A group of American Indian students is upset about a University of North Dakota sorority party last fall in which students dressed up in Indian costumes and wore red makeup on their faces and bodies.
Students associated with UND’s American Indian Student Services house say the party was insulting and racially insensitive. They plan to file a complaint with UND’s affirmative action office.
Photos from the Gamma Phi Beta party were posted on the Facebook social networking site of Anastasia Ginda, the sorority’s president. They show female students wearing Indian dresses and feather headdresses, and some male students wearing loincloths made from T-shirts.
Jillian Krivarchka, who was sorority president at the time of the party, said it was held off campus and was billed as a cowboy-themed party, not an Indian-themed party.
“People chose to dress in a different way and we had no control over how they chose to act,” she said.
“It wasn’t our intent to make anyone upset about it,” Krivarchka said. “It was brought up to us and we said we understand it was not the best thing.”
The Gamma Phi house is next door to the American Indian Student Services house.
“When we first moved in (about two years ago), we invited them over for a supper, to make friends and do a welcome-to-the-neighborhood thing,” said BJ Rainbow, president of the UND Indian Association and one of the students who filled out the discrimination form. “I just don’t know how we can try to teach them about our ways when they throw parties like this.”
UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university will investigate if the complaint is filed.
“We generally like to get as much information as we can before going too far out,” he said. “We’d hope our students would show proper respect for all people, and I don’t think the images I saw show that.”
Relations between Indian and non-Indian students have been a tense topic for years at UND because of controversy surrounding the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo.
Under an agreement with the NCAA late last year that settled a lawsuit filed by UND, the university will retire the nickname and logo in three years if it cannot get the support of the Sioux tribes in North Dakota.
American Indian Student Services Director Leigh Jeanotte said he was especially disturbed by the photos because the party apparently took place in November, the month the NCAA settlement was announced and a time when campus discussions about the nickname and other American Indian issues were at a high point. November also is American Indian Heritage Month.
“From my point of view, this is an educational opportunity, but they have to be aware that depicting American Indians in that way is not appropriate,” Jeanotte said.
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