By Tara Houska
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?
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.”
By Deloria Many Grey Horses
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.
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.