I told her I wouldn’t cut my culture

Marketing Native Amercian culture is hypocritcal: Discriminatory policies at Deer Valley Resort as an example

When he was told he could lose his job if he did not cut his hair, Jonathan Williams refused to compromise and left. Shane Maryott/UVU Review

Jonathan Williams, a full-blooded Navajo student at UVU, met with Deer Valley Resort representatives with plenty of positive expectations for a career in hospitality. He was immediately disappointed and frustrated that Deer Valley would deny a male an internship based on a policy that does not consider the cultural significance of his long hair.

One of the employees came up to Williams after discussing internship options and told him that if he was interested in employment at the resort, he needed to cut his hair.

“I told her I wouldn’t cut my hair,” he said boldly. “What I didn’t know was that there was a girl who heard, I’m assuming the entire conversation, because she approached the lady and asked her if she needed to cut her hair.”

With a sigh, Williams said, “The lady responded, ‘No, you don’t. You’re fine; you’re a girl.’ ”

While long hair on a female may be culturally acceptable in some places, for some Native Americans there are strong cultural attributes that are caught in a world that hardly notices them.

According to Williams, while he was not explicitly denied employment, he was discouraged by the rhetoric and decided not to pursue the internship.

Eva Miller, a UVU student with a strong Navajo heritage and an opinion of this crossfire between the preservation of culture and real-world demands, said, “Personally, I think Natives are definitely not represented well in daily life. In Anglo culture, we are often grouped as one race which implies we have one view in tradition and spirituality.”

She added that “we are hundreds of tribes with thousands of members, each with our own various tribal customs and respects.”

Her statement is a testament to the continued unawareness of Native culture and the lack of its representation in a population that is slowly starting to educate itself and voice their dissatisfaction.

Williams’ situation is no different, but in the past he mentions that some of his experiences with diversity and employment have been positive.

“I’ve traveled to Alaska working for Princess Tours … and the Provo Marriott,” he said. “I even worked in the banquet kitchen of the Grand American Hotel as Lead Cook.”

He already enjoys an impressive resume, where his hair was never a problem and his multicultural individuality was respected rather than ignored, until he met Deer Valley Resort.

Williams thought Deer Valley would be ideal for an internship, where he thought diversity was welcomed and that his heritage would prove useful in such service.

Williams said, “I know Deer Valley because they hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002.” He added that “they had people from all over the world there” and that his background would be “providing a service to people.”

The Winter Olympics of 2002 were a wonderful opportunity to showcase Deer Valley Resort’s interaction with diverse people and, according to Kim Mayhew, director of human Resources at Deer Valley Resort, “a perfect opportunity to see how we were doing in terms of diversity.”

However, Williams’ experience illustrates that Deer Valley lacks the cultural sensitivity it assumed with the Winter Olympics and is obviously not prepared for an inclusive future dealing with a variety of local cultures.

As to his hair, a strong element of his heritage, Williams said, “It’s a part of who I am. I’m Native American.”

Williams’ uniqueness with Native culture and valuable perspective with hospitality seem like rewarding skills, but it’s unfortunate that Deer Valley would hold out on utilizing such a gifted young man because of an ancient tradition that he deeply treasures.

Other Native American students have similar feelings when it comes to people or institutions recognizing their talents but who are indifferent to their cultural distinctiveness.

Kam Kaohunaniokaleponi Sekaquaptewa, a student of Native Hopi origin, said, “I just don’t like how we are portrayed in this society, because even some white people think we don’t exist any more as a culture.”

Being a part of what Williams is speaking of means something important to an ethnic group of people.

Institutions such as Deer Valley Resort need to recognize the cultural importance that these students carry with them.
They will act as the vehicle that bear a more valid and promising depiction of Native Americans in a future that will have no choice but to recognize them.

2 thoughts on “I told her I wouldn’t cut my culture

  1. This sounds like a rather unfortunate incidence. I am concerned, however, that the author did not give the other side of the story. Why was there no interview of anybody at Deer Valley? Why does the photo caption indicate the student would lose his job while the article indicates that he had not obtained an internship yet? This is an important issue in our society. Addresssing it without understanding the other side and without checking the story for accuracy does not contribute to a healthy discussion.

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