Marching Band Theme Criticized


Tuesday, October 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A high school marching band's rendition of ``The Death of Custer'' may be dropped after drawing criticism from an American Indian student.

The Lewis and Clark High School band uses the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn as the theme for a halftime extravaganza. The show includes students acting out scenes in which Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer is killed with an arrow and Indians perform a war dance.

Vickie Countryman, director of equity for Spokane School District 81, said only one complaint was received but that is enough.

``Respect of staff and students is our top priority,'' Countryman said. ``No matter what we do, it needs to be respectful of everybody.''

She said the student complained about the lack of authenticity in the Indian costumes and what the student called a ``cartoonish'' depiction of Indians.

Members of the district's equity committee met Monday to watch a videotape of the routine and listen to comments from interested parties, Countryman said. The committee is seeking a compromise that removes any offensive material while respecting the hard work of band members, she said.

The show's last performance may have been a band competition in Pasco last weekend, which Lewis and Clark won. School district leaders planned to decide Tuesday whether to allow the band to perform the halftime show again.

Band director Larry Jay said the band has worked on the show for nearly a year, and the ambitious staging was well-received. It is different from the typical formation marching of most halftime shows, he acknowledged.

``We ventured off into a new concept,'' Jay said. ``Nobody called me with a complaint.''

``The Death of Custer'' lasts about 6 1/2 minutes, depicting the annihilation of Custer and more than 200 of his troops by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.

It begins with the serenity of an Indian village, moves to a gathering of troops, a battle scene, a playing of taps and then a singing of ``Nearer My God to Thee'' to close the performance, Jay said.

``It's a musical melodrama,'' Jay said.

The band performed the routine Sept. 28 at the school's football game against Spokane's Shadle Park High.

Dylan Lodge, a student at Shadle Park, was offended by the band's depiction of American Indians.

``I thought (Native Americans) were not accurately portrayed,'' Lodge, 16, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper. ``They had braids and fake beads. I thought they looked gaudy.''

Lodge, a member of the Gros Ventre Tribe from Montana, complained to the school district.

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On the Net:

Lewis and Clark High School: http://www.sd81.k12.wa.us/lewis—clark

Spokane Public Schools: http://www.sd81.k12.wa.us

National Congress of American Indians: http://www.ncai.org