Image source: facebook.com/BiloxiPublicSchools
Image source: facebook.com/BiloxiPublicSchools

I Am Not Your Mascot, Biloxi!

Deloria Many Grey Horses
4/20/15

Oki, good day!

I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Biloxi High School Alumni community for helping to raise awareness on the misappropriation and exploitation of Native American cultures. They are doing this by using "Indians" as a school mascot and by having their entire marching band wear feather headdresses. Your lack of understanding for our Native American sacred regalia perpetuates ethnic stereotyping and is a violation of our basic human rights. We are not your mascots. We are human beings with families and a long history of cultural genocide and displacement. Our ancestors were silenced for more than 400 years. No more! We are arising and vocalizing our positions on any issues pertaining to us—individually, and as families, homes and nations!

Biloxi High School, you are not a new-age hipster at Coachella or a high fashion model—you are, instead, an institute of learning. Your school is government-funded and represents Biloxi County and Mississippi. You have standards to which you must adhere. You have a responsibility to properly educate your students on the spiritual principles of integrity and respect for all human beings regardless of their race, socio-economic status, or gender. It is my hope in the year 2015 your teachers, principals and community leaders will broaden the accuracy of their knowledge of Native American cultures and their histories—a necessary step toward improved racial relations. Dehumanizing of Native Americans is not acceptable.

RELATED: Mass Display of Non-Natives in Headdresses -- and No, It's Not Coachella

On Tuesday morning April 13, 2015, I was reading through my newsfeed on Facebook. I came across an Indian Country article on F.A.I.R. Media (Fair Accurate Indigenous Representation). The article featured the Biloxi “Indians” High School marching band from Biloxi, Mississippi wearing headdresses as part of the band uniforms. The band, made up of 81 students, recently preformed in Washington, DC at the National Cherry Blossom Festival. On national television, the entire band performed in Native American Plains-style headdresses.

I remember taking a deep breath as my heart sank into my stomach. As an Indigenous woman from the Blackfoot Confederacy, Chickasaw, and Yankton Sioux Nations I have experienced racism first hand. I am visibly First Nations/Native American and I also carry my maternal grandfather’s last name Many Grey Horses. As a child, I was teased for being a "dirty squaw" and told to get back to the reserve where I belonged. As a child in elementary school it was hard not to internalize these hateful remarks from peers and adults. Research has shown racism is a learned behavior from birth to the teenage years. My peers didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a racist.” Rather, the most likely place where they learned racism—consciously and unconsciously—is in their homes. I recall feeling isolated, dreading the first day of class each year just because I knew the teachers would be calling out our last name. I always felt targeted for being different. I saw the subtle dirty looks directed at my appearance, coming from peers and even teachers. The unspoken message came across loud and clear: That my Nativeness does not have a place in the aesthetic of colonialism.

My mother is a member of the Kainai First Nation of Southern Alberta, Canada. My father is member of the Chickasaw and Yankton Sioux Nations, USA. He was born in Lawrence, Kansas at the Haskell Indian Boarding School, where my grandparents met while attending school. This makes me a dual citizen. I moved to California from Alberta, Canada when I was 15 years old to attend the Thacher School, a boarding prep school in Ojai Valley. It’s an extremely academic and prestigious school where racism and discrimination are not tolerated. Not only do the teachers promote equality but so does the student body. It was the first time in my life I wasn’t made fun of for being Native American. My peers, teachers and the academic community encouraged me to be proud of being Indigenous—and this is what an academic institute of learning should look like. At any rate I was able to focus on my studies and not have to worry about being hit with the forces of racial discrimination.

RELATED: Houska: 'I Didn't Know' Doesn't Cut It Anymore

I then went on to University of California, Berkeley where I met a group of progressive, intellectual and open-minded Native American students who really ignited a fire in me to stand up to the injustices my people experience on a daily basis. I majored in Native American Studies and Ethnic Studies, which provided me with a historical context to why Native American’s are experience a high level of systemic issues including high rates of First Nations/Native Americans in the child welfare system and in the criminal justice systems, high teen suicide rates, poverty, domestic violence and health related issues.

In the Dakota culture, the ultimate goal in life is to be a good relative. It was this teaching, my academic rhetoric and supportive extended family that molded and shaped me into the community advocate I am today. I am also a mother to a beautiful 22-month old little girl. The thought of her having to experience hatred for being Indigenous is horrible. I am sure any mother can relate in wanting to protect her child from injustice and unnecessary trauma. As Indigenous Peoples our time is here to create a different story for the next generation of children. It is our responsibility to teach our young people that it’s okay to have a strong voice and to stand up for themselves and all relatives.

My struggles in life motivated me to stand up to Biloxi High School. I reposted the article and a community leader whom I greatly respect encouraged me to call the school to make a complaint. Although, the school did not answer any of my calls I was able to leave a complaint with the Biloxi Superintendent's office. I thought to myself, “Why stop here?” With the help of a fellow Berkeley alum and another community advocate, I started a petition on Change.org requesting Biloxi to please change their band uniform and mascot.

LINK: change.org/p/biloxi-highschool-marching-band-change-their-uniforms-and-mascot

Within four days, we got over 500 signatures. People across Turtle Island who are just as passionate on the subject took to social media and help raise awareness about the petition. I was pleased with the support the petition was getting, so I shared an update on my Facebook page yesterday. Within a few hours I received an email from Facebook stating that I had been reported for using a fake name and my account was temporarily shut down. I had to provide a government-issued ID in order to have my account reactivated.

Biloxi High School Alumni are defending themselves by stating they are "honoring" Native Americans—when it appears they are simply "playing Indian," something that doesn't honor us at all. The available research on the history on the Biloxi Tribe reveals that the majority of the Biloxi Nation was decimated by the chicken pox epidemic in the 1800s and then the remaining members were forcibly removed to Missouri. The Biloxi language is extinct and their traditional headdress is not the Northern Plains style headdress.

So I would suggest to the Biloxi Alumni that if you're talking about honoring or respecting the Biloxi Tribe, please show respect to the actual traditions of the Biloxi Tribe.

I have been diplomatic regarding my interactions with Biloxi including conveying my position statement on this issue. My cousin Jacqueline Keeler, a long time standing advocate for against “Indians” as mascots eloquently states, "I find it ironic that Biloxi Alumni are defending their right to mascot Indigenous peoples and misappropriate our headdress by trying to silence actual Native people.” Nevertheless, their effort to silence me has inspired me to stand up for justice and to honor my commitment toward advancing social justice for Indigenous Peoples. The Biloxi Alumni seem to feel threatened by our petition, and thus they are retaliating. They started their own petition to keep their “Indian” Mascot and refer to themselves as a “Nation.” 

As I said earlier, I am grateful the Biloxi High School Alumni—their reaction to concern from myself and other actual Natives has helped to stimulate discussion on the issue.

I encourage you to please sign the petition if you haven’t yet. Indigenous Peoples are strong in number and together we need to show Biloxi High School and other institutes of learning that this is not acceptable behavior on the Earth Our Mother.

My Facebook account was reactivated this morning after I sent them government issued ID. I'm happy that Facebook responded to the situation quickly. This generation of Native Americans and First Nations will no longer be silenced. Here us roar Biloxi Alumni! We are not going anywhere and will continue to stand up to this injustice.

Lilililili!!!!

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Flower's picture
Flower
Submitted by Flower on
It's unbelievable. The Boy Scout Troups are doing the same and encourage a dressing of full regalia to perform Native American dances here in the US and overseas in other countries in addition to charging fees to perform OUR sacred dances. It appears they have been doing this for decades to mimic Plains tribes and have now started to perform NM Pueblo dances, Apache Ga'an, and Dine dances. It is very INSULTING to see non-Natives dressed as our sacred katsinam climbing a replica ladder in a replica kiva or even to see a sacred prayer alter replicated for their show in addition to our eagle, buffalo and deer dances. They have replicated the interior of kivas and Pueblo homes. I feel we should close our NM villages to these visitors since they have no respect and especially worried they continue to do this even though we should have our religious rights protected which they clearly step on. This is our religion and they do not care. Look up the Koshare Dancers Troop 232, Kwahadi Dancers Venture Crew 9, Kossa Indian dancers, Lakota dancers, Aabikta Indian Dances, Coyote Night Dancers, Kaniengehaga Dance Team, Kootaga Indian Dances, Inc., Paumanauke Dance Team, Sahawe Indian Dancers, Mic-O-Say Dancers, Tsoyaha Indian Dancers / Mossey Creek. It is unbelievabley sickening to see what they do and especially feel they have a right to do so.

dunnellz's picture
dunnellz
Submitted by dunnellz on
First, let me address your concern with the "Indian" name: you do realize the name "Biloxi" is derived from the native peoples in the area, correct? If anything, using the name "Indian" is an homage to history of the region. Juxtapose Biloxi to its neighboring D'Iberville using the "Warrior" mascot; here, a school is using the mascot as a representation of the people the city's namesake helped wipe out. Moreover, recognize that the name "Indian" is fairly generic - it is not the Biloxi Redskins, the Biloxi Savages or the Biloxi Scalpers. The mascot is not a caricature like Chief Wahoo. I get the argument that people should not be mascots, but that's a fairly poor argument in and of itself. Would that apply to the Jackson Generals? What about the Gulfport Admirals? What about the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Texas Rangers, or Montreal Canadians? The Biloxi mascot is not a goofy cartoony figure with exaggerated features used to mock the Native American culture or people. While I recognize this is no consolation, please also recognize that for any school or team to want to select something as a mascot, it is (in a way) a very sincere compliment. Based on the person or animal's history, it is viewed as something that can be respected, honored, and even feared by rivals. The Detroit Tigers purposefully are not the Detroit Tabbies. The use of the Tiger is to revere the positive traits of the mascot, not to make a mockery of it; to do so would completely undermine the purpose of selecting it to begin with. And I hope the issue is not with the linguistic choice of the word "Indian," claiming the word in and of itself to be offense in its usage. The original history of the word "Indian" is well-known, but current usage is so far removed from its original derogatory etymology it has all but lost its original hate-based meaning (barring correct context, of course). Exhibit A: this website is called "Indian Country Today." Second, regarding the headdress... I am a little more understanding of your issue here. Regardless, it is still not an issue worth fighting. The headdress alone is used, and again, not used in a parody sort of way. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the headdress and its feathers were a symbolic form of accomplishment, right? - Each feather represented another accomplishment. Biloxi High School is simply using the headdress again as that same sort of visual representation or accomplishment for being a member of Biloxi's band. The band members are not marching out, chanting, dancing for rain, wearing full Native American regalia, with a spear in one hand, a peace pipe in the other, face full of war paint, and handing out casino chips. Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of misuses of the Native American people in professional sports and in modern culture, but pick your battles - this is not one of them.

williamlinville's picture
williamlinville
Submitted by williamlinville on
I am part Indian, not much 1/16th. My family moved to Biloxi 4 years ago. I went to a Biloxi High School football game and very much enjoyed the Indian attire and the performance. It made me think of the Indians and how brave they were and the unjust way they were treated. I did not feel any hatred, or disrespect. I think it is a great way to honor the Indians. An Indian mother here has two children in the band and she feels the same way. If Biloxi High and all other sports organizations abandoned the Indian logo, mascot and or marketing the Indian culture would soon be forgotten. Embrace this and make recommendations if the rituals aren't perfect. Their are two ways to look at this; positive or negative. Sorry that you felt discriminated against in school but I believe if you attended Biloxi High today you would not be, you might be honored and popular for being an Indian. I moved away from my home town because I could not get a job from the largest employer because I am white, if I had been a minority I would still be there. The general public is not berating the Indians there is more good in what Biloxi and other sports have done than there is bad.

williamlinville's picture
williamlinville
Submitted by williamlinville on
Do you only post comments that your organization agrees with? That might make your readers narrow minded.

Chris Lepre
Chris Lepre
Submitted by Chris Lepre on
The school of Biloxi High and their mascot represent the warrior spirit that is associated with the Biloxi Indian tribe, as Biloxi was a warrior tribe. The Biloxi were decimated by an epidemic of smallpox in the early 1700s and eventually migrated to Louisiana and Texas and formed the Tunica-Biloxi tribe which still exists today in Louisiana, not forced into Missouri. The only questionable thing about our school and mascot is the headdress. I understand that the Biloxi did not wear native headdresses and I can see how it would be offensive to tribes that wear/have worn them. Biloxi High school is a school full of tradition and pride for our school.
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