Thursday, February 19, 2009

Old story, good outcome

So this is literally an old story--this letter from the superintendent of Gill-Montague School District in Massachusetts--was released at the end of 2008. And it's an old story too in that schools with "traditions" involving the degradation of Native Americans are usually loathe to abandon them.
But Superintendent Ken Rocke has suspended the district's use--specifically the high school (Turners Falls High school)--of the fight song and accompanying tomahawk chop.
Rocke, at his first football game as superintendent, was a little surprised to see the chop and hear the fight song. And since that time he convened a group of students, teachers, and community members, including Native Americans, to discuss the use of the song and chop.
Rocke does an excellent job if explaining the reasoning behind the decision without overtly shaming anyone. But it is clear from the way he so carefully goes through the argument point by point that he has gotten a bit a of crap for the decision.
At a public forum in January it seemed like most people--including students--understood why the song and chop were being taken away. Although one student tried to downplay the violence by saying that the song unites the athletes, the students and the fans and that they are not thinking about violence when the band plays it. She was the drum major. As a former drum major, I have to say I am disappointed. But given that most of the students understand why it is offensive and have learned about the history behind the violence and oppression against various Native American nations, it seems like Turners Fall High School sees that the right decision was made. Hopefully they will move on and build community around the creation of a new song and new traditions.

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