Native Activist Condemns Racist Muscatine Parade Entry

Screenshots via @TheAngelinaLynn on Twitter

By Ty Rushing

July 6, 2023

An organizer with the Great Plains Action Society, an Indigenous-led social justice nonprofit, called an incident at Muscatine’s Fourth of July parade a “wildly distasteful act” and said it perpetuated “great harm” to Natives.

During the parade, Megan Burton, who appears to be a white woman, was riding a horse while pulling a rope that was used to bind the hands of Jenna Nicole, who also appears to be a white woman, while she was dressed in what looked like a “sexy Indian” Halloween costume.

Jessica Engelking, the representation director of the Great Plains Action Society, wrote an open letter to Muscatine officials that outlined why this act was problematic in a number of ways.

“Playing Indian is when white people pretend to be us for entertainment value,” she said. “Pretendianism is when white people pretend to be us because they think it gives them authority to act as Native and the entitlement to speak on our behalf. Neither of these is acceptable. 

“Whitewashing is erasing and toning down the genocide that was inflicted upon us during the theft of our land and colonization. What happened at your parade appears to be a disgusting mix of all these forms of racism,” she continued.

Photos of the parade entry generated social media backlash. Burton later told the Muscatine Journal that she and Nicole were Native American and were “portraying history in support of Cherokee National Treasure,” a distinction awarded by the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee National Historical Society to honor people who work to preserve Cherokee art and culture.

Burton’s explanation that their parade entry was intended to support this recognition is a bizarre one, as the 2022 recipients were honored for basketry and Cherokee language preservation, and past honorees have included sculptors, storytellers, painters, and other artisans. 

In a statement to Starting Line, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. condemned the incident and called it “outrageous and disrespectful.”

“Sadly, this is a clear reminder that in 2023, there remains a lack of understanding about Indigenous peoples and our history with the United States government,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that there are more than 500 federally recognized tribal nations across the US, and each has its own complex history. I believe each tribal nation should be allowed to tell its own story, in its own ways. The incident in Muscatine did not provide such an opportunity, but instead has caused further division and shifted the focus from important Indian Country matters.

Hoskin also questioned the women’s claim of paying homage to his people with their parade entry.

“The women involved in this incident claimed their actions were intended to pay homage to the Cherokee Nation, but the staging, including wearing an outfit that plays on Native stereotypes, neither honors nor celebrates our tribe,” he said. “I hope that everyone involved will educate themselves in the days, weeks and months ahead. As Americans, we are strongest when we take the time to learn more about one another and the histories of all Americans. We should embrace diversity and respect for all cultures, including the hundreds of tribal nations who have called this land their home since time immemorial.”

The parade was sponsored by the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GMCCI), which issued a statement on Wednesday following the outcry. 

“GMMCI does not condone this behavior and this entry does not represent our community,” the statement said. “GMCCI President & CEO Brad Bark spoke to the group following the parade, and we can assure the community this will not happen again. The group stated that their intention was to pay homage to the Cherokee Nation on how unjustly they were treated.

“The 4th of July Parade is intended to be a celebration for the community, and going forward we are going to approve parade participants that reflect the goals and values of GMCCI and the Muscatine community,” the statement continued.

Bark is also the mayor of Muscatine.

Besides the obvious visual problems with Burton and Nicole’s entry, Engelking also noted an underlying issue of how this mocked the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis. She noted 46% of Native women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, and that on some reservations, Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average.

“Your parade represented Native women as 1) sexual and 2) powerless,” Engelking wrote. “A Native woman was displayed as a captive servant—a desirable candidate for possession for rape and violence. This was made even more evident by the ‘sexy’ Halloween costume she was wearing, which mocks our traditional regalia and sexualizes us.”

Engleking questioned in what scenario it would be acceptable to use a bound female hostage as a parade entry. She asked for an apology and that the “racist organization” behind it be banned.

“Regardless of whether this aspect of the parade was your intent, you allowed it to carry out,” she wrote to the GMMCI. “It should have been shut down immediately. We live in a world where real women, our not-so-distant ancestors, were bound and pulled beside horses like that. 

“And they were raped and murdered. They watched their babies’ skulls be smashed. They witnessed and experienced unspeakable horrors. And, you allowed a part of that real history to be recreated for entertainment value. Shame on you,” she continued.

 

This story was updated at 3:18 p.m. with comments from the Cherokee Nation.

 

by Ty Rushing
07/06/23

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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