Riverside teacher, in faux headdress, on leave after mimicking Native Americans in video
Information about Riverside teacher, in faux headdress, on leave after mimicking Native Americans in video
A Riverside high school teacher has been placed on leave after a viral video recorded by a student showed her hollering and dancing around a classroom in a faux feathered headdress, sparking outrage from the Native American community, school officials and local politicians.
The video, which was posted online on Wednesday, shows the teacher in a fake feather headdress, chanting a mnemonic device — “Sohcahtoa,” often used in math courses to remember trigonometric functions — while stomping around the classroom and making chopping motions. The video has more than 3.7 million views on Twitter and hundreds of reactions on Instagram.
The Riverside Unified School District released a statement on Thursday, saying the teacher’s actions “do not represent the values of our district.”
“These behaviors are completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices,” the district said in a statement. The district did not return multiple requests for comment.
Officials did not say what the teacher said before or after the video clip. District spokesperson Diana Meza told the Riverside-Press Telegram that the instructor, whose name was not released for personnel and privacy reasons, was teaching a trigonometry class at John W. North High School.
Democratic Assembly members Sabrina Cervantes and Jose Medina, who represent parts of Riverside County, and James C. Ramos of San Bernardino County released a joint statement on Thursday condemning the teacher’s actions.
“It is damaging and disheartening to see Native American and Indigenous culture represented in such a trite and insensitive way,” the statement said. “However, this is not an isolated incident, as such teaching practices, even in math classes, have been used across the nation. It is time that we stop this behavior.”
For students of color in Riverside, such moments are those in which their heritage and culture are wrongly and inaccurately depicted, the officials said. North High School is 71% Latino.
“We need to ensure that students learn about themselves in positive, accurate and appropriate ways,” the statement said.
Dee Dee Manzanares Ybarra, the director of the American Indian Movement‘s Southern California chapter and tribal chair of the Rumšen Am:a Tur:ataj Ohlone, said in an interview that a community member organized a protest in response to the video.
“People are upset, people are a little angry with what happened because it’s just so disrespectful to our youth,” Ybarra said. The child who had to sit and watch the teacher was upset by the “chopping and hollering.”
Ybarra pointed to the importance of culturally sensitive teachers and ethnic studies courses, which help students understand past and present struggles and the contributions of marginalized groups, including Indigenous people.
Recently, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will require future high school students, starting with the Class of 2030, to take one semester of ethnic studies in order to graduate.
Riverside Unified is among the California school districts that offer ethnic studies classes. The state’s model curriculum, which was approved in March, offers multiple sample lessons on how to discuss Native American studies, including understanding the role of land acknowledgments, U.S. history through a Native American perspective and how symbols and mascots have been used to create inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans.
“We’re tired of being made fun of. We’re not a joke,” Ybarra said. “We’re not a costume.”