Apologies Not Enough for Native Language Debacle

The mother of a Menominee student punished for her use of her Native American language is requesting three Sacred Heart school staff be dismissed.

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:

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Student Suspended for Speaking Native American Language