Festival Etiquette

Culture plays an important role in the life of every person and it connects us with the people who came before. Respectful behavior and courteous manners play an important role in learning about any culture. Native American culture varies widely from Tribal nation to Tribal nation, and even from person to person within a Tribal community. Native American culture cannot be represented by one broad set of defined beliefs or experiences. The Moundville Native American Festival (MNAF) is an opportunity to connect with the Moundville Descendant Communities, as well as other Southeastern Tribal groups from nearby neighboring territories, to learn about the diversity that is Southeastern Native American culture. At the MNAF, a diverse array of communities and traditions are represented through the work of artisans, performers, demonstrators and friends who keep this cultural Knowledge alive and graciously offer to share it with you. If you wish to participate and learn from these cultural traditions with our Native American friends, we ask that you please follow these simple etiquette considerations to show respect and gratitude to the communities who work so hard to keep these traditions and skills alive.

Do: Ask questions!

A common question is, what terminology is most appropriate when referring to someone from a Native American community or identity? Native American, Indian, Indigenous, First Nation? The answer is, each tribal nation and even each person has their own preference of how they prefer to identify with their culture. The key to showing respect to an individual is to ask them how they prefer to reference their culture and identity. E.g. “What Nation are you from? “How does your community prefer to be referenced?”

Do: Compliment an artist or performer on their attire or outfit, referred to as ‘regalia’.

The skills to master beadwork, feather work, leather work, embroidery and other cultural traditions and crafts and art are often passed down for many generations and require great skill to replicate accurately. Regalia is often made over several years and by a variety of family and community members. Each aspect of regalia has meaning and purpose. Reverence and respect should always be shown to a tribal member in their regalia, and the immense skill and intention put into its beauty and uniqueness.

Do not refer to ceremonial regalia as a ‘costume’ and do not touch anyone or their clothing, especially any feathers attached to their regalia. Feathers are often deeply meaningful and should only be carried and touched by tribal members. If you find a feather that has fallen from a dancer’s regalia, DO NOT pick it up. Report the fallen feather to the emcee or other festival staff immediately. Encourage others not to touch or move the feather until it has been retrieved.

Do: Ask performers to take pictures with you!

Many will anticipate a line to form after their performance to sign autographs and take photos.

Do not assume that it is okay to publish a photo in a publication UNLESS the performer or artist has given you expressed consent for their likeness to be used. It is best practice to ask the performer or artist to sign a model release and collect correct tribal affiliations if you intend to publish their likeness.

Do: Have fun and enjoy learning about other cultures.

Native American culture is very diverse and the Moundville Native American Festival is a great gathering of Southeastern tribal traditions. Be respectful as you learn and remember that you are standing on sacred land which is home to the ancestors of the Muskogean communities who you see here today. Practice patience and empathy as you get to know our Native American friends and family.

Do Not: Use slurs or generalized stereotypes.

If the term was frequently used in Western movies or historical dramas, chances are that it is not a respectful or appropriate term to use. When in doubt, just use your manners and politely ask how someone would like to be referenced.

Do Not: Point with your finger to direct attention to a particular artist or performer, even when the noise level is high.

Many Native cultures consider the pointed finger to be a rude gesture; instead, nod your head and direct your gaze in the direction where you would like the attention to be focused. Rule of thumb: “Point with your nose!”

Alcohol, drugs, tobacco are always prohibited. Bad attitudes are strongly discouraged!