REGINA – The University of Regina’s cheerleading team is making national headlines after photos appeared on Instagram over the weekend of members posing in “cowboy and Indian” costumes.
The photos sparked outrage, and now the group and their coaches are required to take cultural sensitivity training.
“(When) you think about the colonization of our First Nations people in this country, that image goes back and perpetuates an idea of cowboys and Indians, cowboys shooting Indians . It’s totally unacceptable and inappropriate today in 2014,” U of R president Vianne Timmons responded Monday, adding she hopes to use this incident as an educational opportunity for all students.
Further steps will require that the team’s coaches and members discuss this matter as a group with the University’s Executive Lead on Indigenization, Dr. Shauneen Pete.
“I think this will bring a sensitivity that was lacking in that incident and it will bring a broader awareness of the impact of our actions on others,” added Timmons.
Meanwhile, thousands on social media have weighed in on an uncomfortable debate, many asking the question: what’s wrong with this image?
“It’s a really highly-sexualized image they’ve proclaimed here for Indigenous women and these things are very problematic,” said Dr. Pete. “I’m really curious about why it is that no one said, ‘this doesn’t sound like a good idea.'”
The discussion around this incident follows similar debates recently – with the Moose Jaw Warriors reverting to a retro logo while the Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon debated retiring their “Redman” logo and team name.
“I do kind of expect racist stereotypes everyday,” said Dr. Pete.
She continued by adding even if the image did make some in the group uncomfortable, they might not have been able to articulate why. She wants to equip the team with the language and background to address racial stereotypes.
“They’re not really held accountable for the social inequality directed towards Indigenous people – these things are problematic. Regardless of what profession they’re going to go in they’re going to have neighbours and classmates and probably bosses who are also Indigenous peoples and they need to learn to self-correct their behaviour. I want to help them learn some new strategies for that self-correction, not only for themselves individually, but as a group. How do you and your social networks challenge one another to disrupt those stereotypes?”
However, Dr. Pete says there needs to be a more proactive approach from the university: “We’ve had a 30-year mandate for the inclusion of Aboriginal education in this province and it’s still viewed largely as optional.”
Without making Indigenous Studies mandatory, Dr. Pete said we will continue to see what she calls the “luxury of ignorance.”
President Timmons responded by adding while Indigenous Studies is not a required class for everyone, it’s increasingly becoming mandatory for more and more courses, including education and nursing.
Once these discussions have taken place, the University will determine whether further disciplinary actions are required.