A Native American volleyball team from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation in Arizona was left humiliated after they were taunted with racial slurs by fans of the opposing team.
The jeering got so out of hand that the entire playoff game needed to be called off as the coach for Salt River High feared for her players’ safety.
The girls were playing a match against Caurus Academy, a charter school in Anthem, Arizona, in a predominantly white suburb just north of Phoenix. The game started out friendly enough, but after a player from Salt River missed the ball, things took a turn for the worst.
According to the Arizona Republic,
“Members of the crowd started imitating Native American dances and rituals… the crowd also referred to the players as ‘savages’.”
War chants and tomahawk chop gestures were also made.
Keith Andreas, a Salt River alumni told the news outlet that when parents complained about the racist taunts to Caurus Academy officials, they were met with a nonchalant response.
The incident was given to the Canyon Atheltic Association to look into, and while a rematch was scheduled for a day later in the week, no disciplinary action was taken on the students of Caurus Academy.
“CAA also ruled no sanctions would be handed down to either team and announced it would establish a new interscholastic committee that will develop new cultural competency policies for its member schools to follow.”
Well, for starters, one way the CAA can develop new cultural sensitivity policies is by punishing those responsible for the taunts. By choosing not to discipline them, the CAA and the Caurus Academy is showing students that there are no consequences for their actions.
While there were no recordings of the racist taunts during the game, a video obtained by the Arizona Republic shows the girls from Salt River visibly upset and crying as they walked off the court.
On top of being publicly humiliated, they now have to live with the fact that their perpetrators get to come out of the situation unscathed.
As upsetting as this may be, this isn’t the first time Native American athletes have been subject to racial harassment.
In 2019, High County News reported that between 2008 and 2019, there were 52 racist incidents in the United States involving Native athletes, coaches, and fans.
One incident in 2017 saw students from a South Dakota high school spray painting the words, “go back to the rez” on a car the day before they were supposed to play against a team from the Oglala Lakota tribe. Another group of high schoolers was turned away from a basketball game because they were Native.
Unfortunately, these incidences are rarely met with accurate disciplinary action.
“Of the 52 incidents, 26 resulted in remedial actions, including 15 apologies to the Native victims. At times, multiple responses were taken, including nine disciplinary actions — a team suspension, a few school investigations, an academic suspension, volunteer positions revoked at school, an athletic team meeting, a juvenile detention sentence, and a disorderly conduct charge. But in the remaining 26 incidents, no remedial or disciplinary action was taken.”
Tate Walker, a spokesperson for the Salt River School, said that the incident shines a light on the racism and discrimination that Native Americans experience daily.
“Tuesday’s events go beyond one volleyball game and are indicative of systemic discrimination problems that are difficult for many to acknowledge across the education landscape, especially when it’s so much easier to claim ignorance or unintentionally. There are more conversations to be had, especially with regards to how discrimination, inclusion and restorative justice is handled within schools.”
The girls lost the rematch, but the crowd (who now outnumbered the Caurus Academy crowd) was full of people who came to support them.
Sialik King, the captain of the Salt River team, told the Arizona Republic,
“I’ve never had such a big turnout for one game. It was very nice to see that us, as indigenous people, could come together for this game.”
Arizona has a Native population of more than 330,000 people, some of the highest in the United States, and yet Native people throughout the country and the world are still treated like second class citizens in nations that were theirs to begin with. Racism is everywhere, and as cliche as it sounds, one of the best ways to combat ignorance like this is through education and by not giving those who commit racial harassment a free pass.