Some residents raised concerns over the use of redface in Jackson Hole’s annual Old West Days parade.
The Bar T 5 chuckwagon parade entry Saturday included Native American characters in red facepaint and black wigs played by non-Native American employees. The costumes are also used in Bar T 5’s chuckwagon dinner shows in Cache Creek canyon.
Several paradegoers confronted Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Anna Olson at the parade, demanding to know why the chamber allowed the costumes.
“This happens every year,” Jackson resident Melanie Schuerch said. “This is racism. The only thing there is to discuss is will we allow racist behaviors in our parade or not. And it should be not.”
“After witnessing the cultural appropriation of Native Americans in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the third year in a row at the Old West Days Parade, I felt obligated to confront the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce about their racist misrepresentation of the Native American Tribes of this area,” Schuerch wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “As a Native Alaskan, I am in disbelief that this kind of behavior continues in 2018.”
As of Tuesday night the post had more than 438 shares and hundreds of comments, which overwhelmingly supported Schuerch’s view. Given the importance of the issue, Schuerch was not surprised by the volume of responses.
She questioned whether “a white person in blackface would be an acceptable historical representation in this parade.” In a video posted by Schuerch, Olson responded that the parade activities are “a historical representation, whether it is a misrepresentation or not.”
“Everyone has their right to express their opinion,” Olson told the News&Guide on Tuesday. “We are grateful this has been brought to our attention, and we will be proactive about this in the future.”
Olson said the chamber received a comment last summer about the same issue. Schuerch feels the chamber needs to do more to address the problem for future parades.
“They need to apologize to the Native American community for allowing this public display of cultural appropriation,” Schuerch said. “They need to include specific regulation saying that racism is not allowed and they need to monitor that to make sure that does not happen.”
Chris Warburton, one of the owners of the Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout, said the costumes are not intended to cause offense.
“We’re not making a political statement,” Warburton said in an interview Tuesday. “We’re just telling the story of Nick Wilson and his friend, Chief Washakie. That’s part of the history, this friendship with Washakie.”
The Bar T 5 chuckwagon dinner shows have re-enacted the story of 19th-century historical figure “Uncle” Nick Wilson, who lived among the Shoshone and later founded the town of Wilson, for 45 years. Warburton emphasized the historical aspect of the production.
“If anyone was offended, I apologize,” he said.
He said Bar T 5 has not received complaints about the costumes.
“If they cannot hire Native American people to tell their story, they need to pick a different story to tell,” Schuerch said concerning the chuckwagon shows.
“Redface” refers to paint or makeup used by a white person to portray a Native American. The term is analogous to blackface, which is the use of makeup by a white person to portray someone of African descent. Redface can also include the use of headdresses, feathers, tomahawks and other articles that may promote Native American stereotypes.
Public discussion around redface has increased in the wake of scrutiny concerning sports teams and mascots that appropriate Native American names and figures, such as the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo. After coming under fire for the Native American caricature, the baseball team will remove the logo from the team uniforms in 2019.
“That’s clearly a dramatized scenario that’s not authentic,” said Morgan Jaouen, executive director of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, about Old West Days parade floats like Bar T 5’s. While Jaouen said Tuesday she did not have enough information to comment on behalf of the group, she did say that as far as she knows “the Historical Society has never been consulted for accuracy and sensitivity to Native people in the area.”