Jeanne Eagle Bull-Oxendine
Jeanne Eagle Bull-Oxendine and James Oxendine are shown here with their four children - Jase “Maste”, 5; Jada “Sich”, 7; Jake, 13; and Caske, 15. After taking a stand against their children’s school’s stereotype-laden Thanksgiving curriculum, the family says Jada’s scholarship was revoked as retribution. School officials deny this.

Family Stands Against School’s Racist Thanksgiving Curriculum

Marc Dadigan

The Oxendine family have long valued how Montessori schools educated their four children, especially with Montessori’s stated principles of inclusiveness and compassion.

They were, thus, thrilled when their youngest children Jada, 7, and Jase, 5, received scholarships in 2012 to the Maria Montessori School in San Diego due to their family’s Native American and military backgrounds. But now the Oxendines say an ongoing conflict over the school’s problematic, now cancelled Thanksgiving curriculum has led to the revoking of Jada’s scholarship, something school officials deny.

Red flags were raised in early November 2012 when they learned the school was planning Thanksgiving classroom activities encouraging students to dance around teepees, dress up as Indians with headbands of multi-colored feathers and give each other “Indian names.”

“Whenever we go back to [the Pine Ridge Reservation] where my wife is from, [the children] are surrounded by ceremonies and dances. They’re taught feathers are sacred and only for ceremony,” said James Oxendine, Lumbee, an information systems officer in the U.S. Navy. “And it was confusing for them to see the school doing it differently and perpetuating stereotypes in this way.”

After receiving a newsletter describing the week of potentially offensive activities, his wife, Jeanne Eagle Bull-Oxendine, Oglala Sioux, decided to try to engage the school in creating a culturally appropriate curriculum.

What followed is in dispute. School officials say they immediately ended the curriculum and have tried to cooperate with the Oxendines.

But the Oxendines say the school resisted ending their Thanksgiving tradition, and told them to keep their kids at home rather than change the curriculum and eventually revoked their daughter’s scholarship to be rid of their complaints.

“They said they were doing these activities to honor us [Native Americans], but then they wanted us to stay home while they were honoring us,” said Eagle Bull-Oxendine.

The family has posted a petition demanding the school issue an apology, reinstate their daughter’s scholarship and implement the National Museum of the American Indian’s holiday curriculum.

Dena Stoneman, co-director of the school, said the petition is misleading for many reasons, including that it makes readers think the school is still conducting the same Thanksgiving curriculum this year.

“It saddens us [that] they’re using this platform for personal gain when they should be using it to promote Native American rights and how to correctly teach about Native Americans,” Stoneman said.

She described the “rich curriculum” as being developed to teach students about how many different Native American tribes have lived in the past and now live in the present day. Once they learned the use of the feathers was offensive, they dropped the curriculum, and invited Eagle Bull-Oxendine to do a presentation and even start a diversity committee, Stoneman said.

Stoneman also said that the Oxendines dis-enrolled their daughter when she couldn’t guarantee them that no children would wear their headbands with feathers to school. The scholarship money had already been allocated to another student when the Oxendines tried to re-enroll her, she said.

This year, Stoneman said they are asking students and families to celebrate at home because they have the week off.

The Oxendines, however, say the school continued with the curriculum last year, and only announced its cancellation this year. Eagle Bull-Oxendine said when she tried to raise the issue with the directors of the school, she was told students would be too disappointed if they weren’t allowed to have their Thanksgiving traditions. Then when she tried to approach the parent liaison about the issue, she was told her children would be dis-enrolled if she continued to raise the issue.

The Oxendines said they made a quick decision to try to enroll Jada in public school, fearing she would miss the rest of the term if she was kicked out of Maria Montessori. They changed their mind a couple days later, and were shocked to learn their daughter’s scholarship had so quickly been given to another student.

“You go through a lot of emotions,” Eagle Bull-Oxendine said. “Rosa Parks didn’t stop riding the bus because she didn’t have the front seat. Our daughter has every right to attend on that scholarship.”

Currently, Jada is being homeschooled, her parents said, and she has suffered some psychological effects from what happened. Their son is still at Maria Montessori, and the Oxendines say they have been impressed with his teacher. Their main issue is with the school’s administration, they say.

“We want to raise awareness that no classroom activity should make a mockery of our culture,” Eagle Bull-Oxendine said. “We’re doing this for Jada, but we’re also doing it for all Native children.”


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lauriereynolds's picture
Submitted by lauriereynolds on

The school has been paying for BOTH their children to have a fine education at $18,000 per year. I really do not think this school is out to harm this Native family. Instead looking ungrateful and unthankful for this school's generosity, why doesn't this family try to educate the school and volunteer there. I am having little sympathy for this family. They could join the ranks of the public education system were people really do not care. No one is FORCING this family to send their kids there like boarding school...
I know that many on this site will not agree with me because of bias. I just wish we could count our blessings.

Keone Case's picture
Keone Case
Submitted by Keone Case on

To have ceremony in school is good, but to flaunt it without the involvement of the elders who are to be the guides & to plan everything so that the "Kupuna" (Ancient Elders are not offended & the "Aumakua" (The Guardian Spirits) are not offended & are the Spiritual Guides in ALL things intended...THEN it would be good. Names are sacred to us Hawaiian's & the Western Influence has made it all a joke with tourist names that only sound Hawaiian, but have no meaning...

Jimmy Lightfoot's picture
Jimmy Lightfoot
Submitted by Jimmy Lightfoot on

Good Job stand up to their infinite ignorance..I'd pull my kids out of that school so fast.If they are too stupid to see their racism then They are obviously too stupid to be teaching kids. Period.

Les Graff's picture
Les Graff
Submitted by Les Graff on

It's hard to believe that the stereotypes, described in this article, still exist. There were over 500 distinct Indian cultures in what is now the United states when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean. There was greater diversity of cultures among the Indians than there was in Europe in 1492. If we could go back in time and see the first meetings of the Europeans and the Indians, by today's standards the Indians would be considered the "civilized ones". They had a much standard of values and ethics than the Europeans of 500 years ago.

John stephenson's picture
John stephenson
Submitted by John stephenson on

and i say good idea. for them to have great respect and things. the ways of the native people. =)

Catherine Dutfield's picture
Catherine Dutfield
Submitted by Catherine Dutfield on

People are stupid. It takes a very long time and more patience than I have to re-educate them.

Kim Meehan's picture
Kim Meehan
Submitted by Kim Meehan on

When I was a child, we did plays in school about thanksgiving and the Indians and Pilgrims coming together to have this great meal. We dressed up like pilgrims and indians. Not knowing about my Native American heritage then, I participated and enjoyed it. Now that I am grown and do a lot of genealogy research on my family. I found out that my great grandmother was a full blooded indian, I have a lot of anger in me about how my relatives were treated. My great grandmother and her baby sister were servants. (Slaves)
So when I hear certain people talking about slaves and what is owed to them I really have a problem with them. I tell them if anyone is owed anything, it's the indians because the white man took over their land and abused them horribly. The schools needs to teach the truth and stop with the stories about how the Indians and the White people got along. Teach them about the true meanings of pow wows,feathers,traditions,etc. This school did this family wrong. They need to make it right!!!!!!

Rene' Burl's picture
Rene' Burl
Submitted by Rene' Burl on

Stand your ground, teach them to release their ignorance.There is peace in understanding our differences and honoring each other in the way we choose to be honored.

Ignacio M. Garcia's picture
Ignacio M. Garcia
Submitted by Ignacio M. Garcia on

I think the parents should have used more wisdom. Sometimes change takes a bit longer. I think they did the right thing to have spoken to the school and they should have then spoken to other parents instead of getting into a confrontation. Not all things change immediately and they could have done much more good trying to get people and school officials to change their views--especially in what seems to be a liberal school--than sacrifice their daughter's emotional state. fighting for rights is a difficult process and too often people go into it believing that all they have to do is protest and things will change, and then they get offended or hurt when the system pushes back. That is why a one-person protest rarely works unless it is preceded by much organizing and grassroots work. Read the real story of Rosa Parks and not the sanitized version. To not do it right only means that the most vulnerable will get hurt. As parents they should have thought about it. As a civil rights veteran I know that we moved only when we thought things through. We didn't always win and there were many consequences, but we knew we did it with people's lives in mind and not just because we were angry or offended.