When Lana Smith, a Mi’kmaq mother from Syracuse, New York heard her 7-year-old son, Damon Holmes, had played a game called “cowboys and Indians” in gym class toward the end of last school year, she called the school, but apparently the game didn’t stop being played, reported The Post-Standard.
Damon is a second-grader at Dr. Weeks Elementary School in Syracuse. Smith and her son are proud of their heritage, so when Damon described the game where the students were split into two groups by the teacher and told to chase each other around and sneak up on each other, Smith told The Post-Standard it was “a mocking of our culture.”
She told the newspaper the worst part of the game was when the kids put their hands to their mouths and chanted, which in their tradition chanting is associated with prayer.
At the end of last school year, the principal promised the game would not be played, but Damon told his mom September 27 he didn’t want to go to school because they would be playing it again. Damon said the same teacher was organizing it as last year but was now calling it “Cowboys and Native Americans.” Damon asked to sit the game out, but the teacher made him play.
“To change it to ‘Native Americans’ is laughable. Just laughable,” Smith told The Post-Standard.
Smith again called the school and spoke to the principal and vice principal, who told her they spoke with the teacher and that a more formal meeting would take place. District spokesman Michael Henesey told The Post-Standard September 28 that a game called “Cowboys and Native Americans” was taking place, but shouldn’t be.
“It certainly is not part of the school district’s educational curriculum. Nor is it something that the school district endorses,” he told the newspaper.
Henesey also told the paper that cultural sensitivity training would be provided to staff.
The Syracuse School District includes more than 19,000 students, of which one percent are Native American and Alaska Native students.
Smith was told by school administrators that the game was intended to teach cooperation and teamwork, which she found laughable since the game degrades her people.
She would like a written apology and wants parents notified of the situation.
“I’m asking for an awareness, an awareness of my culture. Awareness and respect for all cultures for these kids, for these children,” she told The Post-Standard.