A poster for Iowa high school girls’ basketball team is making rounds on the internet for all the wrong reasons.
The poster for Clarke High School Indians Basketball Team features a litany of offensive Native American clichés — including a totem pole, war dance and team members wearing mix and match headdresses from various tribes along with war paint. Ironically, none of the girls involved are of Native descent.
The photo has rightfully attracted anger from the Native American community for its blunt appropriation of their culture. In fact, Vicky Apala-Cuevas of the Oglala Lakota tribe called it “painful to look at.”
“Everything that I saw on the poster does not in any manner depict Native American women and that's the sad part,” she told local news channel KCCI. “Our women are very beautiful and to be respected.”
Deeming everything on the poster culturally incorrect, Apala-Cuevas said the war dance is a form of sacred prayer while the totem pole is like a family crest honoring the leaders.
“The saddest part, the part that we feel is most overwhelming and overcoming, is that there's another generation depicting us in an offensive way,” she added, noting the way basketball players dressed up was “culturally insensitive.”
Meanwhile, Clarke Community Schools Superintendent Steve Seid believes the poster is a “prideful demonstration of the school embracing its heritage.”
“Really out of total respect for not just the community, but the entire state in general with a Native American background,” he explained. “No negativity intended at all. Just respecting a rich culture.”
As for the photographer who helped create the super racist image, well, he seems confused with all the hullaballoo.
“If I was a Native American — I feel there was no disrespect intended. It was done to be a unique and fun poster,” Ben Shirk of Shirk Photography in Wilton told Deadspin.
He is not the only one — a mother of one of the team members also shares Shirk’s ignorance on the matter.
“These girls are representing being ready for the season to come up, being ready and even nowadays it's an empowering message for women all over and these young women are doing it,” added Arminda Cosner.
A state agency took notice of the poster, which is in the process of being reviewed, and dubbed it an unwelcome example of people not understanding the culture.
“The poster misused symbols representing a Native culture and spirituality in a disrespectful way,” stated the Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs. “This is a young team that probably did not intentionally mean to be disrespectful; they may not realize that portraying a racial minority group in a stereotypical manner is not appropriate. We hope that the school and other individuals recognize that this poster reinforces and perpetuates offensive imagery and stereotypes of our culture.”
It is high time the country takes a look at all the racially offensive mascots and athletic teams. Stereotypes aren't team spirit and not a celebration of culture — they just make a mockery out of it.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Lucas Jackson