For the second time in less than a year, administrators at Columbia Falls High School are responding to a racially charged incident at a girls basketball game between the Wildkats and Browning High School.
On Thursday, Jan. 16, Columbia Falls’ public address announcer introduced the visiting team as the Browning “Lazy” Indians. In a letter sent by Columbia Falls Principal Scott Gaiser the day after the game, the unnamed announcer “stated that his use of the word ‘lazy’ instead of ‘lady’ was an unintended blunder.” Gaiser later called the comment “embarrassing.” Browning is the largest community on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
“No matter (the announcer’s) intent, his actions were inexcusable and he has been terminated from any further duties at CFHS,” Gaiser wrote in his letter. “We are saddened by this incident because it does not represent the respect and appreciation we have for the staff and students at Browning High School and the Browning community.”
The now-former public address announcer is not a school employee, Gaiser said, although announcers do receive a small stipend for their work. Gaiser said he became aware of the comment at halftime of the Jan. 16 game and immediately contacted Browning officials and the Montana High School Association.
“We wanted to make sure they were completely aware of what had taken place,” Gaiser said in an interview. “We wanted to make sure we were completely transparent.”
The letter Gaiser sent to Browning Public Schools Superintendent Corrina Guardipee-Hall was posted on the Browning Public Schools Facebook page on Jan. 18. The Facebook page also shared a letter from Guardipee-Hall to the Browning school community. In her letter, Guardipee-Hall called the comments “highly inappropriate, insensitive and inexcusable” but urged the community to “rise above this.”
The previous time the two teams met on the basketball court, at the 2019 Western A divisional tournament, a Columbia Falls fan was photographed holding a sign with the letters “FTI,” an acronym some interpreted as “(Expletive) the Indians,” although the fan claimed that was not his intention. According to 406 MT Sports, the Columbia Falls team responded to that incident by delivering a Pendleton blanket to Browning’s boys and girls basketball teams during a pep rally at Browning High School.
Gaiser’s Jan. 17 letter referenced the 2019 incident and he wrote, “We recognize that there is a great deal of work to be done to reestablish your trust and continue the positive relationship with the students and staff at Browning High School that we have enjoyed for many years.” Gaiser added that his school is “committed to collaborating” with Browning officials and that he had spoken directly with Guardipee-Hall.
It’s unclear if the school could be disciplined under MHSA rules or policies. MHSA Commissioner Mark Beckman did not immediately respond to the Beacon’s request for comment.
Browning’s cross country team was subjected to another uncomfortable experience in the Flathead Valley in September 2018 when a busload of runners were barred from entering a Kalispell-area convenience store on their way home from a meet. The store owner later said the incident was a “misunderstanding” and that he was concerned about the store becoming overcrowded.
Browning won the Jan. 16 basketball game 59-58, handing Columbia Falls its first loss of the season.