For the record, I wasn’t there. I don’t know anyone who was involved in the incident nor do I claim to be an expert in the haka. I don’t even do it well. What I do know and understand is that it has deep cultural significance for Tangata Whenua (Maori ) and that significance spans the spectrum of Polynesia. If you haven’t seen the Ka Mate Haka or Te Rauparaha Haka that is commonly performed by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team than you probably haven’t been exposed to Polynesians for even a short amount of time. (Note: On other occasions the All Blacks have also performed the Kapa o Pango haka as a pre-match ritual).

I would imagine that somewhere in the Ozarks or Appalachia or in the Amazon jungle there might be a lack of local knowledge about Polynesians and the haka. But in the State of Utah where there is an obvious and very large (pun) Polynesian and Pacific Islander presence and where the haka is performed by nearly every football team that has at least one kid with an ounce of Polynesian ancestry – you would think they might know a little something about the haka.

But in the north-east corner of Utah, in the town of Roosevelt, a mere two and half hour drive from Utah’s culturally diverse capital of Salt Lake City, it appears the town’s law enforcement and high school officials have absolutely no tolerance for the haka.

“Haka? I spit on the haka! To me, the haka is just a bunch of phlegm in my lungs that I need to cough up and spit out,” I can hear the town Sherrif saying if he were actually interviewed for his comments. I envision that any Hollywood filmmaker looking for a town to film a documentary on cultural insensitivity would find a perfect backdrop and a whole lot of extra’s in Roosevelt. Need a bunch of cops to rough up some coloreds? Try looking in the general direction of Roosevelt, Utah.

Why? Well because when they were faced with an opportunity to respect or disregard something that is foreign, irrelevant and extraneous to the microcosm that is their town, they chose to enlighten the “stupid coconut headed islanders” about small town politics.

Here’s the gist of the story – Islander dudes want to lift the spirits of their football team who are losing the game. So islander dudes stand in the exit and perform the haka. School officials demand that Islander dudes move…in the middle of the haka. Islander dudes are still in the middle of their haka and don’t want to mess up their groove so they continue to ‘do the haka’. Big strong racially insensitive police mens get annoyed because islander dudes are blocking the exit with their stupid gyrations and mumbo-jumbo chanting. So, stupid islanders get pepper-sprayed for being stupid-exit-blocking-haka-performing-islanders-without-a-flash-mob-permit by big strong culturally insensitive police mens who don’t like stupid gyrations and mumbo-jumbo chanting.

In the latest twist (another pun) the Roosevelt police did their own internal investigation into the matter (kind of like ma and pa investigating allegations of incest against uncle Vern) and came out today saying that they were within their policies to use force against the coconut-heads. Additionally, the Roosevelt police will invest in training for their officers to address cultural and diversity customs. Where exactly do you purchase a coconut-head-cultural-and-diversity-custom training? Are they available at your local WalMart or at a CVS Pharmacy?

I give this much to the Roosevelt police – those luau performing, hip shaking islanders should have asked permission in advance to do the haka according to policy. Because they knew that their team was going to lose and they knew in advance that they were going to need a pick-me-up-haka it shouldn’t have been too much to ask, right? Also, who performs a haka in an exit? I mean, in the event of an emergency haka attack, how will the remaining twelve spectators in the stand for that game exit from the stadium?

On the flip side, have you ever known or a seen an hour-long haka? At the very most you’re looking at a maximum of five minutes of cultural awkwardness before you can say, “Whew, glad that’s over. For a minute there I thought those bastards were gonna eat our BBQ, violate our women and sell our kids on the slave market.” Yes, they were blocking an exit, but did you have to wait until they got into the haka to tell them to move?

And did the Roosevelt police really need to pepper-spray these guys? Yes, we are big, intimidating people but there was no malicious intent in their actions, especially considering they were performing the haka towards their team and not taunting the other team.

Citing policy and stating that they will look into training was a masterful ploy to divert attention from what was an obvious exaggeration and misuse of police force. Well played Roosevelt. Well played! This basically feels like Roosevelt is sweeping this little incident aside claiming lack of training thinking it will go away because after all, we’re just a bunch coconut heads. But this lack of action on the part of police, city and school officials just amplifies your arrogance and ignorance.

To assist you in your training needs, I’ve attached a video of the Kapa o Pango being performed by the All Blacks. Next time we’ll ask these young men to perform a boot-scootin-boogey so you don’t feel uncomfortable.

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