Local tribe pulled into mascot controversy
Sat, 05/16/2015 - 06:00
Pierite says stereotyping - not name - is the problem
By RAYMOND L. DAYE
It wasn’t a fight they went looking for, nor even one they were aware existed until a Biloxi reporter called asking for a comment. But the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, headquartered in Marksville, is part of the storm over the Biloxi High School Indians now.
As of last week, tribal officials had released no official comment on the matter, but were discussing a response to release to the public.
However, tribal member Michael Pierite -- son of first tribal chairman Joseph Pierite Jr. and grandson of last traditional chief Joseph Pierite Sr. -- did consent to share his personal opinion on the matter. He and his wife Donna stressed that they speak only for themselves and their family, and not in any official capacity for the tribe.
“I don’t mind that the Biloxi Tribe is used as the mascot for Biloxi High School,” Pierite said. “I just don’t like that they are inaccurately depicting our tribe.”
The problem, in one word, is “headdress.”
“My grandfather had a headdress and he would wear it on special occasions,” Pierite said. “He received it as a gift from an official of the Lakota (Sioux) tribe a long time ago. At one time, it had riding gloves to go with it.”
However, he is quick to note, “that was never part of the Biloxi Tribe. Maybe one or two feathers hanging on the side of the head. That would be about it for that kind of decoration.”
The actual school logo is of an Indian warrior with only one feather -- which is more likely what a Biloxi warrior would have looked like.
He said the Biloxi Tribe is related to the Sioux in culture and language, but is certainly not a Deep South version of the tribe of Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse made famous by their wars with the U.S. government.
“The problem is stereotypes,” Pierite continued. “In the movies of the 1940’s and ‘50’s, it didn’t matter what tribe was in the movie, they all had full headdresses. Hollywood didn’t worry about accuracy. Later, the movies started becoming more accurate in their depiction of the various tribes -- like Last of the Mohicans.”
Pierite said the word “Indians” is “just a word. It’s the name of their team. That’s okay. It’s the stereotyping that is not okay.”
Pierite said he has not kept up with the controversy in Biloxi, but has heard that comments on both sides of the issue have boiled over somewhat.
“I guess what I would have to say is, I can’t force people to change their minds about a particular race of people, but at least I can try to get them to see what they are doing is not right," he said.
"You see, people may say that ‘words don’t hurt,’ but words do hurt. They can hurt a lot,” Pierite said. “If they stereotype my people, my tribe, then that hurts me, too. I don’t want to be viewed as some cartoon Indian character.”
Ms. Pierite said she is offended both as a woman and as a Native American when Indian women are portrayed as “scantily clad women with loose morals.”
She said her father-in-law Joseph Jr. passed down a lot of the traditions of the Tunica-Biloxi cultures to her before he died. She works in the Language and Culture Department for the tribe and is passionate on those subjects. She is a “legend keeper” for the tribe and presents information and traditional songs at the Paragon.
What could have been just one more “stop the mascotry” campaign -- somewhat common nationwide over the past few years -- has generated even more controversy due to the reaction and actions from the Biloxi High supporters.
Members of the “Biloxi Indian Nation” -- the name the high school alumni and supporters call themselves -- didn’t wait to see whether the “real Biloxi Indians” were insulted or honored by the use of the schools’ choice of mascots.
Taking the criticism from Native Americans in other parts of the nation as an indication of the namesake tribe’s likely reaction, they began posting Facebook comments questioning the federally recognized tribe’s Indian heritage. One post went so far as to claim the “Biloxi bloodline is dead and only traces reside in those at Tunica-Biloxi.” Another said “their ancestry cannot be 100 percent confirmed,” and concluded, “The tribe, and factual descendants, are extinct.” Yet another said, “Let’s be honest, there is no real ‘Voice of the Tribe’ left.”
Pierite said those kind of comments show a lack of knowledge on the writer’s part. He said the Tunica-Biloxi have ample evidence to support their lineage and heritage.
“We have a rich heritage and history that is well-documented,” he said.