Seniors graduating from Lethbridge's Chinook High School in Alberta, Canada had a Cowboys and Indians Costume Party last weekend. When photos from the event hit social media, the students were pounded by a backlash on social media.
In the series of photos posted to social media, graduating seniors are seen wearing costumes of feathers and headdresses, and many students had imitation war paint on their faces and were also seen yelling stereotypical chants by a bonfire.
First Nations 12th grader Tieja Medicine Crane, a student at another local high school, voiced her objections to the posts online. She also spoke to CBC news in Calgary and offered the following comments:
"The story behind the headdress is that every feather means something. It was an act of bravery. You earned all those feathers in order to make the headdress," Medicine Crane said to CBC News. "I will never be able to wear a headdress because I haven't earned it…So someone else, not from my culture, is going to wear it? That's really offensive."
In the series of photos posted to social media, graduating seniors are seen wearing costumes of feathers and headdresses, and many wore students had imitation war paint and were also seen yelling stereotypical chants by a bonfire.
The backlash on social media went both ways as Medicine Crane was criticized in response as students that attended the party defended their actions.
"If they're allowed to use all of the things white people use, why can't we do this? It's like saying no one can use electricity or something because white people invented it," said one respondent to Medicine Crane’s post on social media.
The school held an assembly last Thursday to address the cultural appropriation by the students.
"[Our] schools make it an aim to grow learning communities that are culturally sensitive and diverse, with the hope students go into the world and live the lessons learned within the halls of their schools," Lethbridge School District No. 51 said in the CBC News article.
Linda Many Guns, a Native American Studies professor at the University of Lethbridge, told CBC News that behavior such as attending a Cowboys and Indians Costume Party, is unacceptable.
"My immediate reaction...is absolute shock and horror, and fear at the lack of education, lack of cultural awareness, lack of sensitivity, lack of the ability to have an equal and appreciative respect in community," said Many Guns.
Keith Chiefmoon, who is from the Blood Indian Reserve in Standoff, Alberta and majored in Native American Studies at the University of Lethbridge and completed a MA from Gonzaga University in Educational Administration and Supervision in Spokane, Washington told ICMN in an email, "I am a Survivor of Canada’s Indian Residential School system; survived Canada’s genocidal polices on Indigenous people and a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy."
"I believe such a graduation party is a reflection of how the education is being taught at the community of Lethbridge; I am not aware if that high school has any Blackfoot or Indigenous people on their academic staff; if it is, its probably a subordinate level enforcing “tokenism”. It also reflects how the University and the College address the education of Indigenous and First Nations people."
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