'Racial taunting' incident at Dickinson high school basketball game draws criticism

School officials in Dickinson say they addressed the incident that sparked outrage online and calls for action from Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Jamie Azure.jfif
Jamie Azure, tribal chairman with the Council of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Forum News Service File Photo

DICKINSON, N.D. — A Dickinson student was caught on camera appearing to mock Native American players during a recent high school basketball game in Dickinson.

The incident, which occurred during a game between Dickinson High School and the Turtle Mountain Braves on Saturday, Feb. 11, has sparked outrage online and renewed calls for more substantive action by the North Dakota High School Activities Association to address all issues of discrimination against Native American athletes in the state in more proactive and protective ways in the future.

Video evidence of the incident has been released and is now being shared widely on social media, prompting a heated debate about the need for greater accountability and what measures can be taken to prevent future incidents across the state.

In a letter addressed to the public and the NDHSAA, Jamie Azure, the tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, called for a zero-tolerance policy and representation of Indigenous people on the NDHSAA Board of Directors following the incident in Dickinson.

According to the letter, Native American student athletes were subjected to name-calling and racial insensitivity during the game in Dickinson, with a mimicry of Native American culture in a manner showing the “utmost disrespect.”


The student was caught on camera performing a Native American “dance” briefly in the latter parts of the game from the student section.

Dickinson school officials responded on Monday, Feb. 13, to discipline the student, while the school has begun using student athletes in videos that reference the importance of sportsmanship at all events hosted by area schools.

“We have administration, and multiple administrators at every game, and I know there were two at the game for sure and there might have been more on Saturday,” said Dickinson schools Superintendent Marcus Lewton. ”They kinda didn’t see anything, our ADs (activities directors) work close together in this state ... so their AD reached out to ours about a complaint after the game … so right away on Monday, our AD investigated and determined the facts that we knew of and took appropriate disciplinary actions immediately on Monday.”

Superintendent Marcus Lewton, Dickinson Public Schools.
Dickinson Press file photo

While Lewton added that state privacy laws precluded him from releasing the details of the disciplinary actions taken by the school, he added that assistant principal and athletic director Guy Fridley has routinely performed outreach with the student section, reminding them of their responsibilities and to display good sportsmanship and good citizenship at all times.

“Speaking from the past, whenever anything does happen we visit with those students and groups of students and try and use everything as a learning experience, but this particular thing had to do with an individual — I believe — and we dealt with it,” Lewton said.

This most recent incident comes less than a month after four parents lodged complaints with the state activities association claiming that school administrators in Jamestown were permitting racial taunts and slurs, including monkey screeches and war cries aimed at students of color during sporting events.

The activities association added new wording to its code of conduct, calling for the immediate removal of anyone making discriminatory comments, on Feb. 8, following the Jamestown incident.

In the letter to the NDHSAA, Azure calls for the introduction of proactive measures, including training for officials, school faculty and staff, and student athletes, and defining rules and regulations that will be known and maintained by all participants and attendees. The policy would mandate the removal of violators of the policy from NDHSAA activities followed by swift and justified penalties and punishments.


The incident and others like it across the state have generated responses from North Dakota's Native American organizations that have shed light on the generational and historical trauma experienced by Native American people, based on “the same age-old racial comments, actions, and portrayals,” described in the letter surrounding the Dickinson incident. The letter goes on to call for accountability, stating that, “future generations will no longer walk with their heads down because of the disrespect they were shown in a public place.”

"Our youth will no longer stand for their culture to be used as a weapon against them. Let's not forget that our Tribal Youth are also North Dakotans,” the letter says. “Do we not demand respect for every one of our state's student athletes? Now is the time to prove it!"

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