|The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun
News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.
The Oxendine family is being sued by the parent organization of the Montessori school their kids attended.
School sues Indian parents for protesting Thanksgiving charade
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor
SAN DIEGO, CALIF—When the Oxendines spoke out about the Thanksgiving Day practices of Maria Montessori they hoped to spread awareness about the culturally insensitive practices that were being fostered by the private school in San Diego, Calif. What they didn’t expect was for the school to retaliate against them and sue the Native American family for $25,000 over allegations of defamation.
“My daughter Jada came home and said, ‘Ina (mother) they are trying to make fun of us at school’ and handed me a flier detailing the school's Thanksgiving celebration,” said Jeanie Eagle Bull-Oxendine to Native Sun News in January of 2013.
At the time the school was conducting a series of events at the school where the Oxendines (who are of Oglala Lakota and Lumbee descent) found to be highly offensive. In the week leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday the Maria Montessori School (where the Oxendine’s two youngest children attend school) holds a week long holiday celebration where non-Native teachers, parents and school administrators celebrate and teach of the Thanksgiving holiday through blatant cultural appropriation.
The festivities include the making of Native American Head dresses, the giving out of “authentic” Native American names, the playing of drums, and culminates in a meal where teachers, parents, and students are encouraged to come dressed as either a Pilgrim or the much more coveted Native American.
In an attempt to prevent her daughter Jada, and son Jasa from enduring the events and the inevitable confusion that would come along with the experience Jeanne worked her way up the chain of command asking school officials to either discontinue the practices of modify them in a way that would more accurately portray Native people.
The school’s response was not what was expected. Instead of working to help address the concerns of the Oxendine’s and their dissatisfaction with the Thanksgiving holiday events the school suggested that the best course of action would be that they keep their kids out of school while the events took place.
“It is our intent to not exacerbate this situation any further and hence our request for your children to remain home for this week,” the school said in a letter.
Shocked at the schools response Jeannie began approaching other parents at the school informing them of the concerns that she had. This however was greeted with an additional letter from the school.
“As a school, we also want to limit your public discussions amongst our parents of your displeasure with our long-standing traditional Thanksgiving observance in our pre-school. Because of your dissatisfaction with the changes we offered to make in the curriculum, some of the activities that cause you so much concern will continue through this week,” the school responded.
After they were informed by the school that they were not to speak publicly about their opposition to the school’s Thanksgiving curriculum the Oxendine’s contacted the American Montessori Society (AMS) who is responsible for the accreditation of Maria Montessori. They were told by the AMS that they could not force the school to do anything but would look in to it.
During the dispute over the week’s events the Oxendines removed their youngest child from the school on a Friday and when they attempted to change their mind and re-enroll their child on Monday the school informed them that they would have to re-apply for their scholarships. The move by the school was seen as retaliation by the Oxendines for their choice to speak out against the practices of the school. The school however has defended their decisions saying it was based upon the re-allocation of scholarship funds to another family.
Late last month the Oxendines were informed that Maria Montessori’s parent organization, Argounata, had filed suit against them in California. The school is suing them for damages in the amount of no less than $25,000 for defamation. The family had reached out to multiple Native News outlets including NSN in January of 2013. On the advice of lawyers the family declined to comment on the suit last Friday.
The move by the school has left many in Indian Country questioning the motive behind the suit.
“Maria Montessori suing these Native parents is little more than a scare tactic to discourage them and others from speaking out against antiquated racist curriculum the school pushed, which the parents are completely within their rights to voice concern over, as well as an attempt to save face upon realizing they'd managed to embarrass themselves nationally,” said Ruth Hopkins a tribal judge and nationally known blogger who has written extensively on issues of cultural appropriation. “The school should tread carefully here. Judges don't take kindly to frivolous litigation. Natives should press forward in demanding respect and truthfulness in how we are depicted by mainstream culture, especially in schools.”
The family has until the end of this month to respond to the suit.
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright permission Native Sun News