This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Administrators at Copper Hills High School are getting a lesson in cultural sensitivity after a Disney-themed homecoming parade last week resulted in accusations of disrespect for American Indian history.
In addition to little mermaids, Caribbean pirates, and beauties and beasts, Thursday's parade included a "Pocahontas" float complete with a tepee and cheerleaders dressed as American Indians as portrayed in the animated film.
The next night, during the school's homecoming football game, members of the Copper Hills American Indian Student Association collected more than 190 signatures on a petition calling for cultural awareness and tolerance.
"Our culture is not your costume," said Shelby Snyder, a Copper Hills junior and the association's president. "When people dress up as Pocahontas, it just makes it seem like they're mocking our culture and making fun of our culture."
Snyder said she complained to the school about the float roughly a week before the parade but was told that there was not enough time for the cheerleaders to alter their float.
"I informed the administration before [the parade] that I thought what they were doing was wrong," she said.
Copper Hills High School Principal Todd Quarnberg posted apologies on Facebook and on Monday said the school agrees the float was not culturally sensitive.
In an email to The Tribune, he said administrators had met with students and parents offended by the parade and were speaking with American Indian leaders in the community to help educate school staff.
"We are devastated that people were offended," Quarnberg said. "We are asking for civil conversation so healing can begin and we can move forward in harmony."
Controversy regarding the parade float ballooned on social media over the weekend, as parents and students criticized and defended the cheerleaders and their advisers.
Matt Hunsaker, father of one of the cheerleaders, said the issue had become overblown.
"These girls did not go out there with any intentions, whatsoever, to offend any culture," he said.
He said that people are entitled to their opinions, but he objected to people criticizing his daughter and other students who were following instructions for a theme chosen and approved by student leaders and school staff.
"I got told on Monday, 'Dad, I need a Pocahontas costume, what can we do?' " he said.
James Singer, a Utah resident who blogs under the title Urban Navajo, wrote a post that criticized the parade float as racist and hypersexualized, similar to what he called the "PocaHotties" costumes sold during the Halloween season.
His original post included pictures of the cheerleaders that had been posted on Instagram and Twitter, but he removed them after being contacted by one of the students' parents.
"I immediately took the photos down because I didn't want that to be focused on the teenagers," he said. "There's no reason to drag any of the students through the mud."
He said the issue of cultural appropriation is "systemic" and larger than a single school's homecoming parade.
"It permeates our society," he said.
Snyder, a member of the Navajo tribe, said there are ways to do a "Pocahontas" float without dressing up as American Indians. Or, she said, the cheer squad could have chosen another Disney film.
"It was disrespectful," she said. "Just because it's a movie, it shouldn't be an excuse that they did it."
Disney's 1995 production is a highly fictionalized account of Pocahontas and her tribe's relationship with settlers in Jamestown, Va.
Quarnberg said that online discussion can be unproductive and that school administrators will continue to meet with students and staff to learn from the mistakes that were made.
He also said the school is committed to preventing students from being singled out or threatened.
"Copper Hills High embraces diversity, and we want an inclusive environment for every student," he said.