'Firewater' remark draws ire of American Indian team's fans

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2015 5:42 PM

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An owner of a sports website apologized Thursday after one of its commentators used the term "firewater" in describing how supporters of an American Indian boys' high school basketball team would celebrate its first-round victory at the state tournament.

WahooSportsOnline.com co-owner Bryce Cook said the comment was made by a volunteer who was assisting Cook and Kevin Stuhr as the site streamed an audio broadcast of the game online. Cook said the volunteer, whom he declined to identify, would not work for the site again and that the site would not stream any more games at the tournament.

The comment was made near the end of Winnebago High School's 66-50 win over Wahoo in the Class C1 tournament. The high school is located on the Winnebago Indian Reservation in northeast Nebraska.

Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe, said upset tribal members sent him text messages and posts on his Facebook page after the game.

The term "firewater" is offensive, Morgan said, because "there is the stereotype about Native Americans drinking and drinking to excess, and we've spent a long time fighting those issues. And then to put that on a young boys' basketball team."

Morgan said he didn't want the comment to overshadow the accomplishment of the team, which has won 25 of 26 games and is in the state tournament for the second time since 1941.

"I don't want to be too indignant because I'm too happy because we won the game," Morgan said. "I think there should be a little bit of notice on this to let people know it's 2015 and those comments aren't appropriate on the public airwaves."

Anne Thundercloud, a 1990 Winnebago High graduate, said she traveled from her home in Wisconsin to Lincoln to support her alma mater. She said her brother, who was listening to the broadcast from Wisconsin, notified her about the comment.

She said WahooSportsOnline.com owes all American Indians an apology.

"It's time for these tired stereotypes and racist comments to end," Thundercloud said. "I also want to make sure the person is educated somehow in cultural sensitivity."

The remark was made the same week as a University of Oklahoma fraternity was shut down after a video surfaced with fraternity members using a derogatory term for black people and referencing lynching.

Cook said he didn't have an audio recording of Thursday's stream of the Winnebago game. He said the person who made the comment was talking about how the Winnebago community would party in the streets after the win and then referred to "firewater."

Cook posted an apology on his website's home page shortly after the game, and he said he was trying to contact high school administrators and tribal leaders to personally apologize.

"We're doing all we can to mend fences," Cook said. "We want them to know we thought their kids were outstanding and left us in awe with how they played. We feel saddened that this is diminishing from the kids' accomplishments."