Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cowboys vs. Indians Day at Thunderbird High School (with short update)

Tonight on the University of Arizona's Tohono O'odham Student Association (UA TOSA) Facebook page, I learned about a situation happening in Phoenix that shocked, disgusted and angered me. 
Thunderbird High School is hosting a "Cowboys vs. Indians Day" tomorrow (10/24) as part of the "Spirit Week" leading up to their Homecoming on Friday. 
A Native student named, Traviz Tuvungytewa, a junior at Thunderbird, posted the following video to his facebook page and asked others to share it on his behalf.
"My response to Thunderbird High's Cowboy vs. Indian day.  I hope you guys watch this despite the length. I hope you guys at least see this from my perspective.  SPREAD THE WORD THIS IS NOT OK" -Traviz 

In the video Traviz shares that upon hearing about the Cowboys vs. Indians Day, requested that the school change the theme for that singular day. 

He took his concerns to the principal and she declined his request.  She then justified her decision to allow the day to continue as planned, despite the offensive nature, because their school's mascot... is a "Chief."  

No, the school is not predominately Native American.  Yes, I understand there is a great sense in pride for predominately Native American schools to use Native terms and imagery in their school's athletics.  I side with these schools for their ownership of these terms and images.  This, however, is not one of those situations.  This is a school in Glendale, Arizona.  This student is of the minority.   

Of course, this comes on the heels of today's ignorant statements in made by Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer regarding the "Redskins" team name.  You can read her skin-crawlingly offensive drivel here: Brewer: Nothing offensive about 'Redskins' team name 

I greatly admire this young man for his honesty and bravery on such a shockingly polarizing issue.   

For those of you who are still trying to justify the use of Native American terms and imagery in athletics, please take the time to listen to this young, Native American describe how alienated and persecuted it makes him feel just to attend his local school, which has a "Chief" as their mascot.   
Although the student feels that it is "too late" to change the minds of his administrators, even with outside support, he hopes that it will at least begin a discussion regarding the changing of their school's mascot. 

I wrote the following letter on his behalf and sent it to an administrator at Glendale Union High School District.

Mr. Capistran, 
It has come to my attention that Thunderbird High School is hosting a "Cowboys vs. Indians Day" as part of their spirit week festivities tomorrow.  It has also come to my attention that at least one Native American student has voiced their concerns to the Principal of Thunderbird High School and his request to have the theme changed has been denied.    
I am shocked and disappointed by the Student Council's decision to host such an event.  Although I'm disappointed by their choice, I would like to emphasize that I do not place blame on them, as they are young and have much to learn about the world around them.  
I am, however, truly offended and angered that the administration of Thunderbird High School not only approved the theme, but continued to support the event even after a Native American student voiced his concerns, and requested that the theme of that singular day, be changed.  
I am shocked that Thunderbird High School, an educational institution is continuing to promote this theme, which blatantly disrespects its Native American students!  
The "Cowboys vs. Indians" era in American history was an extremely violent and devastating period for the American Indian People of the Southwest. That era in American history was a time in which Indigenous populations were aggressively, brutally and mercilessly invaded, relocated and/or murdered for the sake of land, gold and "progress."   
Having a day such as a "Cowboys vs. Indians Day" is comparable to hosting a "Germans vs. The Nazi's Day" or a "Slaves vs. Slave-owners Day".  It is unacceptable and deplorable that this event is being supported by Thunderbird High School.     
Choosing to host such an event both alienates and ostracizes your Native American students and makes a mockery of the pain and persecution that our people have endured throughout history.  It creates an antagonistic racial divide between those who are Native American, and those who are not.  
It is our job as educators to provide a safe, welcoming and supportive learning environment for our students, one which is free of hostility, discrimination and hate.  
I hope that by drawing attention to this severe lapse in judgement, the Glendale Union High School District can bring about administrative action on this event and open up the discussion on how your schools can educate your students to honor, respect and celebrate cultural differences, rather than perpetuate offensive stereotypes and facilitate racism.  
I am asking that you personally visit the Thunderbird High School on 10/24 and discuss how you and the principal can bring an end to this offensively "themed" day.  
I look forward to your response, 
Thank you, 
My full name 
My contact information
For those of you still engaging in the "Native Americans as Mascots debate," the debate is now over. 
It's done.  It's offensive and it's unacceptable.
It's time to take action.
::UPDATE:: (Sorta)
Here's a short update from Traviz' cousin', who is the person who originally brought this story to my attention.  Here's what she shared with the UofA Tohono O'odham Student Association's page
"So far I've gotten word from 2 news stations who have taken special interest in the story but here is the latest update as of an hour or so ago. A few parents and my Aunt (Travis' mother) have spoken with the principal to address this situation concerning Thunderbird High Schools spirit day, themed, "Cowboys versus Indians" earlier today. The principal stated she did not realize the implications and effects the theme raised. However, as educators the school and principal should have known better and should have stopped this from ever happening. The Glendale Union HS district administration will be contacted. We feel that the the American Indian students deserve an apology! Another student from ASU's AIS suggested the school release a public apology at the pep rally, the school reluctantly did not go for the idea. The principal stated the theme of "Cowboys VERSUS Indians" was taken out of context and was supposed to be, "Cowboys AND Indians" (As if that were any better!!!). It still represents and perpetuates the same notion of racism, segregation and the emotional infliction it bestows upon the American Indian students of that school. The high school is supposed to ensure the safety and well being of every student, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity etc. Thunderbird High School is not up holding those responsibilities. My family members do not deserve to put up with this and basically be told by the the school that it's ok to segregate and exploit the American Indian students. These students deserve an apology and the Thunderbird High School principal and faculty need to address this situation to their non-Indian students and educate them on what this theme disrespectfully represents."

Let's let that sink in...  "The Cowboys VERSUS Indians theme was taken out of context and was supposed to be, 'Cowboys AND Indians."
I'll try to keep you posted!
Thank you to all of you who wrote emails on behalf of Traviz!

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