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Florida High School gives racist pow-wow lesson to pre-schoolers

A racist video depicting caucasian youth impersonating a pow-wow is circulating around the internet this week and landed in the hands of indigenous media.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9MPJqw2PTk

A racist video depicting caucasian youth impersonating a pow-wow is circulating around the internet this week and landed in the hands of indigenous media.

Last November, a high school in Baker County, Florida brought in pre-kindergarten students to teach them about the first thanksgiving. BCHS Students were videotaped wearing baggy leather-like dresses and Sioux style war bonnets, carrying colourful tomahawks, patting their mouths and grunting; all under the supervision of the school’s History Club. The school’s website says staff members Mark Hartley and Amanda Rhoden are assigned to oversee the History Club. Rhoden is listed on the website as a Social Studies instructor.

Two Row Times contacted Joel Addington, managing editor for Baker County Press, the media organization who initially posted the video to You Tube for comments.

TRT: What were your initial thoughts after seeing the video?

Addington: “My initial thought was where are the pilgrims, because this was done just prior to the Thanksgiving and of course natives were only part the “traditional” story of the holiday, i.e. natives breaking bread with pilgrims.  That’s probably more a reflection of American culture, however. I understood that the pow-wow was not completely culturally or historically accurate, and that wasn’t too surprising given who was responsible for putting on the event, i.e. non-native largely Christian southerners. I covered a real pow-wow a few months prior by the Cherokee tribe of Georgia, and there were many differences like I wasn’t allowed to shoot certain people or come inside the circle where the tribal dance was happening as a non-native. (Here’s a link to the video ) All that said, I didn’t think the history club meant the program to be 100% culturally and historically accurate. I intend to confirm this with the club’s sponsor, but my guess is the students did some Wikipedia research on native American culture and combined that with some silly song and dance they thought would keep the preschoolers entertained. Should they have done better research and executed the program to be more culturally/historically accurate, or better yet, have real natives put on a program? I agree they should have. Alas, I don’t make such decisions. We simply report what happens in our community.”

TRT: Is the prevailing attitude in Baker County toward the indigenous people of the United States accurately depicted by the actions of the BCHS History Club as shown in the video?

Addington: “That’s a tough one because it’s a pretty sweeping statement. If by the “the actions of the BCHS History Club” you mean them displaying their ignorance of native American culture and history, I would say probably yes, most Baker County residents couldn’t tell you the difference between two types of head dresses, or war paint versus hunting paint, if there even is such a distinction. I certainly could not and I’m pretty well educated, albeit not on indigenous cultures. But keep in mind this was largely a student-led program with minimal oversight from club sponsors/teachers. Should the adults have foreseen the potential for an international backlash and taken steps to blunt such a backlash? In a perfect world, sure. But having covered this community for six years, I don’t think they were thinking in those terms. In fact, more usual for this community is to do things how they’ve always been done. And this program has been done at the preschool for at least the last three years with no such back lash until this year, likely precisely because of the online video. I think we’ve only done photos in the past.”

TRT: Do you feel the lesson given to preschoolers was accurate?
Addington: “No.”

Two Row Times did contact Baker County High School principal Tom Hill for comment, but have not received a response.

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Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow is Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations. Nahnda has been a journalist with the Two Row Times since it's founding in 2013. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a Haudenosaunee cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado. Nahnda is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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