CEDAR CITY – The Iron County School District has been under fire the last week for a Native American dance routine recently performed during a halftime show by the Cedar High School drill team.
The performance by the Mohey Tawa drill team Feb. 26 at a Cedar High basketball game has drawn controversy from Paiute Tribe members who believe the dance was insensitive and offensive to their culture. The name Mohey Tawa is part of the Native American theme used to represent Cedar High – home of the Redmen – a mascot that has long been part of the school’s identity.
During the dance, drill team members wore braided wigs, colorful feathers and costumes reminiscent of the American Indian while performing to music that included eagle sounds and traditional drumming and singing.
A parent of one of the basketball team members from St. George, Teyawnna Sanden, posted videos of the dance on Facebook, portions of which are included top of this report, calling it offensive.
“I’m glad my kids didn’t see it … why should I have to explain why a non-native is dancing that way, wearing a wig and carrying fake feathers,” Sanden wrote in her Facebook post. “If asked, Cedar’s answer most likely be that ‘They’re honoring us’ … please do us all a favor and DON’T!! Honor our sovereignty, honor our treaties/executive, honor us by getting cultural diversity training! But please stop with this!”
Since the video was first shared, it has amassed 20,000 online views, according to Fox 13 News in Salt Lake City.
Another Paiute Tribe member, Judy Charles, shared Sanden’s video and her comment in a Facebook group called Iron County Rant and Rave where it generated a polarizing discussion with nearly 100 comments from both tribal and local community members.
“I attended Cedar high school a few years back and never had a problem like this occur. This dance is highly disrespectful not just to one Tribe but to all Tribes in the U.S. This dance contains sacred dances my people use. As a Women’s Tradition dancer I’m highly offended,” posted Whitley Tom, a Cedar City Paiute Tribe member.
Another Native American poster, Laura Charles, wrote she was also offended upon first seeing the dance but later changed her mind.
“Nobody is right or wrong …. We all just need to be more aware of what and how Cedar High school wants to represent their mascot-ism in a good way,” she said.
The Paiute Tribal Council expressed their disappointment with the dance this week in a statement provided to Cedar City News.
“A number of tribal members, including families whose children attend Cedar High School, have been disturbed by what they see as cultural insensitivity by the drill team,” the Council stated.
The outcry by the council brought assurances from both school district Superintendent Shannon Dulaney and high school Principal John Dodds that the dance routine would not be performed in future competitions. The Tribal Council said they supported this decision.
Tribal Chairwoman Corrina Bow said the dance routine imitates the fancy shawl dance, known as the butterfly dance or graceful shawl dance, and is typically performed by young Native American women from many tribes during powwows or gatherings.
“The performance by the drill team showed no comprehension of this dance style,” Bow said. “The way it was performed, with the dancers wearing wigs, holding fans and making dramatic movements, such as legs raised high in the air and bending over, misrepresented the beauty and graceful style of actual fancy shawl dancers. I can empathize with tribal youth students and their parents who found this to be offensive.”
See more: Paiutes dance celebrating restoration; Cedar City powwow; STGnews Videocast, Photo gallery
Stephanie Zehren-Thomas, the Tribal Council’s attorney, said Cedar’s head coach, Janene McCurdy, and other representatives of the Mohey Tawa drill team met with the council almost a year ago in April. The group told the Tribal Council they wanted to develop a dance routine that would incorporate Native American culture.
At the time, members of the council expressed deep concern and disapproval, specifically about the use of headdresses, eagle feathers, face paint and wigs – all the items they knew would be offensive, a news release provided to Cedar City News stated.
Dulaney remembers the meeting being held at the end of November at which time, she said, school representatives walked away thinking they had approval.
“Drill team leadership came away from the meeting with the understanding that full support had been given to the dance and the costumes that were intended to portray honor and respect for the Native American culture,” she said.
The council, however, has another memory of what transpired. According to the Tribal Council’s news release, the council did not approve the dance but recommended the drill team work with the Paiute Indian Tribe’s cultural resources director. They also asked to see and approve the dance before the girls performed it in public, according to the release.
“Unfortunately, the drill team did not follow up on any of the Tribal Council’s recommendations,” the news release stated.
The drill team performed the dance on several occasions prior to last weekend but it wasn’t until Feb. 29 that tribal members contacted school officials with concerns for the first time, Dulaney said.
Members of the school district and the Tribal Council met Thursday to discuss the drill team routine. No one from either side would comment about the meeting but representatives said they are working together to resolve the issues.
Tribal Chairwoman Bow called the entire thing “unfortunate” but said the school and the tribe have to find a way to come together.
“The students’ dignity and respect of their traditions and culture is important and we must handle this matter with great sensitivity,” Bow said. “As Natives we live in two worlds, one with our traditions, culture and beliefs that we hold sacred, and the other modern in society. This was unfortunate it happened but we must not let this hold us back in moving forward and demonstrating how we can come together – the Tribe and the school – and learn from this lesson.”
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About the high school mascot
Cedar High – home of the Redmen – has used the Native American mascot for years but last week’s drill team routine has now brought the name into the conversation – at least for Sanden who told Fox 13 News she would like to see the mascot changed.
“When you have a mascot like Redmen, it is bound to bring that type of behavior again,” she told Fox 13 News. “It might stop now for the next year or month or two, but it will happen again because that’s their mascot.”
In talking with Cedar City News this week, Dulaney said she did not think the mascot would become an issue but some of the Facebook posters under Sanden’s video felt the name is offensive.
Zehren-Thomas would not confirm or deny whether the Cedar High’s mascot and use of the Native American theme had also become an issue in the discussion between the Tribal Council and the school district.
High schools using American Indian mascots have been a growing controversy around the country for several years.
The Associated Press reported last November that the athletic shoe and apparel maker Adidas jumped on board with the national advocacy group Change the Mascot, a group originally created to end the use of the Redskins in the NFL, by pledging financial support to any high school willing to drop their Native American mascots. According to the AP report, some colleges have retained their mascots with permission of the tribes, one of those being University of Utah and its mascot the Utes.
The German company also committed to providing free design resources to schools looking to do away with Indian nicknames, imagery or symbolism.
But for some, the move to take the Native American theme out of sports is nothing more than political correctness run amok.
“It’s not about mocking the Native Americans at all,” Cedar City resident Andrea Hatch said. “None of this stuff used to even be an issue and now all of a sudden you’re seeing people want to do away with everything from the Cedar High Redmen to the Washington Redskins. It’s just ridiculous.”
Hatch, a 1998 Cedar High alumnus, said the mascot was something everyone was proud of when she attended high school.
“This was never an issue. There was never a discussion then about changing the mascot,” she said. “In fact, the Native Americans participated in the school theme along with everyone else. They sang the school song with us, they cheered with us at the games. They even use to dress up in their clothes they wear at their Powwows for yearbook pictures. We were all proud. Cedar is an amazing school and we were all proud of that including the Native Americans.”
Hatch said her father, also a Cedar High graduate, attended school when the Redmen mascot was created.
“It wasn’t just created by a bunch of white boys standing around deciding that was going to be their mascot,” she said. “It was something the Paiute Tribe helped with and they were proud of it too.”
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