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American Indian students say white robe incident not threatening

By Clair McFarland

Riverton Ranger

Via- Wyoming News Exchange

“I think they just acted out of stupidity,” said senior Jade Vaquera of the costumed boys. “People on social media blew it out of proportion.”

RIVERTON — In response to the social media outcry against two Riverton High School students who entered the school wearing Ku Klux Klan-style clothing last month, American Indian students at RHS called the boys’ actions misunderstood.

Two boys were recorded on camera walking into RHS wearing white robes and hoods on a Dec. 18 “White-Out Day” — a holiday dress-up occasion for which students were encouraged to wear all white.

The grainy image emerged on Facebook and caught the attention of the Washington Post, prompting a nationally exposed story detailing both presumed racial issues in the community – and several heated comments by social media users.

“One person’s little post exploded on social media, and it made an outburst out of everyone’s thoughts on it,” said RHS junior Aquilo Friday.

Friday is an engaged student and athlete, a Northern Arapaho Tribal member, and a member of Wolverine Warriors, a high school class which emphasizes social and multi-cultural compassion.

“People on the outside (of the situation) were putting their word out on it, and they didn’t even see it,” Friday continued.

His classmates agreed with him.

“I think they just acted out of stupidity,” said senior Jade Vaquera of the costumed boys. “People on social media blew it out of proportion.”

Vaquera had read the national news story on the boys’ behavior in which the Washington Post juxtaposed the act with the 2015 anti-vagrancy shooting attack on Stallone Trosper and James “Sonny” Goggles by Roy Clyde, as well as with the officer-involved shooting death of Anderson Antelope of Sept. 21, which has been subject to racially charged commentary but was deemed by authorities an act of self-defense after Antelope attacked the officer with a knife.

Vaquera felt that the source quoted – “a 26-year-old Northern Arapaho activist” – wasn’t relevant to the highly specific situation.

“How can you judge this school if you haven’t been here in years?” she asked. “He made this comment in the (national media story), and it’s everywhere now.”

She emphasized the daily plight and responsibility of students of all races to keep moving forward, never dwelling on past conflicts but always pushing for future unity.

“When you get negative comments, like ‘the school is racist,’ or ‘I’ll never send my kid here’ — how can the school do better when everything we’ve accomplished gets put down?”

Vaquera, a Northern Arapaho tribal member and president of the RHS multicultural club, is recognized by teachers as an advocate for cross-cultural compassion.

Senior Alessa Brown, who is of Northern Arapaho and Oglala Sioux descent, said she didn’t know the boys personally, but she didn’t take offense or feel threatened by their actions.

“I don’t believe they came in this school to target anyone. It was just a dumb joke. It was like a bad, dumb joke that just blew up,” she said with a laugh.

Brown polished the whole incident with that rare savior of public harmony: humor.

She quipped that when she first looked at the scheduled holiday dress-up occasion, “White-Out Day,” she thought the theme was a dull one.

“I thought, ‘that’s gonna be kind of boring’ – but then the day came and it wasn’t boring at all!”

Whether the boys’ choice was a dumb joke or not, the act had consequences, and those consequences were compounded by a mass public exposure that failed to give the world a focused understanding of the action itself, Brown noted.

“It was unfair to our school, because a lot of people made it look like our school allowed that – that (RHS) is racist, when in reality our school is not like that at all,” Brown said. “And it was unfair for social media to plaster that all over the place about us when that’s not what we are.”

Friday said he’s friends with the boys who perpetrated the joke and has been teammates with one or both of them at different times. He said their actions, while a lapse in judgment, don’t place them in the racist binary in which national and social media nodes attempted to place them.

“I don’t think (the act) was anything toward the profile it was put in, because he’s a nice guy – both of them are.

“They’re not really serious like that. They wouldn’t do that (as a threat),” said Friday. “They’re awesome people, and they’re awesome to hang out with.”

When asked what he thought was the rationale behind the boys’ ill-received joke, Friday said “it was just a stupid choice.”

The students of the Wolverine Warriors class work toward cultural awareness and compassion by hosting events, such as the Nov. 29 public powwow at Wolverine Gym, and by mentoring younger students.

Senior Shye Brannan, who is of Northern Arapaho descent, said working with small children is a vital part of fostering understanding, not just of cultural unity, but of community, and acceptance.

“A mentor can have such a big effect on someone young, because their minds are just developing,” he said.

Wolverine Warriors teacher Amanda Ablard identifies – often with the help of school counselors and leaders – elementary school students in need of acceptance or guidance. Then Brannan and his classmates go to them.

“Some of them just think – if they don’t have any friends or they’re lonely – they might think there’s something wrong with them. But no: We’ve got to pull them out of that thinking and let them know that just because you’re not friends with some people, it doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s just that some people don’t connect in certain ways.”

Already passionate about pulling people out of dangerous thinking, Brannan hopes to pull people out of dangerous situations as well, by becoming a medical evacuation pilot after high school.

RHS junior Amaya Whelin’s cross-cultural focus is through the outlet of dance. Part Northern Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone and Ojibwe, Whelin can perform the traditional dances of all three tribes ,and loves sharing the joy and historicity of her peoples’ dance with friends of different backgrounds.

This she did during the November powwow at RHS, which was a “social powwow” open to all.

“When I hoop dance it makes me really happy,” said Whelin, “and I hope it makes other people happy too.”

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