Frank Waln was criticized this week on Twitter by students of a West Hartford high school cheering section who call themselves ‘The Rez.’ Though Waln performed for the high school to positive reviews, Waln said he believes the backlash stems from his discussion against two West Hartford high school Native mascots, the Hall Warriors and the Conard Chieftains.
One Twitter account called Frank Waln a ‘sh*tty rapper’ while another said they were offended by the term cowboys, “because as a white person, I am offended.”
Waln, who spoke with ICTMN after returning from a tour in Germany said he took the racial comments personally since he performed at the schools.
“I took this personally because I went to the schools and I performed in front of the students," Waln said. "I said, ‘I am a native person from a reservation and this is offensive and this frustrates me.
I understand we all have differences, but the kids are trying to silence our voices. I don't feel it is the right of these kids in this community to decide what is or isn't offensive to native people. That is why a brought this to the attention of my Twitter followers. I knew that my followers would also help give some perspective to these young people to include a reality check that I feel they needed.”
“There are other native people from the reservation on my Twitter line who are responding back to them as well. This social media account has been blocking all the native people for saying it was offensive. I guess this was a way to bring about the twitter community justice,” said Waln.
“Today, the Hall high school cheering section is called The Rez. When I was asked to perform last year, I told them I found it offensive because I grew up on the Rez,” said Waln.
Around the time of Waln’s performance in 2015, the Bureau of Education recommended a change in the school logos in March 2015 after opposing student cheering sections began yelling anti-Semitic chants. The racial epithets brought exposure to Native mascots and by the 2015-2016 school year the schools changed the imagery.
“Even though the administration has said there are no more mascots, they did not enforce it to the point where the students would discontinue the cheering sections. And now they have had a resurgence of students who have come out in an ignorant way. They said, ‘We are still the Rez and we are still selling T-shirts with the logo on it,” said Waln.
According to the Hartford Courant, students at Hall High School were selling t-shirts on Friday. Rachel Corcoran-Adams, a senior, said she stopped 15 freshmen from buying the shirts during school hours. She said heard that Native Americans have spoken out about the issue and are "disgusted with the school and students.”
"The (old) logo and fan section name puts Native Americans at the same level as animal mascots. It is downright dehumanizing. It is hypocritical of us to mock their culture through mascots after we banned them from practicing their culture during westernization," said Corcoran-Adams.
One parent told the Hartford Courant his daughter was "dejected and disappointed" when she told him that students were wearing T-shirts featuring the old Indian head mascot with the words, 'The Rez.' "My feeling is that school spirit is bigger than any one symbol or logo," he said to the Courant. "If you can't get behind a new logo than something is wrong with your school spirit."
Last August school board Chairman Mark Overmyer-Velazquez said the schools couldn't legally order the student-led clubs to stop using the names. Though the school cheering section/ pep club told Overmyer-Velazquez they would change the name to “The Red C” last August, The Reservation and The Tribe Twitter accounts remain active.
Conard student council co-president Brian Wilson told the Courant that Conard Tribe T-shirts had not yet been printed though the fan section had posted designs of a new shirt with Native American imagery and the words, "Return of the Tribe."
"I am on the side of keeping the Chieftain. However, I respect the new policy and the compromise," Wilson said. "Even though I may like the design, and the majority of students do like the design, we just need to be respectful of compromise and the change. You may not like it, but it's the way it is."
On Friday morning, Wilson and co-president Mamata Malla wrote a letter asking students demonstrate that they "can respect the privilege of being called Chieftains.”
"If we violate the policy, there is a strong possibility the Board of Education will ban the Chieftain name," wrote Wilson and Malla. "With a tradition that goes back to the 1950s, we would be remiss to have the Chieftain name taken away."
Waln said he understands overall that many of the comments are due to a lack of maturity, but individuals responsible should be responsible for their actions.
“I definitely think the students that are doing this are probably immature children as they are in high school,” said Waln. “But still, if you're going to be making decisions that are affecting other people, within you are going to have to deal with the consequences no matter how old you are. This is a life lesson for these kids. It is better they face this now and have a true rude awakening when they get into college or get involved with other interests.”
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