My name is Taylorlynn Johnston. I am a senior at the University of Kansas, president and Student Senate representative of First Nations Student Association. I'm writing to the editor because on April 15, the University Daily Kansan posted a story that featured a photograph of a man of clear caucasian descent at a fraternity party dressed in clothing to replicate the Native American stereotype of the “Native Warrior.”
We understand that the University Daily Kansan had no part in the actions of that man and that the fault of such a culturally insensitive act does not fall on the paper. However, our concern stems from the fact that the paper featured the photograph without any warning or any citation to the reason why the photograph was featured.
We understand that these actions of the past cannot be undone, but to feature the photograph without acknowledging the wrongfulness of the actions being done in the photo or providing a reason as to why that particular photograph was used is disrespectful, to say the least, to those who identify with the culture that has been mocked.
The issue is that no one at the Kansan saw a problem with the photograph, and that is why it was featured in the story. We need people to see there is a problem with these photos and these actions. We suffer from the short term and long term effects of culturally insensitive actions and words daily. Stereotypes affect our relations with the government, health care, occupations, education, etc. I am dumbfounded that I must write this letter because it is innately known that stereotypes and supporting stereotypes in any way is wrong, and yet, here I am.
My organization and I, along with many native faculty and staff, work diligently to try and create bonds with Native Americans in the community, and that relationship rides on a very thin line because time and time again, the University proves our biggest fear: We will never be treated or seen as equal members of society.
Our lives and the lives of our ancestors are not something to be mocked or romanticized. We, like people of all cultures, are not narrowed down to one thing. War paint, feathers, traditional regalia, etc. are all symbols and representations of something bigger than just the objects and often bigger than ourselves.
We and our traditions are not objects of entertainment for others. There is no justification. There is no excuse. There is no reasoning for the actions of the individual in the photo and for the Kansan providing a platform for hateful and ignorant acts to brood. We are better than this.
Editor-in-Chief Nichola McDowell apologizes for a culturally insensitive historical photograph that was published in the article, “KU class of 1970 commencement thwarted again, 50 years later.”
We appreciate the Kansan giving our organization the platform to speak out against this issue, and we hope this letter can shed light on the issue. To prevent this from happening again, the Kansan has agreed to participate in a cultural sensitivity workshop with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and is looking to further investigate issue of Native discrimination on campus along with using resources available at the Native American Journalism Association resources page and the KU/Haskell Memorandum of Understanding. We are hopeful that this will be an experience of growth for both FNSA and the Kansan.
We will stand stronger if we are together.
Cassandra Mesick Braun
Melissa Peterson, FNSA Advisor/NFSC President
Madeline Long, ISP Executive Committee Student Rep
Linford Brown, Haskell Student
Leandra Galindo, Haskell Staff
Sarah Deer, Professor