By Leonora LaPeter Anton
He'd left halfway through his daughter's roller derby competition in Sarasota that morning to drive to New Port Richey for this. His wife had been getting on him lately about gas money for these excursions.
And then suddenly the Krewe of Chasco was upon them, a parade float with a tepee surrounded by women in fringed leather halter tops and skirts and men in leather loincloths and beaded chokers.
Sal and his group—a Cherokee, two Navajos and two Chippewa—quickly bent down and grabbed their signs, elevating them silently over their heads.
Having Fun Playing Indian, Sal's sign asked. Grow Up!!
A man in a yellow mohawk headdress and a red beaded breastplate shrugged and lobbed a strand of pink beads over Sal's head. Another man in a beaded headband walked by as if he didn't even notice. A woman who was skipping along in knee-high moccasins, whooping and hollering, paused, mouthed something profane, and then stuck out her middle finger.
The real Indians stared back grimly.
And then just like that, the float and the fake Indians had passed.
The real American Indians gathered up their chairs and coolers. Five hours after Sal had left his family in Sarasota, less than a minute after he'd lifted his sign over his head, he trudged away.
The Chasco Fiesta Parade whooped and hollered in the distance.
A woman in a dark top and long flowing skirt held up a medicine wheel that she called "the tree of life." It was red, black, white, yellow, representing Indians, blacks, whites and Asians. On the edge of the room, some of the Indians began to frown. That's not exactly what a medicine wheel represented to them; it was more to pray for health and well-being.
A girl named Tiger Lily, who wore fringed leather boots and had stuck a "third eye" green rhinestone between her brown eyes, gushed about how happy she was to be here.
"Everyone has such beautiful energy," she said.
At that point, one of the Indians stood up.
"I represent the United Urban Warrior Society and the Florida AIM and my message is fairly simple," said Joelle Clark, a Lakota Indian who lives in Gainesville. "If you want to know about Native Americans, find one. We're all over the place. I'm concerned my culture is being stolen and spiritually being abused. And I don't think anybody in this room wants to be a part of that."
Grandmother grimaced. Raven That Speaks With the Cloud People looked at the ground. A crease had developed near Tiger Lily's third eye.
"This is very arrogant," said the woman in the sunflower jumper. "I dislike people who tear something down and don't do anything to build it up."
"You have no right to judge us," yelled the Medicine Wheel lady. "I have worked with Native Americans. That's not the native way."
"In a past life, we were you," said Raven That Speaks With the Cloud People. "We were Indians."
"Let's just love each other," said Tiger Lily.
Sal stood up. Here he was, yet again, fighting with people who really didn't understand why his need to keep them from practicing his traditions mattered. Sal wasn't looking for big battles, like Wounded Knee. He knew that most people ignored him. But if he could make one person understand, perhaps he had accomplished something.
"If you want to continue with this group, if you could just add 'style' or 'hobbyists' to the end of your advertisements," he implored nicely. "This could be a wonderful thing if done properly."
"No problem," said Grandmother. "I will change the name if it will make everybody more at peace."
If he can't get more than three people to hold up signs for a minute, he might as well give it up. That kind of protest won't persuade or educate anyone. It's not enough to even get their attention.
In fact, one could argue that it's counterproductive. Spectators see a tiny number of activists who have nothing better to do than harangue a parade for a minute. It makes them and their protest look inconsequential, as if no one supports them or cares.
Really, I suspect most adults won't change their minds about abstract issues like racism and stereotyping. You'd be better off trying to educate children not to tolerate Indian wannabes. Think in terms of shifting public opinion over a period of decades, not minutes.
For more on the subject, see Winddancer Called a "Cultural Thief" and AIM to Protest Chasco Krewe.