Biloxi High School Alumni Perpetuate Ignorance, Cyberbully Natives, and Dictate Who is “Indian Enough” to Have an Opinion in Cultural Appropriation Debate.
[To read more about Native/Ally response to the cyberattacks, read my last post about #IndigenizeZuckerberg – or visit my featured article on the Good Men Project: Why Are Natives Changing Their Names to Zuckerberg on Facebook?.]
Deloria Many Grey Horses-Violich whose Facebook account was repeatedly suspended due to her Indigenous surname. Photo: Courtesy of Deloria Many Grey Horses-Violich
As a Native person in today’s society, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle to “walk two worlds”, to carry on your traditions while living up to the expectations of your Elders. These unique, cultural challenges might internalize a fear that you’re not “Indian enough”, not real enough. With our cultures repeatedly misrepresented, misunderstood, and aggressively appropriated all around us, this fear is only compounded. We aren’t stereotypes, so how can we expect to live up to them? It seems that the modern trend is to allow non-indigenous America (and Canada) define who they think are “Indian enough” to be members of our sovereign nations. This stereotyping also leads to a misunderstanding of cultures, and this misunderstanding leads to cultural appropriation. Furthermore, the American(/Canadian) government dictates which nations even “deserve” sovereignty. Not only is this unethical, but it’s unconstitutional. Yet, here we are today, continuing to stand up to the misrepresentation of our peoples, only to be stereotyped as “alcoholics” while we stand sober, pelted with stadium-priced beer cans from drunken sports fans. We voice our opinion, try to shed light on the truth of how we feel, only to be told to “go back to the Reservation”, back to our voiceless place that keeps the “Indian problem” from inconveniencing American (and Canadian) lives.
The Biloxi High School cultural appropriation is no different. In fact, it’s a glowing example of (North) American racism, hostility, and misunderstanding.
Although the Biloxi High School has long been listed on the American Indian Sports Team Mascots website as racist, the recent display of its uniform blasphemy at D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival has opened the floodgates of opposition. Natives and their allies have stood up against racist mascots and symbolism for decades, but this new age of social media has helped to finally level the playing field. Voices that were once drowned out are finally being heard, especially in Washington where a racial slur is still being casually thrown around in the name of sports. Seeing this display of mockery – an entire marching band in sacred war bonnets – was something no person with any cultural sensitivity or a sense of respect could ignore.
Biloxi uniform, photo from Des Grange’s Flickr page (Google image search).
Deloria Lane Many Grey Horses-Violich is one of these people. Peacefully, she generated a Change.org petition calling for Biloxi Superintendent Arthur McMillan to emancipate indigenous peoples from the cultural appropriation of our Tunica-Biloxi cousins. She eloquently defends the teenagers being subjected to the perpetuation of cultural appropriation, stating, “If you want to play the trumpet and represent your school, you have to wear an item that is sacred to many Native cultures.” And she’s absolutely right – you see, prejudice is taught, not genetic.
Petition signers’ comments flood in:
Yet, instead of the Biloxi High School alumni addressing the hurt and validity in the voices of “real Indians” and their sympathizers, they chose to speak on behalf of the present Biloxi student population and target Native peoples. These products of Biloxi education responded to Deloria’s honest efforts with a petition called “Save the Biloxi High School Mascot & Tradition” – also on change.org, started by Kristen “Krissi” West.
“Please Mr. McMillan, keep our Indian tradition alive!” Krissi writes in her petition.
Remember that statement for its hypocrisy; she and her fellow alumni beautifully dismantle their arguments as the day progresses.
On April 19th, Krissi announced “We will not allow outsiders to crush our traditions. We have currently surpassed the other petition that is trying to infringe on our culture, history and traditions…” Numerous rebuttals were posted, asking for this insanity to stop. None were heard. Instead, the alumni’s arrogance that they would “win” took ahold of all their humanity. A Lafayette HS Class of 1967 replied to these rebuttals:
So whose tradition is being honored again? Absolutely not that of the Tunica-Biloxi. Absolutely not that of the indigenous peoples.
This is just the beginning. The meaning behind our traditions have been under-rug-swept by genocide, and we #IdleNoMore.
Not long after the petition crossfire began, the Biloxi HS Alumni page was finding many of its comments and postings deleted by Facebook. When page’s administrators, who repeatedly admitted their incompetence at using Facebook, found that the page had suddenly become an “open” group, all fingers were immediately pointed to Deloria. She was accused of “creating the issue” around mascots.
The assault on Deloria’s account – including her temporary ban from Facebook – has added fuel to the already-growing fire of discrimination against Native names on accounts. (Read: Facebook Protest)
[UPDATE: On April 22nd, a BHS alumnus wrote on the Alumni page regarding why their page had suddenly become Open, or public, before they made another underground page. “As for supposedly someone hacking this group and changing it from closed to public,” he writes, “on Facebook it is IMPOSSIBLE to lower this setting after you have 250 members. Even if an Administrator wanted to make this change it can’t be done. Only an Administrator can only make it MORE restrictive and never less.” In other words, the accusations were clearly false against Deloria.]
Later in the morning, Lauren McWilliams demonstrates the lack of proper Native American education at Biloxi and adds the following misinformation:
Not only was an enrolled tribal member, daughter of Chief Phil Lane, Jr., being called “not Indian enough”, but suddenly alumni’s claims to blood quanta of “part Choctaw”, “part Cherokee”, and “part Seminole” were being used to justify their actions. More than once, Deloria was required to provide government-issued identification to confirm her indigenous surname “Many Grey Horses” was not in fact “fake”. F.A.I.R. Media (For Accurate Indigenous Representation) was also targeted, accused of promoting racism by denouncing “red face” and “black face”.
Note the irony of the commentary. Others remain apparently completely unaware of the last several decades of mascot activism.
In addition to targeting F.A.I.R. for being “racist”, Biloxi alumna Tara Harrell Duett called for a cyberattack on another woman in the Native community who had expressed her disapproval of the Biloxi alumni’s group movements.
After some debate, and a lot of deletion by Facebook, the Biloxi movement went underground. They created a private group littered with hashtags “#BHSFORLIFE” and “#GOBIGRED”.
Members had to prove that they were “Biloxi Indians”. Every single Biloxi graduate who made comments in favor of the anti-mascot argument was immediately deleted from the group, usually after efforts to prove they didn’t graduate from BHS and therefore were not “alumni” and “BHS Indian enough”. This means the movement is in the hands of ex-students, not even the children who are being affected by the mascot and made to wear sacred symbols without adequate education regarding them. Furthermore, one member admitted he didn’t attend all of his high school years at BHS, but because he graduated from BHS, that made him an “Indian” and capable of kicking out others who didn’t spend their Senior year at BHS.
Once under security of their group’s privacy, Biloxi alumni Tom Thurber began generating T-shirt and suggestions follow, as if adding insult to the injury of the Native #NotYourMascot campaign.
The alumni decide to sell the t-shirts to the students to raise money for their “cause”.
Thurber concurs, and Lateacha Tisha-Rose Reversè finds humor in the proposal.
Krissi West later suggests using booster.com and making a Native American Heritage Month celebration out of the “BHS tradition”.
Remember West’s defense of their mascot that non-Biloxians don’t know the history and rich culture associated with her school? For the entire afternoon of April 20th, the private group went back and forth, trying to decide when and why they actually became the “Biloxi Indians” and adopted headdresses into their school band uniforms. Therefore, their entire reasoning behind the petition is a blatant and misleading lie.
“From what I remember, IF I remember BHS history correctly, the school board back BEFORE Biloxi High School officially changed their mascot to the Indian, actually approached very important members of the Biloxi Indian tribe to officially as if they (the Biloxi Public School District) could use the Biloxi Indian as their mascot and also to use the headdress and the Indian tunic as uniform items,” writes Jerico Gotte, BHS Class of 2010.
Yes, you have a lot more research to do than you think.
“If it turns out that they are in fact offended by the uniform,” McWilliams writes, “we will see if we can compromise as far as uniforms are concerned.” Not only does McWilliams confirm that there is no known consent by the Tunica-Biloxi people to use them as a mascot, but she states they will compromise – not resolve – on the issue of their offense.
But next the alumni begin arguing that the Biloxi people themselves are not “Indian enough”. “Their ancestry cannot be 100% confirmed,” McWilliams states, claiming that many think “the tribe, and factual descendants are extinct.” Ignoring the tribe’s status of federal recognition, the group focuses instead on how “watered down” the tribe members are, and question if they’re even Biloxi at all. Lateacha states, “The Biloxi blood line is dead and only traces reside in those at Tunica-Biloxi. In fact you can find old Biloxi French families with as much Biloxi in them. I’d still love to hear from Tunica-Biloxi, but let’s be honest there is no real ‘Voice of the Tribe’ left.”
You want “purebloods”? What are we, dogs?
Meanwhile, BHS “Indians” continue to silence Native voices. Other members share photos and reminisce on their days as playing “Indians.”
See how Biloxi “celebrates” the Indian stereotype? Will students one day say “I remember when we appropriated Native cultures by wearing headdresses and were called the “Indians”, but I’m glad we no longer do it!”
West continues to defend the use of the Biloxi’s mascot for its symbolism. Megan Wilson agrees, stating that “The Indian shows bravery, honor, and strength… Mascots are symbols of respect and people need to get a life…!”
And what? Go back to the Reservation where we “belong”? So you don’t have to listen to our outrage in being labeled as hostile, vicious, inhuman beings?
These Biloxi Alumni demonstrate they honor nothing but stereotypes, cultural appropriation, themselves, and the “Indian” ideal that genuine Natives are fighting to remove. They have no cultural sensitivity and refuse to obtain a proper education in the matter. Furthermore, while indigenous peoples are busy fighting for every aspect of their equality, they are being accused of having “more important things to do”. Apparently adults reminiscing over high school and working overtime to keep racism in the education system is a more important thing to do. These “BHS Indians” pass judgment on “real Indians”, calling them “racists” and “whiners” for standing up for their sovereignties and rights as human beings. As a result, more civilized residents of Biloxi have joined the anti-mascot side in sympathy of the Natives, saying they are disgusted with their ex-classmates’ words and their childish actions. In fact, many have signed our petition.
It is absolutely imperative for the citizens of this country to wake up and realize the unnecessary harm being done by the continued use of racist mascots. The documented psychological damage on both Native and non-Native children should be proof enough of the necessity to change. Humans are not predisposed to prejudice; instead, we are teaching our non-indigenous children cultural insensitivity and our indigenous children low self-worth. We are perpetuating the lies of what constitutes being “Indian enough” and what doesn’t. Stop this injustice, Biloxi, like you finally stopped racially segregating your students in 1970. It’s time we moved beyond delusions of racial inequality.
If you are as frustrated by the exposed truth of the Biloxi resistance as I am, and see the need to discontinue the perpetuation of these stereotypes and the appropriation of cultures, please join us by spreading the word and signing our petition here. Thanks.