Opinion: Why I'm asking my high school to ban students from wearing Native American headdresses

Editor's Note: To sign the petition started by Hannah Lee and her fellow students, click here.

"I promise nobody cares at all. Let us have our fun and stay away from our school pride," was what I was told when I asked a school-pride Instagram account if they would share a petition on educating students on Cherokee culture.

This is one of many interchangeable conversations that take place on the topic of honoring Native American people. My school showcases a singular problem that stems from a larger issue of negative societal views and perceptions; there are so many accounts of other political and economical impacts that take place because of the constant cultural appropriation and stereotypes that are said about this ethnic group.



In a survey published in 2018, 40% of the respondents did not believe that Native Americans still existed. With this large misconception, how can we expect that Native Americans are rightfully represented, when they are not even recognized by a population that resides on their original land? During the Dakota Pipeline Protests, in which the Sioux tribe fought to protect their land, the media finally began to shine light on Native Americans. The Sioux were recognized for their efforts in preservation, and in the end, were granted justice.

These media coverages help put out that Native Americans were still, very much alive and fighting to have their voices heard. This situation happened in 2016-2017, resulting in the pipeline being moved to a different location.

However, in recent light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Native Americans have been forgotten once more. The virus continues to disproportionately affect Native American tribes. Because Indians have less access to government funding and supplies, they have had to be twice as careful when opening and closing businesses. To protect their own, many tribes have had to close their main sources of income. Not only does this further setback Natives economically, but it also threatens their longevity. Already, Native Americans have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of poverty. This virus and lack of government aid, (because officials do not give the same attention to reservations and tribes as they do to non-Native citizens!) contributes further to the erasure of the Native American people, culture, and history.

So, what does this have to do with your school?

Glad you asked, reader!



The East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, GA mascot assets.change.org


My school, East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, GA, is part of the many schools and sports teams that use an Indian (or Native American) as their mascot. Though we (like-minded peers and I) have considered creating a petition to completely change the school mascot, we have come to a consensus in which that would be unnecessary for the purpose of changing the mascot (in our case).

After speaking with Lamar Sneed, a Cherokee Indian culture/history educator, he told us that the mascot was not offensive and was actually a way of honoring the Native American people as strong warriors. Furthermore, he talked about how the school systems, especially in high school, do little to educate its students on their local Native American culture and history. Dr. Sneed asked that students not wear headdresses or any mock "Indian garb". The reason? By students doing so, they are disrespecting the huge symbolism and ceremonial significance that a headdress contains. Even within tribes, headdresses are not commonly given out; why should we, as non-Natives, culturally appropriate this custom?



Images from Elle Magazine via Mic


The type of "Indian garb" that students wear at my school is not only a Halloween-costume type garb, but also an outdated, stereotyped clothing that further stipulates that there is only one "type" of Indian. Currently, there are over 500 nationally recognized Indian tribes, and by students continuing to wear such clothing, they only contribute to the ever-deteriorating image that blatantly states that "Native Americans are from the past" and that "there is only one tribe of Indians". Numerous sources ( including BBC and Mic) go on to say that while students claim to be honoring the Native American people through wearing these types of clothing, they rarely know the history or background of where that clothing came from.

These continued allowances of cultural appropriation derive from a lack of students being educated on these topics. The upside is that we have a plan! This plan would involve a video created by the Cherokee Indians, educating the high school's students on the history and culture of the Cherokee and Creek Indian Tribes, which had presided in the school's area in past history. This video would be shared throughout the community, and eventually shown in school during orientations and homeroom periods. The plan would also include banning students from wearing Indian garb and headdresses.

By both these ideas being implemented, I believe that students would stray from making ignorant decisions, and grow as human beings to love, accept, and APPRECIATE the Native American culture, rather than appropriate it. In order to try and implement these ideas into real-life, a group of peers and I have created a petition with a goal of trying to reach 3,000 signatures. Though this may seem like not much, the town where I come from has proven difficult to sway to supporting this petition. Many say that by banning headdresses and Indian garb, that I would be taking away from my high school's personal culture. For some people, I suppose it is hard to get rid of a normalized custom.

An example includes a petition started in opposition to the one that has been started by a group of peers and I. This petition has garnered almost 1,000 signatures (mostly from adults?) to call for my high school to continue using headdresses. The petition outlines that the reason they want to keep it, is because the headdress is my highschool's culture (huh?). As these are grown adults signing this petition, I am shocked and saddened of the ignorance of some of the older generation. Contrary to this statement, there have been an amazing group of supporters who have shared and signed the petition. From old to young to the in between, the support has been strong enough to keep the petition relevant. As of now (me writing this), the petition has garnered a little over 300 signatures, 10% of the intended goal. My hope, as well as other supporters' hopes, are that the petition will at least have started a conversation needed to be had on cultural appropriation and the normalization of these stereotypical forms of racism.

Does petitioning actually work?

Yes! Not only does it grab the attention of the person who has the power to make the petition happen, but it also helps to initiate the interest of community members as well. For example, when the Sioux Tribe was fighting to keep their sacred land out of direct contact with the Dakota Access pipeline, the 370,000 signatures goaded the president at that time, Obama, to issue a response and solutions that ultimately ended in the Sioux and other Great Plains Indian Tribes finding victory and justice. The newfound pressure that comes upon the person who can make it happen, is a result of people coming together on a topic that they support. This kind of pressure is showcased through the story in which the Washington NFL team ended up dropping their previously insensitive name. So, it isn't necessarily the petitioning itself, but rather the hundreds of thousands of people rallying together to fight for what's right that ends up convincing the decision maker to act!

This kind of support does not magically come up on its own, unfortunately. Which is why we need the help of people outside my small community, to help others become knowledgeable of these issues and ultimately work together to do what's right: shed light on the Indigenous people and stop cultural appropriation from within.

Hannah Lee is a student at East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, GA

Photo courtesy of Yoplait
True

When Benny Mendez asked his middle school P.E. students why they wanted to participate in STOKED—his new after school program where kids can learn to skateboard, snowboard, and surf—their answers surprised him.

I want to be able to finally see the beach, students wrote. I want to finally be able to see the snow.

Never having seen snow is understandable for Mendez's students, most who live in Inglewood, CA, just outside of Los Angeles. But never having been to the beach is surprising, since most of them only live 15-20 minutes from the ocean. Mendez discovered many of them don't even know how to swim.

"A lot of the kids shared that they just want to go on adventures," says Mendez. "They love nature, but...they just see it in pictures. They want to be out there."

Mendez is in his third year of teaching physical education at View Park K-8 school, one of seven Inner City Foundation Education schools in the Los Angeles area. While many of his students are athletically gifted, Mendez says, they often face challenges outside of school that limit their opportunities. Some of them live in neighborhoods where it's unsafe to leave their houses at certain times of day due to gang activity, and many students come to his P.E. class with no understanding of why learning about physical health is important.

"There's a lot going on at home [with my students]," says Mendez. "They're coming from either a single parent home, or foster care. There's a lot of trauma behind what's going on at home...that is out of our control."

Photo courtesy of Yoplait

What Mendez can control is what he gives his students when they're in his care, which is understanding, some structure, and the chance to try new things. Mendez wakes up at 4:00 a.m. most days and often doesn't get home until 9:00 p.m. as he works tirelessly to help kids thrive. Not only does he run after school programs, but he coaches youth soccer on the weekends as well. He also works closely with other teachers and guidance counselors at the school to build strong relationships with students, and even serves as a mentor to his former students who are now in high school.

Now Mendez is earning accolades far and wide for his efforts both in and out of the classroom, including a surprise award from Yoplait and Box Tops for Education.

Yoplait and Box Tops are partnering this school year to help students reach their fullest potential, which includes celebrating teachers and programs that support that mission. Yoplait is committed to providing experiences for kids and families to connect through play, so teaming up with Box Tops provided an opportunity to support programs like STOKED.

Keep Reading Show less
Canva

Dr. David McPhee offers advice for talking to someone living in a different time in their head.

Few things are more difficult than watching a loved one's grip on reality slipping away. Dementia can be brutal for families and caregivers, and knowing how to handle the various stages can be tricky to figure out.

The Alzheimer's Association offers tips for communicating in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, as dementia manifests differently as the disease progresses. The Family Caregiver Alliance also offers advice for talking to someone with various forms and phases of dementia. Some communication tips deal with confusion, agitation and other challenging behaviors that can come along with losing one's memory, and those tips are incredibly important. But what about when the person is seemingly living in a different time, immersed in their memories of the past, unaware of what has happened since then?

Psychologist David McPhee shared some advice with a person on Quora who asked, "How do I answer my dad with dementia when he talks about his mom and dad being alive? Do I go along with it or tell him they have passed away?"

McPhee wrote:

Keep Reading Show less
True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!