February 13, 2016

Koshare Dancers cancel Winter Dances

Boy Scout Koshare Dancers Need to Stop Stealing From Natives

By Tara HouskaIt’s an honor. Respect. Appreciation. Tradition. You just don’t understand. So go the familiar excuses made for appropriating culture to the objecting group.

The Boy Scouts are a prime ongoing example of this phenomenon, but perhaps reevaluation will lead to change. In mid-December, the “Koshare Dancers,” a so-called interpretive dance group from Boy Scout Troop 232, located in La Junta, Colorado, cancelled their Winter Dances at the request of the Hopi Nation Cultural Preservation Office. Whether this is permanent remains to be seen.

Since the 1930s, the Koshare Dancers of Boy Scout Troup 232 have been performing their version of Hopi, Lakota, Kiowa, Ojibwe, Blackfoot, Diné and Comanche religious ceremonies. Originally begun by James “Buck” Burshears as the “Boy Scout Indian Club,” mimicking Native American cultures became a core theme of Troup 232.

New members are called “Papooses,” and work toward the rank of “Koshare Brave,” which requires that troops learn five Koshare dances and create their version of traditional regalia. “Clan Chief” follows, upon reaching the rank of Eagle Scout.
Comment:  A few Facebook reactions to this photo:

What the heck????

They look like goddamn idiots.


The lack of self awareness is staggering. The emperor wears racist clothing.
I can't say if any of the outfits are inaccurate. At least there's no stereotypical Plains chief.

But I'm pretty sure the two "Koshare clowns" in stripes don't go with the other dancers. And all the dancers are divorced from their spiritual and symbolic meanings.

For instance, the koshares don't dance to entertain people. Rather, their purpose is this:

Pueblo clownsThe clowns perform during the spring and summer fertility rites. Among the Hopi there are five figures who serve as clowns: the "Payakyamu"; the "Koshare" (or "Koyaala" or "Hano Clown"); the "Tsuku"; the "Tatsiqto" (or "Koyemsi" or "Mudhead"); and the "Kwikwilyak." With the exception of the Koshare, each is a kachinam (personification of a spirit). It is believed that when a member of a kiva dons the mask of a kachinam, he abandons his personality and becomes possessed by that spirit.

Anthropologists, most notably Adolf Bandelier in his 1890 book, The Delight Makers, and Elsie Clews Parsons in her Pueblo Indian Religion, have extensively studied the meaning of the Pueblo Clowns and clown society in general. Bandelier notes that the Tsuku were somewhat feared by the Hopi as the source of public criticism and censure of non-Hopi like behavior. Their function can help defuse community tensions by providing their own humorous interpretation of the tribe's popular culture, by re-enforcing taboo, and by communicating traditions.
Turning a religious figure into an entertainment figure is problematical, especially for a small and misunderstood group. Secularizing a sacred event is one step in diluting a cultural practice to the point of extinction.

For more on the subject, see Hopis Protest Koshare Dancers and Boy Scout "Indian Dance Teams."

1 comment:

Rob said...


White Swan-Perkins: Koshare Dancers and Their Wildly Offensive Cultural Appropriation

The leaders of the local Boy Scouts troop seem to have an unusual idea of what constitutes help and straight moral fiber. Since 1933, the troop has seen fit to appropriate the customs and ceremonies of the local Pueblo Native American nations. Under the guidance of a J.F. "Buck" Burshears, and allegedly inspired by the cohesion shown in a holiday-themed boys choral performance, the group decided that the preservation of Native American traditions fell upon their shoulders. With no apparent permission, guidance, overview or critique from the original owners of these traditions, the troop of boys began dressing, singing and dancing in the Pueblo tradition.