An off-campus fraternity party at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo has drawn sharp criticism for its theme of "Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos."
According to Mustang News, Cal-Poly's student newspaper, the fraternity alleged to have been responsible for the event is Phi Sigma Kappa. Neighbors reported 17 to 100 guests, many of them young women dressed as sexualized Indian maidens. When Natives on the Cal-Poly faculty got wind of the incident, they brought it to the student affairs office.
The party will be discussed at a forum today, November 22, at Cal-Poly's Chumash Auditorium.
Dr. Jennifer Rose Denetdale, Navajo, is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and serves on the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. Contacted by ICTMN, she released the following statement:
The theme “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” for a frat-sorority party by students at Cal Poly directly references Navajos, whose name for themselves is Diné, and parodies U.S.-Navajo colonial relations. In 1863, the Indian fighter Kit Carson received orders from James H. Carleton, governor and commander of New Mexico Territory, to destroy the Navajo people. Kit Carson’s scorch and burn campaign against the Navajo people literally left the Navajo homeland burning as thousands of Navajo refugees, who were reduced to starvation and poverty, were herded into American forts and then forced to march to the Bosque Redondo reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. For four years over eight thousand Navajo prisoners of the U.S. lived under genocidal conditions. Many did not survive. The Navajo prisoners lived in ditches in the ground and had little material means to ward off the blistering winters of the plains or the scorching heat of the summers. They were given inedible rations that were essentially starvation diets; many died from bouts of diseases and just sheer loneliness and broken hearts. In addition to constantly being on guard for slave raiders who stole the women and children, the Navajo women and girls were subjected to sexual assaults and rapes by both the American soldiers and the slave raiders. Gerald Thompson, author of The Army and the Navajo, indicates that the Indian agent at the Bosque Redondo dutifully reported that only two newborns had survived the first winter at the prison camp in 1863.
To invoke “Colonial Bros,” then, is to refer to one of the most darkest moments in American history and certainly for the Navajo people, it is a reference to one of the most brutal, humiliating, and devastating experiences under American colonialism. To refer to the scantily clad women who came as “Nava-Hos” is to not only diminish the Navajo people as whole, because the term connotes “whore” and “prostitute” and suggests that Navajo women were sexually available to the white soldiers; it says that it is not possible to rape or sexually assault Navajo women, because they are inherently rapable. “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” is also a slander on Navajo women who have survived rape and sexual assault that was a part of conquest.
Native peoples, and in this particular case, the Diné, are constantly subjected to racism, discrimination and hate every day, and yet these racist and hateful antics of Cal-Poly students are condoned by the University. Until we all speak up and condemn such language and behavior and hold the culprits responsible, there will be no justice.