April Negrette, right, protests a man wearing a fake headdress during the San Francisco Giants game on June 23, 2014. Negrette and the unidentified man were escorted from their seats on Native American Heritage Night at AT&T Park. Photo By Kimball Bighorse
BY CHARLIE PERRY AND CARINA DOMINGUEZ/NATIVE VOICE
SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Giants are taking steps to change their policy concerning cultural insensitivity following an incident that occurred in June during Native American Heritage Night at AT&T Park.
The announcement comes two weeks after two Native American Giants fans were detained by security guards after they challenged the use of another fan’s fake headdress.
On Wednesday night, a spokeswoman for the Giants said the organization was “adding language to our policies that prohibits culturally insensitive behavior and attire by fans.”
“The Giants are proud of the rich diversity of our fan base who cheer us on at AT&T Park,” Stacie Slaughter said in an email message. “It is in this spirit that we urge all fans to be mindful and respectful of each other.”
Slaughter said the organization would remove from the stadium “any fan wearing culturally insensitive attire, using obscene or abusive language, engaging in antisocial conduct offensive to those around them or displaying any other offensive behavior.”
Fans who might witness others acting contrary to these guidelines are asked to text the word “Foul” to 69050.
According to Kimball Bighorse, Turtle Clan of the Cayuga Nation, he and April Negrette, a Shoshone and Paiute student at the University of California, Davis, spotted a man wearing an upside-down, fake headdress in the bleachers and decided to try to talk to him about Native American appropriation. The man seemed sympathetic at first, but eventually Negrette, who was unavailable for comment, got emotional and started crying, Bighorse said.
“What do you want me to do?” Bighorse recalled the man asking. Negrette asked the man for the headdress, which was handed over. But then one member of the man’s party, claiming Native American ancestry, demanded she return it. When Negrette refused, security guards surrounded both Negrette and Bighorse, not letting them back to their seats, and told them that they were “trespassing.”
Negrette and Bighorse were escorted down stairs by the San Francisco Police Department, according to Bighorse. When Negrette again refused to hand over the fake headdress, Bighorse said, her arms were pulled behind her by a security guard.
Bighorse said she then screamed at him to start filming. Security then forced Bighorse to the ground and pried the phone from his grip, asking how much alcohol he’d had to drink. Bighorse said he was then forcibly searched. A male officer asked Negrette what she had in her pockets then searched her front and back pockets, despite Negrette asking for a female officer, Bighorse said. Both were detained for the remainder of the game, but neither were charged.
Representatives of the Giants met with Negrette and Bighorse after the situation occurred, and they seemed “receptive” to their ideas, Bighorse said.
“They have good intentions to be inclusive,” Bighorse said. Both Bighorse and Negrette are now working with lawyers to resolve the situation, including possibly filing sexual assault charges.
The Giants issued a news release, apologizing to both Bighorse and Negrette as well as the Native American community at large. The Giants confirmed awareness of the issue and held an open discussion with those involved, including the community members who helped organize the heritage night event. The release also stated that the Giants stand firm in their support of efforts to raise awareness on culturally appropriate attire and vowed to continue to work with the community in the name of progress.
Luke Lightning, lead community organizer of Native American Heritage Night with the San Francisco Giants, said in a statement Wednesday that the organization had been working with the ball club for nearly eight months on planning and executing a heritage night for Native Americans.
“Through ticket sales of this year’s event, we raised over $4,000 that will benefit two Bay area nonprofit organizations: Friendship House Association of American Indians, Inc. and the American Indian Child Resource Center,” Lightning said. “The purpose of this event was to raise awareness of the Native American communities in Northern California.”
“We were extremely upset at hearing of the very unfortunate incident involving the headdress,” Lightning said. “After hearing of the incident, we immediately notified the San Francisco Giants and worked with them and the two individuals involved on a plan to go forward with the hope that we will avoid similar incidents from occurring at future Native American heritage nights.”
For decades, fans of teams such as the Washington D.C. football team and Cleveland Indians have shown their support for the teams by dressing in Native American costumes and assuming the caricaturized image of Native Americans perpetuated through the media.
In 2005, the American Psychological Association conducted a study on the impact of Native American-themed mascots and logos, concluded that trivial use of tribal imagery “undermine the educational experiences of members of all communities, establish an unwelcoming and hostile learning environment for American Indians, and undermines the ability of American Indian nations to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, spirituality and traditions.”
Bighorse said he is opposed to the stereotypical images of Native Americans portrayed in the media.
“We hope to make a difference and to get the truth out,” Bighorse said.
Benjamin Nordlund, director of Yellowstone County Museum in Montana, shed light on the importance of the headdress to different Native American cultures: “You had to earn your right or way, usually with a great deed or accomplishment that deserves recognition. Headdresses are not something just given they are a piece of honor.”
Not all Native Americans feel the same about this issue, however. Some think that Native American-themed costumes, mascots and logos are the only way non-Native Americans will learn about Indigenous people.
“I see the use of Native-themed mascots as a positive thing,” said Neely Tsodle, media director for the Mvskoke Creek Nation. “Since the beginning, schools searched for positive things, braves and warriors were held in high respect. I believe this issue has been taken out of context. I see this as a powerful thing to start educating non-Natives on our ways.”
“When it comes to our regalia, a lot of the times, people wear headdresses and war paint to try to be respectful,” Tsodle said. “When I see non-Natives embracing native mascots, I feel good because they took the time to appreciate us in they’re own way.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Native American Journalists’ Native Voice on July 10, 2014. Used with permission. All rights apply.