In 2018, the Flathead High School (FHS) administrative team met with the Salish-Kootenai Culture Committee to discuss the mascots used by the school. The Flathead teams, known as the Braves and Bravettes, had long used various Native American iconography throughout its history, but wanted input from the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribes on what was appropriate.
Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill said the bottom line was that the school should not use faces of any kind as they tend to be culturally inaccurate, but that arrows and arrowheads arrows had a broader meaning beyond the local tribes and are considered more acceptable.
Today, there is nothing on the FHS website, nor any logos on sports uniforms that use the Indian likeness. Everything has been redone with arrows, feathers or an “F”, with one glaring exception: the marching band uniforms.
The current uniforms worn by band members were purchased in 1970. The jackets show a stylized orange “F” on the front, against a stained, formerly white background, 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 that looked like a Native American, but here we are with these uniforms and a very prominent, albeit beautiful, embroidery of a ‘Brave’, which doesn’t clearly isn’t allowed anymore,” Flathead Groups Manager David Johnke said. “For some weird reason, our administration didn’t even realize it.”
Johnke said he raised the issue with the administration in 2019, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, new group uniforms were put on the back burner.
Fast forward to fall 2021. Flathead has had what Johnke called a “regular” marching season as far as Montana is concerned — the state doesn’t have a sanctioned marching band competition like many neighboring states. Instead, Flathead played most Braves football halftimes, marched in the Flathead Homecoming Parade, and traveled to Montana State University for the Bands Showcase, an exhibit of non-competitive marching bands that included six high school bands from across the state.
“Let’s put it this way, we had a great season and the kids were really excited about it,” Johnke said. “They were so inspired watching the other bands, and I had never had that kind of energy from the kids, so I decided to capitalize on the momentum and asked the students what they wanted for the future. The new uniforms were important.
Johnke contacted DeMoulin, the same company that made the original uniforms, and began a back-and-forth over design elements for the new look.
According to Chad Duggin, one of DeMoulin’s lead designers, finding a style that properly augments a performance ensemble is no easy task, and every color, cut and angle of the uniform is carefully considered, as well as the musical style of the group.
“The uniform design presents an image that can support the choice of musical literature, for example: an elegant and majestic style to represent a classical repertoire or perhaps a more aggressive and darker look to interpret the musical choices of jazz”, wrote Duggin in a DeMoulin blog post. . “A successful design is one that is visually effective from a distance and beautiful on closer inspection.”
Johnke said he went through 10 different renders 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 again, anything is better than the horribly old things we have now. They don’t do us justice.
The final design features black jumpsuit-style pants and a black scoop-back jacket with an all-orange straight sleeve. The front is half orange, with a gray and black split left side. Two protruding bold orange lines form an “F” shape, which is reflected 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,” band member Audrey Bledsoe told a classmate who modeled a sample of the new uniform. looks a bit lumpy.”
Johnke said every aspect of the uniform’s design is meant to make the wearer look tall, slender, and powerful. Dropped shoulders make the torso slimmer, the jacket’s high cut lengthens 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, activities budget and group fundraising efforts. Johnke hopes enough funds will be raised over the next few months to get the order fulfilled by the fall walking season. He also hopes that the group will be able to show their new outlook on national and even international competitions in the near future.
“Our kids are very proud of their music and their march,” Johnke said. “We want them to wear a uniform that inspires that same pride.”