DU Native Student Alliance offended by Greek groups' Cowboys and Indians party

An unusual event will take place today on the University of Denver campus -- one prompted by another unusual event. At 4 p.m., students and administrators will gather near a tepee on Driscoll Green as representatives of two Greek Life organizations publicly apologize for a Cowboys and Indians theme party DU's Native Student Alliance dubs "piercingly offensive."

The bash, which took place on February 25, was sponsored by the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority. Attendees were encouraged to outfit themselves as either cowboys or Indians. Those who made the latter choice donned what an Alliance release describes as "phony headdresses, face paint, loincloths and all manner of stereotypical viciousness."

Party photos were subsequently posted to Facebook, and while neither the Lambda Chi Alpha nor Tri-Delta pages feature any of them at this writing, members of the Alliance who spotted them on February 28 saved a couple. Here's one example:

Simon Moya-Smith, the DU graduate student, adviser to the Alliance and Ogalala Lakota member who wrote the aforementioned release, says the party was offensive "because it dehumanizes and objectifies American Indians. People think our regalia are costumes to play around in, but they are not costumes. They are very spiritual and, if you want to use the western term, holy garb that would be reserved for elders of title.

"It would be as if Catholics went to a sorority or frat party and saw people dressed as the Pope or nuns and priests and they were swilling booze," he adds. Moreover, the dress-up games "perpetuate the idea that Indians are people of the past. But we are very much alive. We survived westward expansion, we survived the Founding Fathers, we survived government campaigns to get rid of our homelands. We're still here, and although we are 1 percent of the population, that doesn't give people the right to offend us and expect us not to say something."

The Alliance members certainly spoke out in this case. By March 1, they had drafted a letter to the executive director of campus activities, who oversees Greek Life on the DU campus. That led to a meeting on March 6, as well as a second gathering on March 14 at which written apologies from the frat and sorority in question were presented.

That wasn't nearly good enough for Moya-Smith. "I gave the department of student activities my phone number and said I'd love to hear from the Greek organizations. But we haven't heard from them. They've been mute."

Page down to read more about today's event and see another photo from the party.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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