January 04, 2016

Hopis protest Koshare Dancers

Hopis say Boy Scout performances make mockery of tradition, religion

By Anne ConstableFor decades, Boy Scouts from Southern Colorado have been performing Indian dances during the holiday season at the Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta, Colo.

The Koshare Dancers, named for a Pueblo Indian clown society representing ancestral spirits, have visited 47 states and three different countries, attended Pueblo powwows and feast days, and even traveled to the White House and Madison Square Garden in New York. According to their website, they have been “recognized and accepted by the Native American community—the highest honor bestowed on a non-Indian group.”

But when Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, the director of the Hopi Office of Cultural Preservation in Kykotsmovi, Ariz., learned recently about the program and saw video online of some of the performances, he was disturbed. The performers, he said, were “mimicking our dances, but they were insensitive, as far as I’m concerned.”

Many other members of the tribe agreed with him, some of them posting their views on Facebook. “They’re making a mockery of our native religion,” one person said on the group’s Facebook page, while another wrote, “I can’t believe this Boy Scout troop thinks this is ok.”

Kuwanwisiwma wrote to the board of the museum asking for the dances to cease, and he followed up with phone calls. He called the Boy Scout performances “commercial exploitation” and said they were “mimicking the Hopi butterfly, buffalo and Tewa ceremonial clowns.”

Kuwanwisiwma said he got no response. But when he went to the Koshare Indian Museum’s website, he saw an announcement that the 2015 Winter Night Dances, scheduled to begin Dec. 19, had been canceled “for this year out of respect for our Native American friends and until there has been an opportunity to discuss the Hopi’s concerns in a timely manner.”
Comment:  Just looking at the photos, you can see several problems. The white boys are wearing powwow-style regalia associated with Plains tribes, not pueblos. A drum circle is also associated with Plains tribes. As is the boy dressed as a chief. One of the dancers has faux war paint, which I don't think is part of the powwow dance regalia.

All this is happening under the Koshare name. The koshares belong to a Pueblo clown society whose members don't dress up in regalia to dance. It's like a group of "Greek" dancers doing a Scottish number in kilts--inappropriate and inauthentic. I.e., stereotypical.

There's no word on exactly who in the "Native American community" approved the dances, if anyone. There are hundreds of Native communities, of course--not just one. But only some of them are relevant. Unless the dancers got wide-ranging approval from the two dozen Pueblo communities in Arizona and New Mexico, I wouldn't brag about it.

In these cases, "approval" often came decades ago from someone who didn't know any better. That's not close to being good enough. If present-day Pueblo leaders have approved these dances, please...let us know who they are.

For more on the subject, see Boy Scout "Indian Dance Teams."

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