed made by someone from that culture and does the person hold personal attachment to those items? And most importantly, is it respectful to that culture?

Shara Michelle And The Freedom Public Press

Wolf’s actions are a perfect example of cultural appropriation. Instead of simply stating it was a photo filter and leaving it at that, her claim that an elder gave her permission to use the photo filter is beyond insulting to Native culture and demonstrates just how little some think of Native traditions. To continue adding insult to injury, claiming she was given a Native name without any of the proper ceremonies shows a blatant disregard of Native culture.

Wolf claims to be a “freelance photojournalist” who also the media outlet, “Freedom Public Press.” However, there is no evidence of Freedom Public Press actually existing aside from an unpublished Facebook page and a recently purchased LLC. There is also little to no evidence showing Wolf is a freelance photojournalist.

Wolf is one of several people within the “family rights movement” that appear to self-title their worth within the movement. Last year, Wolf had a brief movement of viral attention after going on Facebook LIVE following an all-day police standoff involving a man named Lee Kenworthy. By the time Wolf arrived on the scene, the standoff had ended and Kenworthy had been taken into custody. Wolf continued to stream from outside his residence as Kenworthy’s two children were taken to a relative’s residence.

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