Every Thanksgiving, runners head to Long Beach's annual Turkey Trot looking to put a dent in the calorie bombs sure to be gobbled up later in the day. They come by the thousands donning silly turkey hats with others wearing spoon and fork costumes. Too cute! Others, sadly, sport feather headdresses, sexy PocaHotties loincloths and war paint in a nauseating display of redface.
Native American activists are planning to protest this year's Turkey Trot, though, to put the brakes on redface runners. "Conquering our image is another form of colonization that began with the theft of our lands," says protest organizer Tahesha K. Christensen. "Redfacing is racist and it is no different than blackface, or making fun of Jews, Asians, or any other cultural group."
Christensen, a Native American of the Omaha Tribe, originally just wanted to find a charitable 5K around town to jog in when she heard about the Turkey Trot. Anna Christensen, Tahesha's mom and a Native activist in her own right, cautioned about the rampant redface she'd see. The would-be Turkey Trotter checked out the event's webpage and was mortified at all the photos of people playing Indian.
"It made me very angry and it really was painful to see all of those people so disrespectful to our Native cultures," she says. Christensen made polite pleas on the Turkey Trot's promotional page only to get blocked from commenting further.
The Turkey Trot in Long Beach has been put on by Justin Rudd to benefit his Community Action Team nonprofit for the past 13 years. The event enjoys the sponsorship of Long Beach councilwoman Suzie Price and the Grunion Gazette.
"I am sensitive to the feelings of those who might be offended by Native American costumes," Rudd tells the Weekly by email. Learning of the concerns, he's taken recent action to discourage runners from redfacing be it on his websites, newsletters, emails. "There will be a sign at on-site registration…with the same message." He also took down 25 photos of people running in redface in previous years from the Trot's Facebook page, but didn't get all of them.
Rudd still has a YouTube video on his page of last year's Turkey Trot where the unnamed narrator can be heard at the 1:04 mark, saying, "We've got some great costumes today; These ladies are dressed up like Indians!" At least the narrator didn't throw in a "Hoka Hey!"
The Long Beach Post wrote an article yesterday quoting Rudd while mentioning that runners are encouraged to dress up festively, which in the past included "loincloths and pilgrim garb," but had nothing about discouraging such attire this trot around.
Christensen vows to continue her protest, and reached out to Corine Fairbanks of the American Indian Movement here in Southern California for help. She says pressure forced Rudd's hand to take the measures he has, even if he never bothered to respond directly to her and others concerned about the trot.
"We are not satisfied with the mere 'discouragement' of wearing Native costumes on Justin Rudd's behalf, no matter how many times he posts it on his site," Christensen counters. "We want a ban in the registration and waiver along with the other forbidden activities that are listed in the requirements for registering such as drinking alcohol, running with a dog or baby stroller."
Alongside fellow Native American activists, Christensen is encouraging sympathetic protesters to come to the Turkey Trot site wearing red to stand out. She wants to draw attention to the issue of missing Native women in the U.S. and honor Native American Heritage Month two days early; Not to mention the chance to talk to and educate any redface runners along the route.
"This issue highlights the ignorance of the general public as it regards to our struggles and is a teachable moment to me," Christensen says, "It is meant to be peaceful but it is a protest and we want to change things for a better outcome that builds toward a more diverse and inclusive Long Beach."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2