Some things in this life are entirely unacceptable. Yet offending the American Indian community does not appear to be among them.
Case in point: Last month, two University of Denver Greek Life chapters, Lambda Chi Alpha and Delta Delta Delta, hosted a cowboys and Indians theme party where students donned loincloth-like miniskirts, painted faces, phony-feathered headdresses, and faux buskin bedizens.
Photographs of the foul festivity surfaced on Facebook the following morning. It wasn’t long before the acrimonious images made their way to the inbox of Viki Eagle, co-chair of the Native Student Alliance at DU.
“This proves to me that our society and our fellow students still view us as nonexistent,” said Eagle, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation. “[Our peers] depicted us as mascots or a Halloween costume.”
Eagle said she immediately contacted Carl Johnson, director of campus activities at DU. Johnson stated that he was unaware of the event and referred to the party as “offensive” and “unacceptable.”
“We’ll have a swift and severe response to those groups,” he said.
Although Johnson did not release the details concerning how his office will respond to the offense, he did agree to Eagle’s request that both Greek organizations publicly apologize to the members of the Native Student Alliance.
The public apology is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at the University of Denver near Sturm College of Law.
The Native Student Alliance has erected a tipi on the campus green in preparation for the apology.
Dr. Tink Tinker, professor at the Iliff School of Theology and a citizen of the Wazhazhe Osage Nation, is slated to speak about respect and solidarity prior to the apology.
“The chapters appear to be willing to participate in these events and are taking it seriously,” wrote Megan Pendly Pickett, assistant director of campus activities, in an email last week to the Native Student Alliance.
Yet some American Indian students feel that the theme party is just another blistering offense to add to DU’s lengthy pattern of racial insensitivity toward its American Indian community.
Amanda Williams, 18, a member of the Navajo and San Carlos Apache tribes, said that last year DU had planned to title their homecoming parade “How the West Was Won” until the Native Student Alliance petitioned and protested against the name.
And according to Williams, on the night of the Cowboys and Indians party, a classmate and dorm neighbor had knocked at her door and asked her if she had “anything Indian” he could wear to the party.
Williams said she felt angry and minimized by her classmate’s ignorance and that she’s losing faith in the university as being an “inclusive” campus.
“(This) has changed my perspective on the DU community,” she said. “It’s not one I want to be a part of anymore.”
According to Pickett, the leadership of both Greek communities are baffled as to why an apology is warranted at all. They don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong, which begs the question: Will the apology be sincere? If not, why even ask for an apology?
Well, folks, it’s the principle of the matter.
It’s imperative that non-Indian people, especially the young generation, learn that such parties are dehumanizing and objectifying and that American Indian regalia is spiritual garb and not a costume.
Eo ipso, swilling booze while donning a chief’s headdress is the equivalent of quaffing Vodka while wearing a Pope’s miter. It’s disrespectful.
And maybe the apology won’t be sincere. But at least it’ll make the issue salient and, if anything else, it’ll start a dialogue between two communities of differing ideologies. There’s nothing wrong with at least talking.
Representatives of both Lambda Chi Alpha and Delta Delta Delta failed to respond for comment.
Simon Moya-Smith, 28, Oglala Lakota, is a journalist and blogger from Denver and an adviser to the Native Student Alliance at the University of Denver. He helped organize the apology and will speak at the event.