North Dakota school apologizes after students mock traditional powwow dancing during prom

Mother of Indigenous student wants more than an apology from school staff and students

Located in the small rural town of Flasher in southwestern North Dakota, Flasher Public School (FPS) is apologizing after a group of Caucasian high school students were caught on video mocking traditional powwow dancing during their annual prom dance on April 20.

Numerous Indigenous students from nearby Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who also attend FPS, took part in the prom and became upset after witnessing the incident and decided to leave the prom early.

“Everyone was enjoying their time and having fun and then the (Electric Pow Wow Drum by The Halluci Nation) song came on,” said Mary Carry Moccasin who called the incident racist and is the mother of one of the Indigenous students who left.

“It was pretty upsetting and disappointing for (my son) and every other Native kid that goes there. They were not happy about it.”

Carry Moccasin shared on Facebook multiple cell phone videos of about 20 Caucasian students who were dancing powwow incorrectly at the prom. Students can be seen screaming and jumping up and down on one foot. She said the Indigenous students felt it was disrespectful to them and for the students who do practice powwow dancing during the summer months.

Carry Moccasin said they were taught that a powwow is a celebration of life, rooted in respect for one another and cultural pride and their culture shouldn’t be made fun of in this way.

“The kids just started dancing and that’s the way they all chose to dance and the Native American students that were there, they weren’t participating, they were pretty much on the sidelines watching, I guess in shock. Some of the non-Native students who were dancing and pretty much mocking us were coming up to the native students, ‘You should be out there, get out there in the middle, you’re Indian, go out there and dance,’” said Carry Moccasin.

FPS’s superintendent Jerry Erdahl didn’t reply to a request for comment from APTN News but in a short statement posted to the school’s Facebook page the day after the prom, he said the school was looking into what happened, “We have been made aware of a dance at our prom that has been offensive to some. We will use this as an opportunity to educate. Flasher Public School holds no intent to offend any cultures,” said Erdahl.

In another statement posted on the following Monday on April 22, Erdahl said the school had no intention on hurting anyone and that cultural sensitivity training will take place in the near future for staff and students.

“At no time was there any intentional intent to disrespect the Native American culture. To the Native American people, we are sincerely apologetic. Now, for us here at Flasher Public School is the time to educate both students and staff on cultural sensitivity issues that can affect values, morals and beliefs of others. Again, we are sorry for offending those who were insulted by these actions,” said Erdahl.

FPS removed any mention of the prom from its Facebook page and the school reached out to parents to inform them there would be support at school with two crisis counselors for students between Grade 6 to 12.

According to Carry Moccasin, this incident is not the first of its kind at the school and she alleges that some of the same Caucasian students seen mocking powwow dancing at the prom were also previously caught on video last December doing the same kind of dancing to the same song while drinking alcohol in their home in the basement. “Flasher has been doing this for years and now people just have proof,” she said.

“I know the school’s superintendent said there was no intent to hurt our feelings or mock our culture and that they were celebrating us is what his excuse was. I don’t know what we have to do with their prom, I don’t know what Native Americans have to do with their prom. If they’re doing this in their homes, I don’t believe what they’re saying that they didn’t mean to intentionally hurt us,” said Carry Moccasin.

Carry Moccasin said her son just started to dance powwow and happily chose the grass dance style after his older brother who previously danced and decided to hang up his regalia. She admits her and her family are learning about their culture one day at a time.

“His regalia is a hand me down from his older brother and that’s what he’s currently wearing. Just me being a mother and supporting him. I always wanted my kids to dance including my girls who have been dancing since they were tiny tots, they danced fancy shawl and jingle dress. Now we’re on the powwow trail and all four of my kids are dancing, I never thought I would be doing this,” added Carry Moccasin.

Carry Moccasin hopes students, teachers and staff of FPS will learn from this incident, treat it seriously and that everyone does the proper cultural sensitivity training. She also invites the school and students to their annual powwow in Porcupine in Standing Rock Reservation to learn more about their culture. The powwow will run from June 14 to 16.

“If the kids really are interested in our culture, if they really are wanting to learn, come to our powwow, we’re more than likely willing to show you, you can take part in our intertribals, come out and take part. For me there’s a time and place to dance and learn and from my point of view, from seeing that video while these high school kids are drinking and they’re dancing (in prom), it just takes me back to the video in the basement, I take it as mocking and behind closed doors this is what they do,” said Carry Moccasin.

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