A Montreal mother says she is outraged her children were greeted on the first day of school by teachers wearing native costumes.

Jennifer Dorner, whose children attend Ecole Lajoie in Outremont, said the move was inappropriate.      

Dorner said another parent was told teachers were wearing headdresses and handing them out to students, because Grade 3 students were going to be learning about indigenous history. Both Dorner's daughter and niece are in the third grade and refused to wear the headdresses.

Dorner said even if the move was not meant in bad faith, the move was insensitive, especially if the school was trying to portray indigenous culture in an authentic way.

“Indigenous people are still alive and practising their traditional ceremonies and for them, wearing the headdress is something very sacred and very important to them,” she said. “It’s not meant as a costume and so, if we listen to the indigenous people, we will learn that it’s not appropriate, whether your intentions are good or not, the outcome is it has a negative impact in indigenous communities.”

Such headdresses are generally only worn by elders or those who have 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.

Wearing headdresses as costume is offensive to native communities, explained Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal.

"I seriously doubt those teachers would walk onto a First Nations reserve looking like that. I think in their heart they know that it's wrong. So why would you teach this generation that this is correct, because that is what they are learning, so we have to undo this now but there are a lot of First Nations people who are willing to do it that are really informed and know the culture and are ready to go and step up to the plate," she said.

In a public Facebook post, Dorner added:

“In our family, we teach our children about cultural respect, we teach them the importance of honouring indigenous cultures, we teach them about privilege and the history of genocide in our country. My niece did not feel comfortable wearing her headdress and sadly said ‘I want to rip this up.’ I don't even know what to do at this point,” she said, adding that she has met with the school principal and vice principal in the past on matters of cultural sensitivity.

Dorner also stated that this isn’t the first incident she felt was culturally insensitive at the school – that there was a “blackface incident” at last year’s Christmas play.

She said it might be “time to demand cultural sensitivity training in all schools.”

A friend of Dorner's who is native has offered to meet with the school principal.

The Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying they did not mean to offend anyone, simply use the headdresses to organize students and planned to teach them about indigenous cultures.

“The activity in question was educational in nature… It was to help direct students to their classes… where they were made aware of the diverse aboriginal communities in Quebec…It is a theme for our school year…We apologize if anyone was offended, it was not our intention,” the statement read.

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

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

With a report from Sidhartha Banerjee of The Canadian Press