TEACH RESPECT NO stereotypes in our schools NOT RACISM

Alert - Racist School Play in Viroqua, Wisconsin

•Saturday morning, April 24th,   ACTION ALERT
"Indian" Mascot and Logo Task Force

Diversity Day decision shadows entire community

... surfing the web e.g. Google "Viroqua Diversity Days" and found that the Viroqua School Board's decision was celebrated on a couple of White Supremacist Websites.� The National Vanguard site ends with this creepy statement:� "The upcoming public school board meeting on April 19 will no doubt be well-attended by non-White racial advocates and anti-White agitators; so it is incumbent upon decent White parents and students to attend also--and let our voices be heard.� We can make a difference."

Follow these links if you want to see the type of extremists who find these kinds of local decisions encouraging. �

National Vanguard Viroqua Article http://www.nationalvanguard.org/printer.php?id=2617,
What is National Vanguard� http://www.nationalvanguard.org/printer.php?id=2482 ,
Stormfront White Nationalist Community http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=126237

The Wisconsin Christians United organization has targeted small rural communities like Viroqua in their battle against the "homo-fascist movement" with a campaign called "Operation Saturation".� They may have links to the recent petition drive as Viroqua shows up on their newsletter but I haven't been able to confirm it yet. Some of the rhetoric is similar to what I heard speaking to both Iva Lee Baumgartner and the Church of Christ minister.� The organization is a front for a radical pastor Ralph Ovadal who advocates public harassment of homosexuals and legislation to make homosexual behavior a crime.� Check it out and let me know if you are aware of any local connections. http://www.wcuweb.com/Documents/NEWSLETTERS/2003,9-13.htm

These are truly strange times we live in. �

David K. Banner, PhD
Director, MBA program
Dahl School of Business�
Viterbo University
900 Viterbo Drive
La Crosse, WI 54601-8804 �

Background on National Alliance (creator of National Vanguard magazine) of late William Pierce, Nazi author of the Turner Diaries http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/american/national-alliance

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Diversity Day decision shadows entire community

Broadcaster editorial by Matt Johnson
Vernon County Broadcaster
Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The Diversity Day program at Viroqua High School may have been just a half-day of grant-funded cultural education for juniors and seniors, yet the act�of canceling Diversity Day has proved it was much more than that. The Viroqua School�Board made the wrong decision in canceling Diversity Day and the whole community now bears a Scarlet Letter of shame. Viroqua will be viewed as a place of intolerance.

School board members were presented with a petition including 400 signatures which sought to have a homosexual speaker eliminated from Diversity Day. The board made an "all or nothing" decision last week�to cancel Diversity Day on a 4-3 vote.

The issue isn't about presenting inappropriate material to children. The students in question are older and undoubtedly aware homosexuals exist. In fact, the students are probably much better informed about the concept of the homosexual community than a great number of those who signed the petition. The Diversity Day program allowed children to choose which sessions they wanted to attend.�Students weren't�forced to sit through any particular Diversity Day session.

The issue is tolerance.

Anyone living in the greater Viroqua community knows that the school district is already dealing with some heavy issues regarding insensitivity to minorities. Native American groups have lobbied to have the "Blackhawks" mascot changed. Native American groups protested the play "Little Mary Sunshine" last November. Native American speakers regularly visit Viroqua School Board meetings asking that students be given more educational opportunities to learn about other cultures and how racial and cultural stereotypes are insensitive.

The school board's vote to eliminate Diversity Day provides evidence toward the hypothesis that there are serious problems in the Viroqua School District when it comes to issues related to diversity.

Since the vote to cancel Diversity Day, Viroqua has taken it on the chin. Matt James' column in the La Crosse Tribune last Thursday took to task the school board members voting to cancel Diversity Day, saying that inside their heads was a "scary place." The Tribune on Sunday also opined that local students would lose out on an important educational opportunity and that canceling the program was a mistake.

The circumstance is horrible in its effect.

Some people invariably will see Viroqua as an unfriendly place. It certainly can't help the school district in its plans to combat declining enrollment.

The board members who made the decision were thinking about the public when they cast their votes. That should always be a factor in the decision-making process. Unfortunately, it overshadowed doing the right thing. The right thing to do would have been to forward the entire slate of Diversity Day presenters as planned.

There are a great number of positive things going on in the Viroqua School District. One of those positive things is the agreement between the district and Vernon Memorial Healthcare concerning the running of the Bigley Pool. Scores of children were at the pool Saturday for an Easter egg hunt. While the majority of children were white, also playing with them were a number of African-American, Asian-American and Latino children. Nobody batted an eyelash or pointed a finger because diversity, even if it is to a smaller degree, is normal in Viroqua.

The board's decision may have cancelled only a half-day program, but it casts a tall shadow over both the school district and the community.

Diversity Day cancelled at VHS

by Matt Johnson
Vernon County Broadcaster
April 01, 2004

The Viroqua School Board voted 4-3, Tuesday, to cancel this year's Diversity Day program at the high school after members of the public lobbied against the inclusion of homosexual speakers at the event.

The school board was presented with a petition, including roughly 400 signatures, in which people asked that the homosexual lifestyle not be included in the program. Board member Phil Solverson, who voted to cancel Diversity Day, said it was simply a matter of following the wishes of district residents.

"The feedback we were getting was overwhelmingly against the concept of the homosexual community - some were even against Diversity Day all together," Solverson said. "I would have liked to have had Diversity Day but without the homosexual speaker. The board thought that it was an all or nothing issue."

The Diversity Day program was scheduled to be held April 30. The program had previously been held in 2000 and 2002. Ellen Byers, a high school teacher and one of the event's organizers, said in the past information about the homosexual lifestyle, provided by homosexual speakers, was included in Diversity Days.

"I thought it wouldn't be a problem," Byers said. "When I found out it was cancelled I was in shock. Oh, my gosh. We're trying to teach tolerance and respect. What message does this send?" Solverson said he wasn't "homophobic," but the opinion of those against having a homosexual speaker, in part, was based the reaction of some students after the 2002 Diversity Day session. "Some people were offended by what the children were told," Solverson said. "It's an event for students and I wasn't there, but last time people were offended."

Viroqua Interim District Administrator David Johnston said Diversity Day was for juniors and seniors. He called it a way to "expose youngsters to various different viewpoints so they would have an idea of what to expect when they step out of the schoolhouse doors."

In addition to homosexual speakers from the Straights and Gays for Equality group from La Crosse, Byers said this year's Diversity Day would have included sessions featuring the Hmong, Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Amish and Native Americans. The program is funded through a grant. The keynote speaker was to be Dr. Gregory Wegner, a UW-La Crosse professor, who was to address Nazi Germany's use of racial stereotypes to manipulate public education, Byers said.

The Viroqua School Board has recently been criticized for failing to be sensitive to minorities. In November of 2003, the school district distanced itself from the high school play "Little Mary Sunshine" after Native American groups said that the play included racial stereotypes. The play still went on, but it was moved from school grounds to the Temple Theatre and sponsored by the Wild West Days Committee.

Native American groups, including the UW-La Crosse Native American Student Association, have attended Viroqua School Board meetings asking that more information be given to students on the topic of racial diversity. Native American groups have also asked the district to change the high school's mascot name, "Blackhawks," after War Chief Black Hawk of the Sac Tribe.

Gregg Attleson, a Spanish teacher and another Diversity Day organizer, called cancelling the event, "an incredible mistake."

"I'm afraid the message that we'll be sending out to people (of diversity) is that they're not welcome in Viroqua," Attleson said.

Attleson said the Diversity Day program has been in the works since September. The event's cancellation has left him with "an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and sadness."

"When you think about all the different times and places in history where evil existed, whether it be Nazi Germany, in Croatia, in the Middle East... in every situation the key attitude was one of intolerance of people who are different," Attleson said.

Inga Jacobson, a senior at Viroqua High School and a student representative to the school board, said the board's action will send a message to other communities that Viroqua isn't a tolerant place.

"Board members said they thought that diversity education was already included in the school's curriculum," Jacobson said. "If it is it must not be working. The social psychology class and Diversity Club have been recording comments made by students in the halls as a way to make people more aware of intolerant comments.

"We're constantly seeing comments that are homophobic or racist," Jacobson continued. "It might be something as simple as someone saying, 'That's so gay,' but people don't realize comments like that hurt other people."

On a motion made by Carl Volden and seconded by Jim Olson, Diversity Day was cancelled. Joining Volden and Olson in the majority were Solverson and Robert Nigh. Voting against were Garith Steiner, Scott Mills and Susan Jacobson.

The action to cancel Diversity Day came at a special meeting where public comment wasn't taken. The board will meet for its regular monthly meeting on April 19 at Liberty Pole, where public comment will be on the agenda.

Indians are People NOT mascots

Native American interests outline complaints

by Tim Hundt
January 21, 2004
Vernon County Broadcaster

Reaction to Viroqua High School's involvement with the musical Little Mary Sunshine in 2003 continued Monday night at the regular monthly meeting of the Viroqua School Board.

Advertise Here Directory Six different speakers representing several Native American organizations addressed the board in the public comment portion of the meeting. Representatives of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, the Native American Student Association, the Wisconsin State Human Relations Association and several retired University of Wisconsin professors all spoke to the board.

Kent Koppelman of UW-La Crosse said the fact the play went on and those who protested were ignored showed students that those in power can do whatever they want and that it's all right to ignore minorities.

Little Mary Sunshine was not the only issue addressed. Retired UW-Eau Claire professor Harvey Gundersen said Viroqua's Blackhawk logo is offensive and needs to be changed.

"The use of stereotypes such as your Blackhawk logo leads to dehumanization of American Indians, which leads to desensitization and enables people to ignore harm from a play like Little Mary Sunshine," Gundersen said.

Gundersen urged the board to take action to change the logo.

"Those who didn't intend to do harm and were unaware of these stereotypes can be forgiven," Gundersen said. "However, once a person is told that a nickname is harmful, if that person continues to promote its use, any harm that occurs thereafter is intentional. As school board members you have been informed that these nicknames are harmful, accordingly, any harm occurring henceforth is being done with the full knowledge and intention of the school board."

Retired UW-Stout professor Carol Gundersen said those on the Viroqua High School staff who raised objections about the production of Little Mary Sunshine have been the target of retaliation. She did not cite any specific examples, but said it has created a hostile environment toward Native Americans at the school.

Gundersen said she attended the production of Little Mary Sunshine and prepared an analysis of what it was like to watch the play through the eyes of a Native American. She gave copies of that analysis to the board and has also forwarded that to the state Department of Public Instruction.

All of those who spoke on the topic at the meeting asked the school board to take action to educate students to undo the stereotypes they believed were learned during the rehearsal and production of Little Mary Sunshine.

As the speakers ended their comments, Barbara Munson of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association asked that some sort of dialogue would begin between these organizations and the board or administration of Viroqua schools.

"I would like to invite you to please respond to us," Munson said. "Just some form of contact so that we can continue a dialogue and actually affect a remedy here in Viroqua. We really need to hear from your side of the table. Without that we have to continue to press."

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Press Release:

American Indians File Complaints with Viroqua School Board

On January 19, 2004, representatives from several American Indian education and human rights groups registered complaints at the Viroqua Area School Board meeting.  Five discrimination complaints have previously been filed against the Viroqua school district.  On November 14, over fifty American Indians and supporters protested  the school's performance of  the controversial musical "Little Mary Sunshine". Speakers expressed concern about a hostile environment existing for American Indians in the Viroqua school system, including retaliation against American Indian complainants.  Concerns linked a hostile environment to racial stereotyping of American Indians through the school's "Blackhawks" nickname.  .

Barbara Munson, Chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association "Indian" Mascot and Logo Taskforce, expressed concern that, "Student complainants have incurred severe damages to their education including being forced out of a school or school district.  That happened in Medford, Mukwanago and right here in Viroqua."

Dr. Harvey Gunderson, retired UW-Eau Claire professor, presented a complaint concerning the district's continued use of an "Indian" athletic nickname and logo.  He said that 35 years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., "American Indian children are still not being treated equally in the Viroqua schools.  A hostile environment clearly exists for American Indians." Barbara Munson, Chair of the Wiscons in Carol Gunderson, retired UW-Stout professor, described the cultural insensitivity present in the district's recent production of the "Little Mary Sunshine" musical. An Oneida tribal member who saw the Viroqua performance, Gunderson gave the school board copies of an analysis to help school board members "learn what the play looks like through American Indian eyes."

Matt Stewart, president of the La Crosse Native American Student Association, related the need for proactive education on diversity and Indian history.  Stewart asked why Viroqua has such a long history of entertainment that hurts others.

Jim Knutson-Kolodzne, Wisconsin Indian Education Association board member, read a statement prepared by that organization suggesting several remedies to the Little Mary Sunshine debacle.  He stated that several American Indian Studies educators in the UW system have offered to provide resources to help re-educate the Viroqua students who "learned, rehearsed, and acted out core stereotypes about Indian people" as cast members in the play.

Finally, Kent Koppelman of UW-La Crosse appeared as new Chairperson of the Wisconsin State Human Relations Association.  He offered the Association's expertise and support to the school district in correcting the educational harm done to American Indian and other students by the "Little Mary Sunshine" musical.

Dr. Harvey Gunderson, Professor Emeritus
P.O. 667
Osseo, WI. 54758

Sheku Friends in Advocacy,

Harvey and Carol Gunderson and I are on the agenda of the Viroqua School Board Meeting 7:30 at Elementary School on Monday Dec.15 to present our complaints and letters to the board. The following information will help you get to the meeting to provide witness and support.

Osk^n^su, Barb

The Viroqua School Board meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, December 15 in the Cafetorium (i.e., a combination cafeteria/auditorium) at the Elementary School located at 115 N. Education Avenue. The Elementary School and the District Administration offices are combined in the same building. To locate the Elementary School building once you have found the combined High/Middle School building (at 100 Blackhawk Drive), drive around the left end of the high school building, turn right at the bottom of the small hill. As you drive along behind the back of the high school building, you will see another building toward the top of the small hill and to your left. There is a parking lot right in front of the Elementary School/District building. The door to the far right of the parking lot enters the Elementary School.

According to Mapquest, the following are directions:

To get to the Elementary School, follow US-61/ US-14 into Viroqua (this is also called Main Street in Viroqua).

Assuming you are coming from the north, Turn RIGHT onto W BROADWAY ST. and proceed 0.71 miles.

Turn LEFT onto EDUCATION AVE. for .39 miles.

To get to the High/Middle School, follow US-61/ US-14 into Viroqua.

Assuming you are coming from the north, Turn RIGHT onto WI-56/ W DECKER ST. for 0.48 miles.

Turn SLIGHT LEFT onto BLACKHAWK DR. for 0.01 miles.

The following link should show a map. You may need to copy/paste to add the second line to the URL:


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Why the Protest of Viroqua High School�s
�Little Mary Sunshine�?

By Barbara E. Munson (Oneida)

Inside the Temple Theater, a Viroqua High School student actor strikes a pose meant to evoke the image of an �Indian Chief� as a �Noble Warrior�. Students sit cross-legged �Indian Style�, speaking broken English and lacerated Lakota and of course greeting each other with �How�.� One scene in the Viroqua High School production of �Little Mary Sunshine� suggests that Indian people think that alcohol is sacred, another scene alludes to Indian abilities as �great scouts�.� Students portray characters with names like �Chief Brown Bear� and �Yellow Feather�. There are the obligatory tipi and feathers.

Outside the theatre, Indian tribal members from several Wisconsin tribes: Oneida, Ho-Chunk, Stockbridge-Munsee and various bands of Lake Superior Chippewa stand in protest. Many of the Indians who are protesting are in academic fields. There are administrators and student advisors from four different UW campuses, and professors active and retired.� There are two board members from Wisconsin Indian Education Association. There are American Indian college students and their non-Indian allies from the student body, faculty and staff of the UW-LaCrosse, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and UW-Oshkosh.� Finally, there are family and local allies of an Indian student and an Indian teacher, who are past and current complainants against the Viroqua School District. �

It is ironic hearing comments from a few people entering the theater suggesting that the protestors should �Get a Life�, or saying �Why don�t you do something positive? You know, do something about alcoholism on the reservation.�� If any group of people is doing something to work with Indian people as they move out of a lengthy history of oppression and begin to fulfill their potential and their dreams, it is these Indian educators and students, and their allies.

It is no mistake that the production of �Little Mary Sunshine� performed by a group of high school students, brought Indian educators and college students to Viroqua. The production is replete with and reinforces the very stereotypes that the American Indian Studies Statutes were created to counter.� These statutes, enacted in 1989, are a focal point of Indian education in our state. The statutes mandate schools to teach about Wisconsin Indian Tribes, about tribal sovereignty and about human relations as a counter measure to the stereotypes and ignorance that fueled racism against Wisconsin Indian people during the 1980�s and early �90�s. The UW-System is mandated to prepare future classroom teachers to do this teaching.

Nor was it a spur of the moment decision to protest the play. Many of the protestors were involved in attempts to mitigate the content of the play or to halt the production fully six weeks prior to opening night. That the Viroqua High School production of �Little Mary Sunshine� drew so many to protest speaks volumes about the depth of responsibility educators feel about accurate and authentic representation of Indian peoples and about the depth of discrimination and hostility against this protected class that exists in the Viroqua School District.��

What is the Viroqua School District teaching its student body?� The play�s director, English teacher Sherry Getter, is not only teaching stereotypes based on ignorance and inaccuracies about Indian people, she is teaching students to be comfortable acting out these stereotypes. �Little Mary Sunshine,� first performed in the 1950�s, is the artistic parallel to a black face Minstrel Show, only this time it is Indian people who are the butt of jokes that demean on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion. The problems with this performance taking place in Viroqua go beyond a single teacher�s unfortunate play selection and insistence that �the show must go on.�� The Viroqua School Board, by choosing to change the venue for the high school play, under the pretense that doing so absolves the district from culpability, is teaching students to be hypocritical and dishonest and to zealously do whatever is necessary to work their will at the expense of others from a protected class. This is an extraordinary example of the exercise of a power differential which is at the heart of oppressive discriminatory practices. The choice of this play after the district was sanctioned for promoting similar stereotypes of Japanese people in a past production involving selections from �The Mikado� indicates that the district is not learning from its earlier mistakes. All these lessons rest on a contentious history of stereotyping American Indian people through the misguided use of the Viroqua School District�s �Blackhawk� logo. Has living under an �Indian� logo stereotype inured administration, faculty and students to the very nature of racism?

In addition to the American Indian Studies Statutes teaching mandates, the Viroqua School Board is responsible for upholding the Pupil Non-Discrimination Statutes protecting members of protected and minority classes from stereotyping and harassment.� The Viroqua School District is also expected to supply teaching materials that contain accurate and authentic information about diverse populations and to provide learning environments that encourage the successful achievement for all students intended by the No Child Left Behind Law of 2003.

Finally this blatant insult to Indian people with egregious disregard of core education policies was done for the purpose of public entertainment.

What remedial action will the Viroqua School District take so that students so exposed, unlearn racism and become responsible and effective citizens in an increasingly inter-connected world?

Barbara E. Munson, Chair
WIEA �Indian� Mascot and Logo Taskforce
231Steeple Road
Mosinee, WI� 54455
(715) 693-6238

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From: "Stewart Matthew J" stewart.matt@students.uwlax.edu
To: "Barbara E Munson" Barb@Munson.net

Call For ACTION against the play Little Mary Sunshine

A protest will be held Friday Nov. 14th
begining at 7:00pm (the play starts at 8:00)
in front of the Temple Theatre 116 Main Street, downtown Viroqua

The play little Mary Sunshine is a horrific example of the stereotypes used against Native People to justify years of genocide. This play is about a "savage Indian" who capture and sexually assult a little white girl, who is then rescued by the white forest ranger hero. The play is full of broken "Indian" speech, "Indian pose" and wrought with disturbing misrepresentations and stereotypes of Native culture and spirituality. The play has a young white ranger "adopted" as the son of the Lokota Chief who then undergoes a number of constructed ceremonies made up entirely of stereotypes. The play ends with the Native people, the Lakotas, giving the land to the white forest rangers. This play has all the classic stereotypes that so hurt our people. The "vanishing Indian," "last two of their tribe," "savage" "dirty" living in teepees, feathers, beads, paint, and the whole works. A student from the La Crosse Native American Student Association, who is also a teacher at Viroqua, first complained to NASA about the play and we went down to protest and speak before the school board. After hundreds of phone calls and actions in Viroqua the district decided to wash their hands of the play and not hold it in the school, but a local doctor picked it up and is producing it at the Temple Theatre, still with the same kids, and teacher on the 14th! Please come and support Indigenous people and fight racism!

Date: November 8, 2003

Subject: Where is a 'non-school event' really a school event? In Viroqua!

On Friday, October 31, Viroqua High School Principal Bill Tourdot issued the following carefully worded e-mail regarding the �Little Mary Sunshine� musical, being directed by teacher Sherry Getter and scheduled for performance at the school on November 14, 15, and 16:

�I am sure that by now a lot of you have already heard but, I thought I would try to keep everyone up to date on the musical. Sherry and I have agreed to cancel the musical as a school event. We have worked very hard at making the musical a school event, however, we feel it is in our best interest if it is not. Thank you to everyone who is involved and I hope we have all learned from this and can move forward from here.

Bill Tourdot�

When the two of us visited Viroqua on Thursday, November 6, we checked at the Temple Theatre where the �Little Mary Sunshine� musical is now scheduled to be performed. Outside the theatre entrance is a board announcing the �Upcoming Shows at the Temple Theatre�. The schedule states the following:

�November 14, 15, 16 Viroqua High School presents �Little Mary Sunshine� (theatre rental)�

We took a photograph of the schedule for proof so that the school could not deny its existence. The photo is posted in the photo section of the Yahoo nafps and stop_lms websites.

While there were also flyers at the theatre saying that Wild West Days was the sponsor, we believe the theatre schedule statement that �Viroqua High School presents �Little Mary Sunshine� � more accurately reflects reality. We were at the school until after 6:30 p.m. Thursday talking with Mrs. Getter. Play practice is being held � guess where � yes, right at the school! The same person/teacher is directing it, the same students are participating, and practices are being held at the school as usual. So the claim that the play is not a �school event� is a fa�ade!

By saying they �have agreed to cancel the musical as a school event� while purposefully neglecting to mention that the musical will continue but with a different official �sponsor� and at a different performance site, the school is clearly trying to deflect criticism away from the school. However, basically everyone in the Viroqua community knows that the reality is that, for all practical purposes, this is still their annual high school fall musical. It even appears on the theatre schedule as such, saying that �Viroqua High School presents �Little Mary Sunshine� � So who do they think they are fooling? Are they trying to fool the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) into believing this is no longer a �school event�? Are they trying to fool members of the American Indian community across this nation who have told the school they are insulted by the lack of racial sensitivity and understanding exhibited by this school district and community? Are they trying to fool the media into believing this diversion?

According to the November 1 edition of the La Crosse Tribune, �Getter said the move was made on Wednesday, Oct. 29, as a way of keeping the musical under production while removing the school district from any controversy. � Viroqua Interim School District Administrator David Johnston said � by removing the play as a school production, it takes away the opinion that something inappropriate is being taught in Viroqua schools.� So what has changed? Does just calling it a �non-school event� really make into a �non-school event�? If it is true that �A rose by any other name is still a rose�, then isn�t a school event by any other name still a school event? Will grandparents of cast members brag to their friends about their grandchild being in the annual fall high school musical, or will they tell people that their grandchild was in the cast of a Wild West Days musical? Will people ask �Are you going to the high school play?�, or will they ask �Are you going to the Wild West Days play?�

Everyone knows that the performance is a �non-school event� in name only, at least as far as the relevant racial issues are concerned. It isn�t as though the school first cancelled the play and that Wild West Days subsequently and independently came forward. Instead, this was a simultaneous and jointly planned act, with school �cancellation� occurring only after an agreement had been reached with a new �sponsor�.

Regardless of their intent, the reality is that this school is in effect teaching children that it is okay to be sneaky and find ways to get your way even if it harms a racial minority. They are teaching students that it is okay to call something by a different name, even if the demeaning nature of the play remains, as long as such deception will enable you to get your way. They are teaching students that it is okay to make fun of Indians as long as it enables the student to have their �moment of glory� on stage. Many of these students will have regrets for years to come that they participated in a play that much of society views as racist. When these students go to college, many will be embarrassed to have participated in this while they were a high school student. The attempts to change the play to remove or change some particularly blatant segments while other demeaning segments remain only teaches Viroqua students that it is okay to do offensive or racist things as long as you somewhat �tone down� the level. The Viroqua school board, administration and teacher are communicating that it is acceptable to be a �little racist�, just do it in a conniving manner so that people don�t realize what you are doing. The adults are providing a real �good example� for their kids, right?

The fact that members of the community stepped forward to �sponsor� the play indicates that racial insensitivity present in the school also reaches deeply into the community. Jeff Menn, Chairman of the Wild West Days Committee (the new �sponsor�), was quoted in the Viroqua newspaper as saying "� this is a situation where the community has to stand up with us for what is right. There are also issues of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion at stake. It would be terrible if we were afraid to stand up for what we believe in." So he wants to �stand up for what we believe in� by putting on a racist play? Is this what Menn believes the people of Viroqua believe in? Apparently so. Menn seems to be saying that �We in the Viroqua community insist on exercising their free speech rights to say racist things that demean an entire race of people. Our Viroqua community has to stand up with us for what we believe in, the right to insult others.� However, those who insist on their rights should also take responsibility for their actions. Leaders in the Viroqua community like Menn should take responsibility for seeing that young people in their community are not subjected to being encouraged to participate in a distasteful bigoted musical.

What is taking place in Viroqua is unfair to the children in the community. Think about it. First, you have about 45 high school students who were invited by the school system to put on a musical that the students later learn is offensive to American Indians. How hard would it be for a student cast member (or members) to subsequently stand up and say they refuse to participate since the musical is offensive or racist? The peer pressure felt from the other students, from the teacher, from parents and from community members would be intense. That would take real courage, and it is unfair that Viroqua adults have put their young people into that position. Then think about those other young people who will attend the musical because they are brought by their parents. These grade school and middle school students will be watching a �fun� musical comedy, learning from the older students in the cast that it is �acceptable� and �fun� to use harmful stereotypes to make fun of Indians. So we have the older students teaching the younger students how to demean another race, and all this occurring with the blessing of the school board, administration, teachers and community members! Now that is something the people from Viroqua can REALLY be proud of!

The sad thing is that the adults are so caught up in their egos that they are willing to expose their kids to this experience rather than admit they were wrong to adopt this play. They say they did not intend to harm Indians when they picked the play. Well, every one of us has probably done something during our lives where we had �good intentions� only to later discover that the result was not what we intended and that our �good intentions� hurt someone. So what did you do? Did you continue doing it in spite of the fact that more harm would result from continuing? No, you stopped doing it even though you started with good intentions. But once you became aware that it hurts others, if you had continued, then that subsequent harm would have been done �with intention�. Now that the Viroqua school board and others in the school and community know that this harms American Indians, the harm they inflict on Indians is being done knowledgeably and intentionally.

The two of us have often seen graduates from high schools with Indian athletic nicknames/logos become embarrassed in class when they get to college and find that students from other communities are shocked that a college student still doesn�t �get it� and doesn�t understand that these nicknames are harmful. These students often resent their home community/school for putting them into this embarrassing position by not educating them about the moral issues related to having Indian athletic nicknames. The Viroqua school board has done enough harm by retaining their Indian nickname of Blackhawks. Now they compound their error by trying to preserve a racially insensitive play by claiming the school musical is a �non-school event�.

Some community members, including a cast member in a letter to the editor, have claimed that complaints about this play constitute censorship. The word "censorship" derives from the Latin word, censere, which means "to give as one's opinion, to assess." It also is defined as �to find fault with and condemn as wrong� or �to form or express a judgment in regard to�. The word �comstockery� means �censorship because of perceived obscenity or immorality�. Isn�t it immoral to put on a play which is demeaning to a race? When people talk about �obscenity�, they often ask if there is �any socially redeeming value�. So what is the positive value of the presence of the Indian characters and their roles in this musical? Is there some positive idea or message that I didn�t see when I read the whole play? Or is the only benefit that it provides �fun� for a primarily white audience? But are the laughs and �fun� felt by some white members of the audience sufficiently important to offset the negative impact on American Indians who may be in the audience? Are a few laughs worth making Indians feel humiliated, stereotyped, dehumanized, and demeaned? If any Indians sitting in the audience are embarrassed, humiliated, angered, frustrated, saddened, then will the laughs and �fun� be worth it? Given this definition, this play probably meets the conventional definition of being obscene.

When we have read segments of dialogue to American Indians (and to whites), they have unanimously indicated disgust, several saying that it made them �sick to their stomach� to hear that a school could possibly consider having their young people involved in such demeaning activity. What is very disappointing is that this follows a DPI seminar held for all teachers in Viroqua at the end of last school year for the expressed purpose of raising awareness about the negative effects of use of stereotypes, specifically related to American Indians. That this play was chosen by teaching staff in spite of its horrible stereotypes and that the school then tried to convince everyone they were going to �cancel the musical as a school event� raises serious questions as to whether any real capacity for racial sensitivity exists.

If you have any questions, we would be happy to talk with you. Thank you for your attention to these important issues.


Dr. Harvey S. Gunderson and Carol S. Gunderson
P.O. Box 667
Osseo, WI 54758
(715) 597-6668

(Carol Gunderson is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and a retired Senior Lecturer Emeritus from UW-Stout where she taught sociology, including a course on the sociology of minority groups, receiving several outstanding faculty teaching awards and appreciation awards from ethnic minority students. Dr. Harvey Gunderson is a retired Professor Emeritus of Business from UW-Eau Claire who served on the American Indian Studies Committee for over fifteen years, receiving an award for working with minority students and numerous other teaching and advising awards.)

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Indians are people not mascots
Racist Play in Viroqua, WI page 2
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