Biloxi Indians band uniform sparks controversy

Published: Apr. 17, 2015 at 10:54 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2015 at 9:54 AM CDT
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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A symbol of pride for the Biloxi High family has come under fire. A recent online article criticizes the Biloxi High marching band's uniform. The controversy was sparked by the band's recent appearance in a parade in Washington D.C. The article specifically targets the band members' feather headdresses, saying they are disrespectful to Native American cultures.

Music has long been a part of Thomas Edwards' life. He was a drummer in the Biloxi High School band from 1971 to 1974.

"My senior year, I was the drum major, which would be the guy with the headdress all the way down to the floor," said Edwards.

Edwards said the Indian uniform he wore back then was designed by the band director.

"Designed out of respect and love. This is Biloxi. Biloxi Indians were here first. Celebrating the heritage, embracing the heritage," he said.

A recent online article referred to the Indians uniform as disrespectful. It all started when the Biloxi High marching band entertained the crowd over the weekend at the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.

The Indian Country Today Media Network said: "Are these teenagers aware that they're trivializing something that many American Indians hold dear? Are Biloxi High School administrators aware that many Native Americans will be deeply offended by the manner in which they show their school pride?"

"It's not disrespecting Indians in any manner, because it was not done in disrespect when it started," said Edwards.

"I think it's a crock. They need to leave it alone," said Artie Desporte.

Desporte graduated from Biloxi High in 1970. His late brother, Junie, played the trumpet in the school band.

"Those uniforms had just come out back in those days, so they were proud of it. I remember my mother having to fix his head piece and all," said Desporte.

Desporte is not happy with an online petition urging the Biloxi School District to change the Indian mascot and the band uniform.

"I don't see how it's hurting anybody. It's just a tradition for the school. It was the mascot and everything, and it went along with the school. I mean, if they change it, it's not going to be the same," said Desporte. "I don't see where it's anybody's business or it's hurting anybody putting on those outfits. It ain't like they're trying to down them. They're just proud of their heritage."

"I think everyone has their point of view. From my point of view, the Biloxi High Indian band kept me in school, kept a lot of folks in school, kept the community together, kept pride in the community," said Edwards. "Biloxi is a proud town. It has a heritage, and for the folks in their 70s and 80s that remember this school for what it was, there was a lot of pride in this community."

Several hundred people have already signed the online petition.

WLOX asked Biloxi School District Superintendent Arthur McMillan for a comment about the article. He told us he has not read it yet.

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