A California teacher was placed on leave this week after videos of her imitating stereotypes of Native Americans during a math class went viral.
In a statement released on Thursday, the district called the teacher’s actions “completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices.”
The district is investigating the matter, the statement said.
In the videos, a teacher at John W. North High School can be seen wearing a costume headdress, dancing around the room, doing tomahawk chops, and chanting “SOH CAH TOA,” a mnemonic device to remember trigonometric functions.
The teacher starts out at the front of the classroom in one video. In another video, she can be seen in the back of the classroom, standing on a table and continuing to chant before making her way to the front of the room, jumping and whooping the whole time.
She’s then seen sitting on her desk at the front of the classroom, raising her hands to the sky and asking the heavens to teach her “the secret Indian chant” or “secret Indian dance.” She then continues to make other references to Native American spirituality.
An Instagram post of the video says that a student began recording the teacher because he “felt that violence was being committed against him and he had the right to record.”
Laura Boling, president of the Riverside City Teachers Association, said in a statement that the organization was “disappointed” by the teacher’s actions, The Los Angeles Times reported.
“We care deeply about all our students and do not condone actions that alienate, hurt and threaten Indigenous students’ learning environment,” Boling said in the statement.
Protesters, including students and Native American advocates, gathered outside the school on Thursday to condemn the teacher’s actions.
“It was totally disgusting, had no place in a school classroom — actually, has no place anywhere,” Dee Dee Manzanares Ybarra, of the American Indian Movement of Southern California, told KABC.
Chrissie Castro, chairwoman of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told KABC that when she watched the video, she saw “a woman making a mockery of our peoples and our cultures.”
“We are dehumanized in the classroom. False histories of our people, making us seem like we’re a primitive peoples, all of those things have real mental health repercussions for our young people,” Castro said.
Akalei Brown, who posted the video to Instagram and identified herself as the spokesperson for the student who recorded it, said in another post that she was “left physically trembling” after watching the full 6 minute video, which she only posted portions of online.
“I felt it necessary to share this video with the world so they could have a small glimpse into the type of abuses Native children face in US schools everyday,” Brown said. “This is reality for Native people in the US and we’re not going to take it sitting down anymore. We’re standing up for our children and setting a new standard for the treatment of Native people.”
In its statement, the school district said it is committed to “implementing inclusive practices and policies.”
“We will be working with our students, families, staff and community to regain your trust,” the statement said.