Law enforcement agencies have almost always posed as a problem within Tribal communities and for their members. In Roosevelt, Utah this was prevalent after a high school football game ended between two rival schools. After the game, a group of fans made up of family and friends were attempting to boost the morale of the losing team when they were pepper-sprayed. Uintah High and Union High were the two teams that were playing, according to Desert News “Union lost the game, and as the players left the field a group of Polynesian fans tried to boost the team's morale by performing the Haka, a fierce traditional war chant often performed at football and rugby games around the state.”
As you will read in my classmate Isabel’s most recent blog post, HAKA, there is a lot of history in that must be recognized in regards to seeing this dance. Within Roosevelt however, it is a dance that has been performed within their community for a long time; its viewed as a positive reinforcement for their people.
The Tongan people originate from what is called The Kingdom of Tonga, which is comprised of 171 islands, although only 48 of these islands are inhabited. According to the Department of State, Tonga is located south of Samoa, where it is divided into three main groups which include Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu, which is its main island. Given their history, the Tongan people have developed many cultural traditions that have obtained some of their characteristics through contact with other cultures. The Haka being one of them.
The issue arose when the losing team’s fans decided to perform the Haka after the game, and Utah State Police tried to get the fans to clear the way for the players to walk through. From their standpoint, I can see how they were a little perturbed when the fans refused to move. However, when the other fans who were not performing and the players told the officers that it was OK and to let them continue, the officers should have backed off in respect.
The officers continued to ask the fans to clear the way, then they asked a little more intensely, then they started to force the fans back, then they pushed, then they sprayed. What I find most shocking about this incident is that there were elderly fans there as well as extremely young children around the area who were exposed to the pepper spray, some of which had the spray directed at them. According to Yahoo! Rivals High Sports, the pepper spray also reached the players as well. What some onlookers, and victims, have said is that the reaction by police officers was unprovoked. Here is the video of the high school Haka incident;
There are many other instances such as this one, where Native people are overreacted upon. What I want to point out here is not that “it was because they were people of tribal descent” or because “the police officers were racist” or anything, I want to point out that there was some major misunderstanding in what this dance symbolizes to that group of people. The dance was not inflicting pain on anyone, it was to boost the morale of their football team, and it’s even used in professional sports! What we must recognize is, yet again, the ignorance and lack of knowledge and understanding of these cultural practices. It is important to take some time to try to understand what is going on, or even just to ask a question about what is going on so that you can begin your journey to gathering knowledge on a people that has had its culture and traditions since the beginning of time.
The best example I can give for you, my reader, is lacrosse in this country. It is now a professional sport, but do you know where it originated? Take a moment and Google it, talk about it with your friends, learn on the terms that you want to learn. The Haka is something that has been around for centuries, just like lacrosse, but do you know the histories behind it? Thought provoking, I know. But what this all comes down to is that we as a society that is so deeply intertwined with other cultures needs to know that there are things in our everyday lives that don’t technically belong to us, and we need to understand them to fully know them, catch my drift?
To the students that performed the Haka, keep on dancing and someday we will all understand it.