Parents of Native American players taunted at Jamestown basketball game file federal complaint
Timothy Purdon, the families' attorney, said that even after repeated requests for a sit down meeting with district administrators, “nobody has ever reached out to these families."
BISMARCK — Families of two Native American varsity basketball players from Bismarck High School targeted by racial taunts during a basketball game in Jamestown filed a discrimination complaint with federal officials on May 11.
The complaint follows repeated attempts by the parents of the two players to set up meetings with the state's governing body for high school athletics.
Savannah Alkire and Quinn Austin, parents of Andre Austin of the Standing Rock Sioux, and Kate and Lance Eaglestaff, parents of Teysean Eaglestaff of the Cheyenne River Sioux, are seeking a federal investigation from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) would work as a neutral fact-finder to resolve complaints, according to its website.
Timothy Purdon, the families' attorney, said the parents are asking for accountability within the Jamestown Public School system for the people involved, and a meeting with the North Dakota High School Activities Association to ensure a zero-tolerance policy so that athletes won’t experience the same discrimination and taunting again.
An original letter of complaint sent to the NDHSAA alleged that during the Jan. 31 game, the Jamestown High School student section harassed both Andre Austin and Teysean Eaglestaff by making monkey noises, using the word "feather" and making “warhooping” noises. One student also used the n-word during free throws, the complaint added.
At the time, Quinn Austin made a verbal report to Jim Roaldson, the Jamestown athletic director, but no action was taken, according to the complaint.
Before the parents of both players made their formal complaint, Jamestown Public School District Superintendent Robert Lech was made aware of the allegations at around 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, and ordered an investigation to begin, according to the complaint.
The investigation continued after receiving the parental complaint, and Lech conducted the investigation.
Late Tuesday evening, May 23, Lech contacted The Forum by email saying the district has not received any notification of a pending complaint.
"I can state the district has been willing to meet and continue to be willing to meet at any time," Lech said in the email.
About one week after the incident, the NDHSAA held a board meeting that tightened regulations related to slurs and racial incidents. Tom Mix, spokesperson for the NDHSAA, did not reply to an email and phone call made by The Forum.
After a total of 32 student fans were interviewed, the investigation discovered that one student used the n-word, four students made monkey noises throughout the game, one other student yelled “go back to the reservation,” and five students participated in chanting that was consistent with “warhooping.”
Roaldson received an official letter of reprimand in his file, with a warning that future inadequate supervision would result in harsher consequences.
Lech reported that officials disciplined a handful of middle school and high school students and that he planned to work with Bismarck High School on “facilitating healing,” which to the complainant families was the most recent date that they were discriminated against, according to the complaint.
The action taken by Jamestown Public School District, the district’s superintendent and the NDHSAA were not enough, according to Purdon, who is asking the OCR to begin an investigation, making clear that the families aren’t seeking money or a lawsuit in federal court.
Shortly after the incident, all area tribal nations also called for reform, including for the NDHSAA to have a Native American representative on the governing board, Purdon said.
Additionally, the United Tribes of North Dakota, an organization that represents the five tribal nations that share geography with North Dakota, passed a resolution calling for a zero-tolerance policy to include training, clearly defined rules, severe punishments and proactive measures to help prevent acts of racism, according to paperwork filed with the complaint.
“In the end, this isn’t an alleged racist incident. The n-word was used. There were warhoops and monkey calls. The athletic director received a letter of reprimand in his file and the families don’t feel that is enough. They don’t feel there has been enough accountability for the people involved in the night of question,” Purdon said.
Despite repeated requests for a sit down with NDHSAA, “nobody has ever reached out to these families,” Purdon said, noting that has bothered the families involved the most.
“I have requested over and over and over again a meeting with these families and board members and somebody from the North Dakota High School Activities Association,” said Purdon, who pounded a table repeatedly with a fist. “No one has invited these folks to come in and talk about this stuff. I am very disappointed about that."
Purdon said it's even more surprising given how clear the families have been about its two goals with policies going forward.
“I just don’t understand that. I am at a loss," he said.