In 2018, the Flathead High School (FHS) administrative team met with the Salish-Kootenai Culture Committee to discuss the mascots used by the school. Flathead’s teams, known as the Braves and Bravettes, had long used various Native American iconography throughout its history but wanted feedback from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on what was appropriate.
Kalispell Public Schools superintendent Micah Hill said the big takeaway was that the school shouldn’t use faces of any kind, as they tend to be culturally inaccurate but that arrows and arrowheads had a wider significance beyond local tribes and are considered more acceptable.
Today, there is nothing on the FHS website, or logos on sports uniforms that use the Indian likeness. Everything has been redone to feature arrows, feathers or an “F,” with one glaring exception: the uniforms of the marching band.
The current uniforms worn by band members were purchased in 1970. The jackets show a stylized orange “F” on the front, against a stained, once-white backdrop, while the back shows an Indian face against an orange background.
“We were told in our meetings with the tribes to get rid of anything with the likeness of a Native American, but here we are with these uniforms and a very prominent, albeit beautiful, embroidery of ‘a Brave,’ that is clearly not allowed anymore,” said Flathead Director of Bands David Johnke. “For some strange reason our administration didn’t even realize it.”
Johnke said he brought the issue up to the administration in 2019, but when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, new band uniforms were put on the backburner.
Fast forward to the fall of 2021. Flathead had what Johnke called a “regular” marching season as far as Montana goes — the state does not have a sanctioned marching band competition like many neighboring states. Instead, Flathead performed at most Braves football halftimes, marched in the Flathead homecoming parade and went to Montana State University for the Showcase of Bands, a non-competitive marching band exhibition that featured six high school bands from across the state.
“Let’s put it this way, we had a great season and the kids were just really pumped up about it,” Johnke said. “They were so inspired by watching the other bands, and I’d never had that kind of energy from the kids so I decided to capitalize on the momentum and surveyed the students about what they wanted going forward. New uniforms were a big one.”
Johnke reached out to DeMoulin, the same company that made the original uniforms and began a back-and-forth over the design elements for the new look.
According to Chad Duggin, one of the principal designers for DeMoulin, figuring out a style that properly augments a performance ensemble is not an easy task, and every color, cut and angle of the uniform is carefully considered, as well as the musical style of the group.
“Uniform design presents an image that can support the choice of musical literature, for example: an elegant, regal style to represent a classical repertoire or maybe a more aggressive, darker look to interpret jazz musical choices,” Duggin wrote in a DeMoulin blog post. “A successful design is one that is visually effective from a distance, and beautiful upon closer inspection.”
Johnke said he went through 10 different renderings before narrowing down the selection to a final black, gray and orange choice.
“I showed them all to the students and they thought they were awesome,” Johnke said. “But then again, anything is better than the horribly old things we have now. They don’t do us justice.”
The final design includes black jumpsuit-style pants, and a high-cut jacket that is black in the back with an entirely orange right sleeve. The front is half orange, with a split gray and black left side. Two protruding bold orange lines form an “F” shape, which is mirrored on the shakos (hats). A fourteen-inch black and silver plume extends from the top of each shako.
“It looks really sharp. It makes you look so lean, and structured and professional,” bandmember Audrey Bledsoe told a classmate who modeled a sample of the new uniform. “The other ones just look kind of lumpy.”
Johnke said every aspect of the uniform design is intended to make the wearer look tall, slender, and powerful. The extended shoulders make the torso appeal slimmer, the high cut of the jacket elongates the legs and even the gauntlets and gloves help extend the visual line of the arms. The foot-long feather in the cap doesn’t hurt either.
The new set of 100 uniforms will cost just over $66,000 and will be covered by the FHS Alumni Association, the activities budget and fundraising efforts by the band. Johnke hopes enough funds will be raised in the next months to get the order fulfilled by the fall marching season. He also hopes the band will be able to show off their new look at national, and even international, competitions in the near future.
“Our kids take a lot of pride in their music and their marching,” Johnke said. “We want them to be wearing a uniform that instills that same pride.”
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