A “Cowboys and Indians” theme for a homecoming dress-up day and game at Hauser High School has generated some dissent about its appropriateness.
Hauser students this week have celebrated Crazy Sock Day and College Day as part of the lead-up to Friday’s Jets’ homecoming game against the Mohawks from Waldron High School in Shelby County.
Dress-up themes for students sections are a common occurrence at varsity basketball games in gyms around the state, with the home team usually selecting its choice of group apparel by playing off the visiting team’s mascot.
However, Genay Whipker of Columbus posted a note on the Republic’s Facebook page about Hauser’s “Cowboys and Indians” theme: “I find that very inappropriate.”
“Native Americans were slaughtered — we took their land,” she said. “And now we’re encouraging our kids to put on face paint and make Indian sounds — it just rubbed me wrong,” Whipker said.
The theme is particularly inappropriate in that it is occurring the same week as Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, she said.
“I don’t feel this is OK on any level,” Whipker said.
Also posting on social media was Angel Cox-Colbert, also of Columbus, who said she found the theme distasteful, upsetting and insensitive, particularly after the fight that Native Americans had at Standing Rock.
The 2016 standoff involved the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native Americans protesting the $3.7 billion Standing Rock pipeline was viewed as a threat to their water rights and cultural heritage.
“I live in Bartholomew County, a community in which, overall, I feel safe,” she said. “Recently there has been noted racially motivated activity by white nationalist and other organizations that promote white power.”
Cox-Colbert said she does not feel the majority of fellow residents are tolerant of this type of behavior.
“On the other hand, I see where some feel turning a blind eye to stereotypes and racial issues is best. I don’t want to be that person,” she said.
Hauser Principal David Wintin said there is a misunderstanding about the theme, as it was selected as a nod to a magazine, “Cowboys and Indians.”
Several Hauser students are deeply involved in rodeo and barrel racing and subscribe to the magazine, which focuses on Western culture, Native American art and culture, and the legends of the West, Wintin said.
The January 2018 issue features actor Ed Harris on the cover in Western garb, and promos stories about Western decor, native writers and landscape paintings. Other recent covers have featured actors Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood.
Debra Haza of Columbus, who is of Native American descent, contacted Wintin and is scheduled to meet with him at 9:30 a.m. today at the high school to discuss the theme.
Haza said although Wintin has explained the magazine connection and told Haza that a student who is involved in rodeo suggested the theme, her position is that the school’s Twitter feed posted the theme, suggesting it had adult authorization.
The racial aspect of the theme should have raised a red flag with the principal, Haza said.
“I totally understand the magazine reference, but allowing students to dress up as cowboys and Indians is not right,” she said. “I am thinking about the domination of our culture and this is bringing back the stereotype of the American Indian — that we are no longer present,” she said.
“Maybe he (Wintin) doesn’t understand that Native Americans have progressed and we would like students to recognize that as well,” she said.
What Waldron says
Gary Brown, principal at Waldron High School, said the school won’t be offended by what the Hauser students have planned for their homecoming theme on Friday.
“I don’t think they’re trying to be mean-spirited about it,” Brown said of the plans. “It’s kind of a good fit for the game. We’re not taking offense.”
The Mohawks do have a mascot who dresses in Indian attire, and have had since the end of the 1940s, he said.
“A lot of places do,” he said of the ongoing tradition. During home games, the mascot stands at center court and faces the team and home bench during warmups, which is also a common tradition among many schools.
On Saturday, Hauser has another game with a team with a Native American mascot, the Milan Indians, he said. If you look up the Milan team online, their address is 609 N. Warpath Drive in Milan.
Waldron and Milan are among 178 teams in Indiana that have a Native American mascot, including the Anderson High School Indians, Brownstown Central Braves and the Whiteland Community High School Warriors.
The National Congress of American Indians has a long-standing opposition to Indian sports mascots, describing them and derogatory and harmful stereotypes.
The organization has an ongoing campaign, launched in 1968, asking teams to drop their Native American mascots that use racial stereotypes in names and imagery. According to the organization, there have been no professional teams adopting new Native American mascots since 1963. The NCAA has a policy seeking to remove harmful “Indian” mascots, according to the organization.
Although more than 2,000 of the “Indian references in sports and mascots are now changed, nearly 1,000 still remain, The National Congress of American Indians reports.
Here is a breakdown, by name, of schools using Native American mascots in Indiana:
— Source: National Congress of American Indians
For more information about the National Congress of American Indians, and their campaign to eliminate Native American mascots from sports teams, visit ncai.org.