ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A southeast Alaska school district said it is investigating allegations of racist behavior during a high school basketball game, photos from which showed student fans dressed in Western attire, such as cowboy hats, as their team played a school from Alaska’s lone Native reserve.
Latonya Galles, whose son plays for the Metlakatla Chiefs, told Anchorage television station KTUU the way fans of the Ketchikan High School Kings were dressed was inappropriate.
“It was just really, really bad, and racism was definitely present,” said Galles, who attended Saturday’s game.
For many Native Americans, portrayals of “cowboys and Indians” conjure offensive stereotypes of tribal members as savage, ignorant or extinct.
The school posted an apology “for the cultural insensitivity shown” at the game. The post was no longer on the school’s Facebook page Wednesday.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District, in a separate post that also was no longer visible Wednesday, said it was looking into the situation and would take “all appropriate actions to ensure our schools and students uphold the highest standard of sportsmanship, respect, and hospitality.”
KTUU-TV reported that district Superintendent Melissa Johnson said the Ketchikan High School pep squad had told the district it scheduled a “country theme” for the game against Metlakatla, an Alaska Native community. Going forward, the school will have a plan regarding how students dress and will “make sure that whatever theme that we choose is culturally sensitive and appropriate,” she told KRBD-FM.
Johnson did not immediately return a message seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Metlakatla Mayor Albert Smith, in a letter to Johnson posted on the Metlakatla Indian Community’s Facebook page, said the initial response to the event was “remarkably muted” and downplayed what happened “as an act merely of ‘cultural insensitivity.’” It was much more, he said.
“There is a broader historical context, one of white supremacy, genocide and trauma, that permeates the white-privileged blindness that allowed the cowboys-and-Indians pep theme to form, let alone grow into a school-sanctioned production” at the game, he wrote, adding later: “It reinforced the reality of white supremacy by totally (and so easily) ignoring the perspective of my and all Native people.”
Smith said there should be an apology but also an investigation around the theme and disciplinary action “to ensure that something similar never happens again.”