April 21, 2015

Indians protest Biloxi "Indians"

Houska: 'I Didn't Know' Doesn't Cut It Anymore

By Tara HouskaI was at the Georgetown waterfront enjoying the sun when I received a message from my friend Sarah Crawford, a citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. The Biloxi High School band from Mississippi was marching in the parade, and every single student was wearing a faux headdress that would be the envy of Coachella. Sarah sent me a video of nearly two hundred students clad in bright red and white headdresses, expressing her shock and discomfort at the display.

Here, in the Nation’s Capital, home of the most prominent Native mascot debate in the country, an entire brigade of high school students proudly wore the embodiment of cultural appropriation. Immediately the question of whether it was intentional came to mind–not one of these students had a fleeting moment of hesitation? Not one envisioned the subsequent petition denouncing their choice of attire?
And:The history of playing Indian in the United States is a long one, harkening back to the days when government-sponsored genocide of Native peoples was the norm. Sentimental racism is difficult for many to let go of; love of team, love of romanticized Native American cultures is far easier to accept than the harsh realities of the historic and ongoing treatment of a people that continue to exist.

But frankly, at this point it’s getting old. Sentimental racism is still racism. With every new appropriation incident, with every new protest or educational event organized by Native communities, it becomes more and more difficult to legitimately claim: “I didn’t know.”
I Am Not Your Mascot, Biloxi!

By Deloria Many Grey HorsesOn Tuesday morning April 13, 2015, I was reading through my newsfeed on Facebook. I came across an Indian Country article on F.A.I.R. Media (Fair Accurate Indigenous Representation). The article featured the Biloxi “Indians” High School marching band from Biloxi, Mississippi wearing headdresses as part of the band uniforms. The band, made up of 81 students, recently preformed in Washington, DC at the National Cherry Blossom Festival. On national television, the entire band performed in Native American Plains-style headdresses.

I remember taking a deep breath as my heart sank into my stomach. As an Indigenous woman from the Blackfoot Confederacy, Chickasaw, and Yankton Sioux Nations I have experienced racism first hand. I am visibly First Nations/Native American and I also carry my maternal grandfather’s last name Many Grey Horses. As a child, I was teased for being a "dirty squaw" and told to get back to the reserve where I belonged. As a child in elementary school it was hard not to internalize these hateful remarks from peers and adults. Research has shown racism is a learned behavior from birth to the teenage years. My peers didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a racist.” Rather, the most likely place where they learned racism—consciously and unconsciously—is in their homes. I recall feeling isolated, dreading the first day of class each year just because I knew the teachers would be calling out our last name. I always felt targeted for being different. I saw the subtle dirty looks directed at my appearance, coming from peers and even teachers. The unspoken message came across loud and clear: That my Nativeness does not have a place in the aesthetic of colonialism.
And:My struggles in life motivated me to stand up to Biloxi High School. I reposted the article and a community leader whom I greatly respect encouraged me to call the school to make a complaint. Although, the school did not answer any of my calls I was able to leave a complaint with the Biloxi Superintendent's office. I thought to myself, “Why stop here?” With the help of a fellow Berkeley alum and another community advocate, I started a petition on Change.org requesting Biloxi to please change their band uniform and mascot.

Within four days, we got over 500 signatures. People across Turtle Island who are just as passionate on the subject took to social media and help raise awareness about the petition. I was pleased with the support the petition was getting, so I shared an update on my Facebook page yesterday. Within a few hours I received an email from Facebook stating that I had been reported for using a fake name and my account was temporarily shut down. I had to provide a government-issued ID in order to have my account reactivated.

Biloxi High School Alumni are defending themselves by stating they are "honoring" Native Americans—when it appears they are simply "playing Indian," something that doesn't honor us at all. The available research on the history on the Biloxi Tribe reveals that the majority of the Biloxi Nation was decimated by the chicken pox epidemic in the 1800s and then the remaining members were forcibly removed to Missouri. The Biloxi language is extinct and their traditional headdress is not the Northern Plains style headdress.

So I would suggest to the Biloxi Alumni that if you're talking about honoring or respecting the Biloxi Tribe, please show respect to the actual traditions of the Biloxi Tribe.
Comment:  For more on Biloxi High School, see Biloxi Indians Learn They're Offensive and Biloxi High School Stereotypes Indians.

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