FARGO-MOORHEAD — A Native American cousin of a white Cass County corrections officer does not want her to be ostracized for posting a social media video. In it, the officer is heard impersonating a Native American accent, saying every time she turns on her car, she ends up at the liquor store. The Facebook group, Native Lives Matter, shared the video, calling out Tori Holland for perpetuating the "drunk Indian" stereotype. After their post, the Cass County Sheriff's Office announced they are putting the corrections officer on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
Kathy Benjamin, one of Holland's first cousins, said they grew up together. While Holland does not share the Native American bloodline, she has many native relatives. Benjamin does not think this excuses her from creating the video and called it an ignorant move on Holland's part.
"Ignorant means she didn't know, she lacked the knowledge of it," Benjamin said.
"Before I even looked at the video, I was really appalled, like 'oh goodness, what could Tori have done, out of all people," she added. "She said 'did I do something wrong?' I had given her a few examples of why it could have been taken offensively."
While growing up together, Benjamin said they would make similar jokes together.
"At some point or another, they're going to joke, and they're going to have this accent, and it's funny to us," Benjamin explained. "We all know the closer you get to the rez, we have this really thick accent. She sits in the same room as us, she makes those same accents and we're all doing it. But as soon as Tori is taken away from us, and she's perceived as this white girl making fun of this accent, then it's wrong. And I get that, but that's not her intention. She grew up with us doing that."
Benjamin called Holland to explain it's not okay for her to say this stuff as a white person after it was posted to Tik Tok sometime last week. She has since taken the video down.
North Dakota state representative Ruth Buffalo said the stereotype portrayed in this video dehumanizes Natives. She cited studies showing it is not true. According to American Addiction Centers, the rate of alcohol use among Native Americans is lower than that of whites, Hispanics and African Americans.
"This is a great example of the implicit bias that exists within the legal system," she said.
Buffalo said sports team mascots impersonating Native Americans and stereotypes in film do not help get rid of this behavior.
"We've been perpetuated from Hollywood to really exist as 'dumb indians,' 'drunk indians,' I mean I grew up hearing those stereotypes," Buffalo said.
Benjamin grew up with the same stereotypes, saying kids around her made fun of her race multiple times.
"I know what racism looks like. I know, I feel it, I know it, and I can tell you with 110% of myself, Tori is not one of them," Benjamin said.
She does not want Holland to be fired from the Sheriff's office for her video.
Instead of blasting her online, both Benjamin and Buffalo agree that this is an opportunity to teach.
"I don't believe ostracizing is the answer," Buffalo said. "I believe embracing them and having a conversation and educating one another."