An Alaskan high school pep club has apologized for “cultural insensitivity” for organizing a “country” theme day with students dressed in cowboy attire for a basketball game against a Native American team.
“Our intentions were not malicious,” the Kayhi Pep Club of Ketchikan High School said in a statement Friday.
“Upon reflection, there was an underlying offensive connection to historical atrocities,” it added. “We fully acknowledge the cultural insensitivity of the theme and the harm that it caused.”
Residents of Metlakatla, the only Native American reservation in Alaska, were outraged when Ketchikan High School students turned up in cowboy hats, boots, shirts and bandanas for the game earlier this month against students of their local high school, The Anchorage Daily News reported. The communities are about 15 miles from each other along the inside passage of southwest Alaska.
Groups representing area tribes, including the Ketchikan Indian Community, Metlakatla Indian Community and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, all issued statements condemning the cowboy theme — and belligerent activities on game night.
A Native American member of Ketchikan’s high school band told a packed, emotional Ketchikan school board meeting last week that he was particularly disturbed by his fellow students making what sounded like “war cries,” “bird calls” and “barking” during the game against Metlakatla, Ketchikan’s community radio station KRBD reported.
Some students quietly defended the Ketchikan pep club. One told KRBD that while pep club members “could be jerks,” they’re “not racists.”
Metlakatla Indian Community Mayor Albert Smith fired off a letter to the Ketchikan schools superintendent after the game, calling the cowboy attire “hurtful,” “racist,” and “emotionally violent.”
The superintendent of the Annette Island School District, which includes Melakatla’s high school, said the clothing and students’ actions created a “racially charged atmosphere.”
The Ketchikan High School issued an apology after the game. and the local school district launched an investigation, which is ongoing.
“The District is taking great care to ensure it has gathered and carefully reviewed all relevant information prior to taking any actions or making further statements,” officials said in a statement Friday.
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