Photo courtesy Koshare Dancers
Boy Scouts Koshare Dancers imitate and mock Native American traditions, says contributing writer Samuel White Swan-Perkins.

White Swan-Perkins: Koshare Dancers and Their Wildly Offensive Cultural Appropriation

Samuel White Swan-Perkins

To depend on a Boy Scout in times of trouble has been a long standing American tradition. After all, the group has an age-old tradition of making young men out of boys, and their credo alleges to support this:

On my honor, I will do my best

To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law

To help other people at all times

To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Apparently, there is a bit of a discrepancy going on, because if you take a look the Pueblo peoples’ that the Koshare Dancers of La Junta, Colorado, are imitating are quite displeased.

The leaders of the local Boy Scouts troop seem to have an unusual idea of what constitutes help and straight moral fiber. Since 1933, the troop has seen fit to appropriate the customs and ceremonies of the local Pueblo Native American nations. Under the guidance of a J.F. "Buck" Burshears, and allegedly inspired by the cohesion shown in a holiday-themed boys choral performance, the group decided that the preservation of Native American traditions fell upon their shoulders. With no apparent permission, guidance, overview or critique from the original owners of these traditions, the troop of boys began dressing, singing and dancing in the Pueblo tradition.

“Through the preservation and interpretation of Southwest and Plains tribal art and artifacts, the Koshare Indian Museum provides a practical educational experience to visitors and residents of all ages and offers a Scouting program aimed at enhancing the lives of youth through an appreciation for and interpretation of the arts, cultures, and dances of the Native Americans,” read the Koshare Dancers website.

The group has even gone so far as to construct a museum in what they are calling a Kiva [a sacred meeting place for Pueblo men], which has been a recognized by the State of Colorado. They maintain a vast collection of Southwestern art and artifacts. Many Pueblo people are not very happy with this and maintain that they need no assistance from the Boy Scouts in maintaining their ceremonial traditions.

Photo courtesy Koshare Dancers

Bay Area Native American activist JoHanna Coriz, a member of the Kewa Pueblo, said that "Native people have fought through genocide and struggled just to keep our religious freedom. Koshare Indian Dancers do not know the meaning of these ceremonial dances they are replicating. Every song, every step has a meaning. As a Pueblo Native, I am saddened to see our sacred dances mocked by non-Natives. These ‘ceremonial performances,’ as they call it, are sacred prayers to our people. I also saw a Kiva that they built, which they refer to as a clubhouse. A Kiva is a sacred place for prayer and non-Natives are never allowed to enter one. What they are doing by building a Kiva is beyond disrespectful. That's like us building a church and mocking Christian beliefs.”

Coriz is not alone in her opinion of what is going on at the Koshare Indian Museum. There are many members of a Facebook page, “Koshare Dancers STOP WITH YOUR Idiocy,” which gained nearly 800 followers in under a week.

While Charles Eastman, Boy Scouts of America co-founder, was Lakota on his mother's side, and may have encouraged the implementation of some Native American tradition into the organization's design, groups like the Koshare Dancers may do well to remember that more than 100 years ago, the overall academic opinion was that Native Americans would likely be extinct by now. These days, Indian country is thriving, and tribes are beginning to represent real dollars in their respective states through agricultural, animal husbandry, and similar pursuits. There has been a major cultural resurgence in language, ceremony and dance in recent years. As such, it is considered passé for a non-Native American group to appropriate our customs.

Likewise, the subject of cultural appropriation and intellectual property rights is being debated by Native American scholars, and tribes have been defending themselves in court over their rights to withhold sacred objects and designs. Time will tell how the Boy Scouts of America and groups like the Koshare Dancers will recognize the rights of Native Americans. The Boy Scouts of America website states concern for the security of the children it reaches, while it promotes cultural mimicry of a major racial group. Many tribal members think it's time for the Boy Scouts to wake up and distance themselves from these harmful practices. Time will tell if the organization will listen to those they work so hard to imitate.

I reached out to Koshare Dancers on numerous occasions for a quote and did not receive a response.

Samuel White Swan-Perkins

Samuel White Swan-Perkins is of Tsalagi, Welsh, Siksika and German ancestry. His is the owner of White Swan-Perkins Cultural Consulting, and also a member of the Kiowa Gourd Dance Society. He currently lives in Northern California. Follow him at @sam_wspcc.

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onedman's picture
Submitted by onedman on
It might seem rude but I don't think so. They should be reminded they are immigrants. I am white, I am a immigrant. I try to show respect. For me this whole boy scout thing is disgusting, it is an out-right display of disrespect. It does not pass the smell test. Asking first never hurt anyone that I'm aware of but then again, I'm different and thankful for it.

WhiteManWanting's picture
Submitted by WhiteManWanting on
Giving them the benefit of the doubt for starters never hurts - just in case. So, let's suppose that the original intent, however naive, came out of a feeling of respect for another culture, and an unrecognized need to "rescue" others that hadn't asked for it. If that is so, it still remains naive, self-centered, and indicative of nothing more than a superficial study of "facts." But once someone is shown that there is more to an issue than was first seen, one then has a moral responsibility to acknowledge that additional information, and make changes where it shows conflict between injury and insult, and original intent. Imagine if those same Boy Scouts were to build a Jewish temple, or a Catholic cathedral, and recreate the ceremonies held in those places that are sacred to their true owners, complete with robes, emblems, performances, and words. However authentic they may otherwise appear, the Boy Scouts would be presuming to act in place of one that had actual authority, AS IF the Boy Scouts had that same authority, blessing the Holy Communion dressed in the robes of an ordained priest, for example - or even performing a mock bris (circumcision) on an anatomically correct male doll representing an eight year old baby. Is there any doubt that Christians or Jews would be offended, and call for the practices to stop? I find this beyond offensive, once it got to the point of open criticism and seeking comment from Boy Scout authorities - only to be met by silence on their part. What ~might~ have once been of honorable though misguided intent has now become willful, prideful continuation of their OWN tradition - now an open, knowing tradition of mockery. One might be able to successfully argue an innocent origin, but they can no longer argue a legitimate excuse. So they remain silent - after all, it might hurt the sensibilities of those "poor" boys who worked so hard to learn the steps and words. [Sarcasm/ON] They should be rewarded now by being allowed to continue their mockery [Sarcasm/OFF]. Heaven forbid they be expected to find some new truly worthy cause.

WhiteManWanting's picture
Submitted by WhiteManWanting on
Ooops - I just noticed I referred a circumcision at 8 years of age. I know better and have no idea why I typed that (and missed it). They are performed at 8 DAYS of age.