Hauser changes dress-up theme

HOPE — Hauser High School students are going all in on Western attire for their homecoming theme today after listening to concerns of a Native American woman who questioned the appropriateness of their initial “cowboys and Indians” theme.

Debra Haza of Columbus, who is of Native American descent, met Thursday morning with Hauser Principal David Wintin and two students who had selected the original theme in what the group described as a good discussion.

Bob Pitman, who like Haza is a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, a Columbus group seeking racial equality, also participated.

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.

Hauser is playing the Waldron High School Mohawks in tonight’s homecoming game, one day before playing the Milan Indians. The Mohawks have a mascot in Native American attire who travels with the team, but Milan does not. The two schools are among 178 in Indiana that have a Native American-themed mascot.

Using Thursday’s conversation with Haza and Pitman as an educational opportunity, Wintin said it was the students who decided they wanted to change the theme and encourage just a Western-wear theme rather than anything that would be disrespectful to Native American culture.

“We were essentially ignorant that this would be offensive,” Wintin said, referencing a time when “playing cowboys and Indians” was a common playtime activity of childhood.

“I think we have a better grasp now of where they are coming from and where we are coming from. We recognize the theme was off kilter in this day and age,” he said.

“I did not go in and say, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ ” Haza said.

“I wanted to help them on their way to better understand Native American culture,” she said. “We’re trying to educate people.”

That includes telling young people that the words “cowboys and Indians” cause historical trauma to many Native Americans when they hear the phrase, she said.

“It actually hurts my feelings when Indian people are referred to as savages,” she said.

Haza said she was elated to learn that the students felt the theme needed to be changed, which they announced on a Twitter feed Thursday.

“They did? Really?” Haza said upon learning of that development. “We must have done some good. That’s awesome.”

Wintin and the students have invited Haza to come to Hauser in the future to speak to the high school’s ethnic studies class.

If you go

Where, when: Waldron at Hauser boys basketball, 7:30 p.m. today. Hauser High School gymnasium, 9273 State Road 9, Hope.

What: Wear Western apparel to support the Jets.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.