Ketchikan School District Investigating Allegations of Racism During Basketball Game Against Alaska’s Only Native Reservation
The Ketchikan School District said it was investigating allegations of racism in the stands after some of its high school students dressed up as cowboys during a basketball game against rivals on the only native reservation in Ketchikan. ‘Alaska.
Tensions erupted after photos emerged of Ketchikan School Cheer Club students wearing cowboy hats, cowboy boots and flannel shirts during Saturday’s varsity basketball game . The match took place at Ketchikan High School.
India Hudson said she was at the game. She has ties to both communities – she lives in Ketchikan and her sons play for the Kayhi junior varsity basketball team, but she is Tsimshian from Metlakatla and a member of the federally recognized Metlakatla Tribe.
“I relate to a lot of basketball players (Metlakatla) and I think they’re really great kids too,” she said by phone Tuesday. “So it was extremely difficult for me to see what was going on.”
Hudson said she was surprised by the cheer club attire.
“When the Juneau-Douglas Bears play, they (members of the Kayhi Pep Club) dress up as hunters, and that’s kind of funny, you know?” she said. “And I thought, ‘Are they trying to be cowboys and Indians? “”
The school district announced shortly after the game that it had launched an investigation into the incident. Ketchikan High School apologized on its Facebook page the next morning.
“Ketchikan High School would like to sincerely apologize to our community and to our friends, family and neighbors in Metlakatla for the cultural insensitivity demonstrated at last night’s basketball game. It is our desire to make Ketchikan High School a safe and welcoming environment for all. We will continue to work to hold ourselves to these highest standards of sportsmanship, respect and hospitality,” the statement read.
The posts were then removed.
Ketchikan Acting Superintendent Melissa Johnson said she understands the cheer club dressed up for a “country” themed party.
“But then it looked like a cowboy night, and so it looked like it was a cowboy versus Indian theme. And so the people of Metlakatla, understandably, felt like we were culturally insensitive,” Johnson said by phone Tuesday.
Johnson is originally from Alaska and serves on the Ketchikan Indian Community Tribal Council. She is vying to be the Alaska Native District’s first permanent superintendent.
The student pep club president did not respond to requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday. Johnson did not respond to an emailed request to speak with cheer club executives.
Metlakatla Superintendent Taw Lindsey of the Annette Island School District said he was in touch with his counterpart in Ketchikan and was awaiting the outcome of the investigation.
“That, to me, is definitely insensitive. It brings out a historical trauma about how Indigenous people have been treated in the past, and that’s concerning,” Lindsey said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Our students don’t deserve this.
Ketchikan School Board President Stephen Bradford was at the game. He attributes the theme’s insensitivity to recklessness rather than racism.
“The adults probably should have thought a bit more carefully when the themes were announced that it might be inappropriate for the Metlakatla game,” Bradford said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
The Ketchikan Comprehensive School Board has yet to publicly address the issue.
Hudson, a member of the Metlakatla tribe in Ketchikan, said he may not be malicious.
But even so, she said: ‘No matter the intent, that’s the message that got through. And I think maybe they didn’t think about the past – all the past that cowboys and Indians imply for native people. It’s not a good story that comes up when you say that to someone native, you know? »
The Ketchikan Superintendent said the investigation is still ongoing. But she said the school district had accepted some responsibility for the cheer club’s country-and-western-themed staff’s lack of supervision.
“This is a fault on the part of the adults – it is a fault of our policies and procedures, which will not happen again, and we will ensure that the theme we choose is culturally sensitive and appropriate. So, to continue, we will definitely have a plan moving forward on how the kids will dress,” Johnson said.
Anger is simmering among some Metlakatla parents who attended Saturday’s game, including Latonya Galles, the mother of a Metlakatla Chiefs point guard.
“Shame on them,” she said. “Racism at its finest.”
She insists the offensive conduct went beyond what Ketchikan students were wearing.
“These kids were literally barking and making weird noises when our kids were on the free throw line – like, what’s that?” she said on the phone Monday.
Hudson said she, too, heard the barking of Kayhi fans. She said it brought back painful memories of discrimination and institutional racism.
“It’s a personal reason. It was actually the first time I realized racism was a thing. I was a little girl walking with my grandfather here,” she said “We were walking around downtown and the food smelled really good. And I said, ‘Let’s go to this restaurant.’ »
She said she remembered her grandfather saying no – that he had never been to that restaurant.
“And I said, ‘Why not?’ And he said, ‘Because there was a sign that said no Indians or no dogs,’ she said. “That’s what I was thinking when they were barking.”
But Ketchikan School Board President Stephen Bradford is suggesting another explanation to rowdy Kayhi fans.
“I think Kayhi’s cheer club has been barking at opponents who’ve been shooting free throws for years – whether it’s Petersburg, Juneau or anybody else. So I didn’t associate it with anything inappropriate,” Bradford said by phone Tuesday.
It remains unclear if any racial slurs were voiced. That, Johnson said, is something the school district is trying to establish.
“But I will find out,” she said. “And if we have situations where people weren’t using the appropriate behaviors, we’ll take action on that.”
Metlakatla School Board member Darcy Booth said in a lengthy statement that the incident did not represent cultural insensitivity, as described in Ketchikan High School’s apology, but outright racism.
“He targeted our players, our students, our children, and I denounce and publicly reprimand him unequivocally. Like all the other parents in Metlakatla, I want to see accountability after the district investigation.
India Hudson, the Tsmishian mother of Ketchikan, said she hoped it would be a teachable moment.
“As an aboriginal, it is often difficult to live in Ketchikan,” she said. “I mean, every member of my family has experienced racism here – you know, racial slurs, name-calling, that sort of thing. It’s not something we make up in our heads.
Johnson said the investigation should be complete by the end of the week.
This story has been updated with information about attempts to reach cheer club members for comment.