ANDERSON, Ind. (WXIN) — A controversial tradition at one Indiana high school’s basketball games has come to an end after complaints that it mocked Native American culture.
On Tuesday, district board members voted unanimously to drop Anderson High School’s pre-game ritual in which students dress up as Native American chiefs and maidens to perform a pipe ceremony.
The school says it’s keeping its mascot, the Indian, however. The Indians’ team name, logos, and signage for the school and athletic teams will also remain the same.
According to Tuesday’s meeting, the city of Anderson is named after William Anderson, a former chief of the Delaware (Lenape) Tribe.
“From the start in 1925, the intention behind the Indian symbol at Anderson High School has been to honor Native Americans,” read the internal review of the ritual and its complaints.
“The Delaware tribe of Indians and most Native American tribal members have made it clear through this process that having students or any non-native individuals dressing up in native regalia and performing routines and ceremonies that they hold as a sacred component of their culture is in no way honoring them,” said Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Joseph Cronk.
The pipe ceremony drummed up controversy on a national stage when a video from an Anderson High School boys’ basketball game was shared on TikTok in February. It received more than 1 million views and led to hundreds of people, both tribal and non-tribal, contacting the school and school board to share “concerns, support, and feedback,” according to the internal review.
“We are asking for grace. We are asking for respect,” said one representative of the American Indian Movement, who spoke before the vote was held. He said the pipe ceremony portrayed at Anderson games was a very sacred ritual in the native culture.
“That would be like me going to your house and telling you how to read the Bible,” he told the crowd at the meeting.
According to the school board, an internal task force was formed after the response to the video. Ten ACS representatives met over several weeks to research and document ways in which the district represents Anderson’s Native American history. Part of their work included consulting with members of the Delaware tribe of Indians and direct descendants of Chief Anderson.
“What does it say about ACS if we have been told by a culture that something we are doing is offensive and we continue to do it?” read one slide of the presentation.
ACS says moving forward, it will work in partnership with the Delaware Tribe of Indians to ensure authenticity and appropriateness in new sporting event routines.