The float that Barnard and his family made. Ken Connell of West Paris (sitting on the float) was invited by the Barnards to be on their float. Alison Aloisio

BETHEL — “It’s disrespectful to us,” is how Albany resident Rick Barnard, a native American, summed up the Chamber of Commerce’s decision not to allow his float in the annual Molly Ockett Day parade.

The Molly Ockett Day celebration is named after a Native American healer.  An earlier practice of naming a local teenager as “Princess Molly Ockett” had been officially eliminated some years ago after there were objections.

Barnard said he and his family were trying to celebrate Molly Ockett and who she was. Unfortunately for Barnard, his float was not an official part of the parade.

When Barnard first showed up with the float on the morning of Saturday, July 20, he said he was told by the Chamber of Commerce, the parade’s organizer, that his float would not be part of the parade. The float proceeded to drive around the common a couple of times, separate from the actual parade.

Barnard said that he waited until the parade was finished and then started to make his way up Main Street with his float. A few vehicles that were ahead of him pulled off to the side, thinking his float was part of the parade.

When his float reached the top of Main Street he was told by Chamber Outreach and Development Director Robin Zinchuk, who was directing parade traffic, that the float was not “welcome,” he said, and was advised to go down Church Street instead of making the loop around the common. Barnard drove his family (his family was on the float and he was driving) down Church Street and back home. They did not return for the remainder of the festivities.

“If it was going to cause that much trouble, I wish she would’ve explained why. If she had just come and talked to me everything would’ve been fine. I wouldn’t have gone,” Barnard said. “I think there needs to be education on the school part with Native Americans so that does not happen again and so that people do not get offended.”

“I didn’t like it when they stopped us right here and told us to go that way,” Ken Connell said.

Connell was asked to be part of the float by the Barnards.

Barnard said he and his family started working on the float at the beginning of July. He said he initially planned not to go, but eventually told his children that “they deserved better than this,” and that they deserved to go to the parade.

Barnard said his children put a lot of work into the float and he said he was not contacted by the Chamber until the night prior to the parade.

“The night before they left me a message saying to call me back,” Barnard said. “They told me we don’t want you to come to the parade, we’d like to talk about the float the day after,” Barnard said.

Barnard explained to them that his children were excited to get on the float and that he asked the Chamber what exactly was wrong with his float.

The Chamber told Barnard that they would speak with him after the festivities were finished.

Barnard wanted the organization to identify a specific problem with the float.

According to Barnard, the Chamber told him that they received a complaint six months prior to the parade, saying that his float last year was offensive because of the Indian statue that was on it.

“If she found out six months ago, she could of come by anytime between then and spoken with me,” Barnard said.

Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Jessie Perkins said that this was not true.

“This is not true and not what I told him,” she said. “The complaints were not received six months ago – they started as the event was still ongoing and continued for weeks, including threats of boycotts and protests for our entire town due to our supposed insensitivity to how inappropriate the float was. Actually, what drew the most complaints were the several people on the float who appeared white were dressed in supposedly native costumes,” Perkins said.  “We have learned over and over again the hard way that this cannot be condoned. I explained this to Mr. Barnard, and acknowledged that neither I nor any of the people making complaints had any way of knowing his or any other float participant’s lineage, but now we did know how it would be perceived and that perception would likely cause trouble for us both. I also said I was not judging him personally.”

Barnard said that no one from the Chamber ever came out to his residence to view the float. He said he built the float close to the side of the road, where it could be seen.

Connell said he wished more Native American-themed material could be included in the event instead of so many vendors.

According to Chris Severy, a family member of Barnard’s, the float was labeled as “racist” by a member of the Chamber.

“I did not like the fact that they threw around the race card,” Severy said.

“I was relaying why it was labeled racist by the many complaints we received, many of which were from Native American tribe members who raising awareness about how conflicts between indigenous people and white settlers are still playing out negatively today,” Perkins said.

“If it was going to have been that big of a deal and she did not want to do paper work the next day then she definitely should have come down,” Barnard said. “She had six months to come down. That’s what rubbed me wrong.”

“I think if we (the float) had just gone through it would have been easier,” he added. “I am a Native American, whose family has gone back many generations traveling from Canada to the Seminole, Florida area back and forth vacationing through many centuries.”

Barnard said he will probably not participate in the parade next year.

“We love Bethel, we love the people and we love the culture. We were just taken aback by the decision,” Barnard said.

More responses

Perkins said that she spoke to Barnard early afternoon the day before to check and see if he was planning on making a float and to hear if his float had any changes compared to last year’s one. Perkins said that at the end of the phone call, she had the understanding that Barnard was not coming.

Barnard’s float was partially different than the one he had last year.

Perkins acknowledged that the Barnard family did put a lot of work into the float and that she felt bad turning it away, but there was enough similar things “about it that I saw it as problematic.”

“I disagree, or else I wouldn’t have turned it away,” was Perkins’ response to Barnard claiming it would have been easier if his float had been allowed in the parade. “With the way social media makes it so easy to share photos, I believe we would be fighting a much bigger battle had the float been included, because that is the exact experience we had last year. I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t know it would happen, because it did happen last year.”

“It was purely on a hunch that I called first thing in the morning on the 19th, and then Rick Barnard called me back around 2 p.m. that day. We had no way of knowing in advance that they were planning a float. They did not register ahead of time, but very few do, so this is not unusual,” Perkins added.

Zinchuk elaborated on her decision to send the float down Church Street instead of allowing it to make the loop around the common.

“They had already gone around the common twice, so I felt like since they had already gone around twice and were asked not to be in the parade, so when they got to the top of the street I asked if they would please exit,” Zinchuk said.

Zinchuk said that the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors had authorized any staff or volunteer parade organizers to turn any float away that might be controversial.

Comments

“It made us disgusted and sad to say the least. The chamber showed on Molly Ockett Day that anything that might make for some uncomfortable feelings or might create dialogue (as this family’s float did last year) wasn’t going to be allowed in the parade,” Bethel residents Craig and Jane Ryerson said in a July 25 letter to the editor to The Citizen. “We feel that whoever the person or persons who made the decision that this float could not participate in the parade should personally apologize to this family.”

“I supported the Chamber’s decision to keep the float out of the parade because it was culturally inaccurate. Last year a number of Indigenous leaders and tribal members spoke out concerning the first float created by the family,” Bethel resident Samantha Mullen said. “I don’t believe there was ill intent from the family in creating the float, but intent doesn’t negate harm. I believe that the relationship between our community and the tribal communities of Maine would be one of greater respect and honor if the people of Bethel were willing to truly learn from those tribal communities.”

 


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