By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
HAYESVILLE – An inflammatory Snapchat post was put online and started making the rounds like wildfire just prior to basketball games between Cherokee High School (CHS) and Hayesville High School (HHS) on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 11. The post, from a minor student at HHS stated (typed as it was in the post), “Student section theme for tonight’s game against the Cherokee Indians is Cowboys, bring your boots ya hats and ya horses and let’s scalp some Indians.”
The Cherokee sports teams have the monikers of Braves and Lady Braves, not Indians, and most of the players are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).
“On behalf of the Hayesville High School community, I would like to apologize for the inappropriate social media posts by a couple of our students and other situations that have derived from them,” Jim Saltz, HHS principal, said in an apology letter to Dr. Debora Foerst, CHS principal, the day after the incident. “We at HHS in no way will tolerate the content of the posts and the solicited actions. As a fellow school administrator I trust you understand this is another example of students using social media in an inappropriate manner.”
In his letter, Saltz outlined several actions HHS officials took prior to the game to help to mitigate the situation including denying access to the ball games to the students involved in the Snapchat post, denying admission to the games to anyone dressed in the above-mentioned “cowboy” attire, as well as increasing security at the venue.
He related that education and cultural awareness is at the forefront of their response. “The actions that occurred yesterday do not exemplify what we strive to do at HHS and we will take the necessary steps to ensure that we do not fall short of our mission.”
Dr. Foerst became aware of this incident prior to the game and acted immediately to address the situation head-on. In a statement to the One Feather she said, “As I was driving to Hayesville on Tuesday afternoon, my phone began lighting up with folks sending me screenshots of a completely inappropriate and racially charged social media post made by a Hayesville High School student. My players, parents, and community members were understandably quite upset. It upset me. Sadly, I thought, ‘Again?’ and ‘Still?'”
Dr. Foerst is the daughter of the late Ray Kinsland (Mr. Brave), for whom the Cherokee football stadium is named, and she has been around Cherokee athletics her entire life. “We have faced racist remarks, chants, signs, behavior, and more from schools all across North Carolina as long as I can remember and farther back than that. My dad told many stories about his experiences with our student-athletes over his 60 years volunteering with Cherokee High School, from not being allowed to eat in the dining room of restaurants to having trash thrown on them as they left the field. We have sat through student sections of opposing schools do fake war whoops, run-through banners with “The Trail of Tears ends here,” and fans spitting on our players. We were told it was all in good fun, we shouldn’t be so sensitive, or it is just the students trying to encourage their teams.”
Dr. Foerst praises the response time from HHS officials and notes, “In all my years as a Brave, I have seldom experienced such a swift response from an administrative unit to address such a negative situation.”
As the screenshot from the original Snapchat post was shared on social media, most notably Facebook, comments and tempers flared on those platforms. “Having read some of the adult responses on social media to this situation, it is not difficult to answer my questions of ‘Again?’ and ‘Still?’, Dr. Foerst said. “I would remind those adults that we are the Cherokee Braves representing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and we were playing a conference, but non-rival, team. The individual posting made it about race immediately, and the mention of scalping made it about years of genocide, marginalization, and social injustices.”
Principal Saltz concluded his apology letter by stating, “We are better than this at HHS and we will strive to do everything in our control to make sure incidents such as this are not repeated. Again, I apologize and please know that we will not tolerate behaviors that are motivated by the ills of our society.”