Miranda Washinawatok, 12, was suspended from a basketball game after being reprimanded for using the Menominee language in class.

Apologies Not Enough for Native Language Debacle


Miranda Washinawatok, Menominee, and her family have been in the public eye since the 12-year-old was punished back on January 19 for using her Native American language in class.

The family has received apology letters from the teacher who reprimanded Miranda, the assistant coach who benched her from that night’s basketball game and the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. But Tanaes Washinawatok, Miranda’s mother, still feels three people have earned termination.

She’s asking the Catholic Diocese, which runs Sacred Heart Catholic School in Shawano, Wisconsin, to remove the principal, the teacher and the assistant coach.

Tanaes said that Julie Gurta, the homeroom teacher who reprimanded Miranda, didn’t accept responsibility for her actions, but blamed a lack of communication.

"Any disciplinary actions taken were not targeting the use of her Native language," Gurta wrote, reported The Shawano Leader. "Rather, disciplinary actions were taken in response to the disrespectful comments and behaviors exhibited by Miranda over the course of the entire day."

Gurta goes on in the letter to apologize for not bringing these issues to the attention of the family sooner, but does apologize for her actions. Native News Netork reported that she slammed her hands on Miranda's desk and said: “You are not to speak like that! How do I know you’re not saying something bad? How would you like it if I spoke in Polish and you didn’t understand?”

"She did not apologize. What she has done is try to justify her actions against Miranda and diminish the character of a 12-year-old child," Tanaes told The Shawano Leader . "Julie Gurta had ample time to bring up concerns prior to this incident. (She) had the entire last month to issue an acceptable apology and her attempt is not sensitive to the strong language preservation issues we face as indigenous people."

A letter from Billie Jo DuQuaine, the school’s assistant basketball coach who suspended Miranda from the game the night of the incident, was short but apologetic.

"Without knowing the whole story, I suspended her, and I am sorry," DuQuaine wrote, reported The Shawano Leader. "I am asking you to please forgive me for (my) mistake in this incident."

In reply to all the letters, Tanaes sent a four-page letter to Dr. Joseph Bound, director of education for the Green Bay Diocese, calling for the dismissal of the three staff mentioned above.

Native News Network reported some of the content of the letter. In it, Tanaes says: "We place great faith in the staff that they will care for our children properly. Many families go to great lengths to send their children to Sacred Heart Catholic School. In my mind you have jeopardized the trust I have placed in this relationship. You have caused me to question the humility and compassion displayed by the staff at Sacred Heart.”

Tanaes sent her letter a week after an apology was issued by Bound to the Menominee Nation. In it he recognized the need for cultural diversity training for staff, reported the Associated Press.

Deacon Ray DuBois, diocese spokesman, also told the AP that they are working on developing a program with a relative of Miranda’s that will be used at Sacred Heart in April or May.

This incident has brought to light the days of boarding schools, when students were severely punished for speaking their languages or recognizing their culture at all. “The bad-heartedness behind this history persists when a 12-year-old child is subjected to such treatment in 2012,” wrote Jerry L. Hill, of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and president of the Indigenous Language Institute, for ICTMN.

Related Links:

Suspension of American Indian Student for Speaking Native Language Is Intolerant and Ignorant

Support Pours in for Menominee Student

Student Suspended for Speaking Native American Language

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pateechum's picture
Submitted by pateechum on
i lived on the menominee nation an when i got off the bus in shawno the non native people were very predjudice towards me.i see it hasnt changed since 1978

zahday638's picture
Submitted by zahday638 on
Today is Friday, March 2, 2012. This incident occurred on Jan. 19 yet I and others in these United States of America are just now hearing about it? This is indicative of today's America is it not? The news media would rather cover the antics of the political circus clowns and the latest superficial item regarding the Kardashians. First of all, what a beautiful young girl. "Hey gyah bone maw tdaw". In Kiowa that kind of means, "I hope you will meet(find) your boyfriend soon". You know, in essence, Roman Catholism believes in a "back door" into heaven. They actually believe the priest can give you absolution for your sins. Only Jesus can forgive you for your sins. "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: NO MAN cometh unto the Father, BUT BY ME."--John 14:6. A lot of Euro-Americans and Western Europeans believe in this dogma. Historically and today, this explains alot regarding the mind-set of the Euro-American. Sacred Heart? I doubt it very much. Traditionally, native people look at sacredness very differently from Western Man. Whereas, natives treat God's creation with great respect and reverence they will then transfer that respect to each other. Contrastingly, Western Man attempts to become God himself and has created social doctrines such as "Manifest Destiny" to vindicate his actions. This is a condition--or rather an inflection--that has corrupted their species since Adam & Eve. It is engrained in their very DNA. In other words, they can not help being what they are. The Menominee langauge is sacred. So is my ancestor's language because the Creator gave us these langauges eons ago. Speak your sacred languages but also respect it.

wahsontiio's picture
Submitted by wahsontiio on
If the lawful powers are still assimilative in basis, the hollow apologies will stand without reprimand. Cultural sensitivity training???? If they don't have it now and few hour course is not going to change them. Laughable, really, to think someone can be forced to learn to respect for another after some hollow instructions. All the more reason for all nations to become extremely aggressive with language and culture revitalization and retention. AND STOP SENDING YOUR CHILDREN TO CHURCH RUN SCHOOLS.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
Thank you for your feedback! ICTMN has been following this story since January. We updated the article with links to earlier coverage.