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Riverside Teacher Placed On Leave For Mimicking Native American Culture In 'Offensive' Viral Video

An image of an empty classroom with two rows of desks. At the front of the room there's a chalkboard and a desk in the middle.
(Photo by Ivan Aleksic
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A teacher with the Riverside Unified School District has been placed on leave after a video went viral this week showing the instructor dancing around a classroom, allegedly "war whooping" and wearing a headband that mimics Native American dress.

A statement released Thursday from the district said:

"These behaviors are completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices."

It also noted that the actions of the teacher do not represent the values of the district.

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Dr. Joely Proudfit is the director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at Cal State San Marcos and says the teacher's actions are offensive and racist.

"When you have teachers performing like that, in a math class, we're not talking critical race theory here," Proudfit says. "We're talking this teacher needs some professional development, some skills training, obviously, some cultural sensitivity training."

An Instagram post of this incident stated that a student in the class, who identifies as Native American, filmed the video because he "felt that violence was being committed against him and he had the right to record."

The video was taken at John W. North High School in Riverside. We reached out to the district for more information, but have not heard back.

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"It's just outright mockery and is illustrative of a phenomenon known as playing Indian," wrote UC Riverside Professor Wesley Leonard in an email. "Such displays serve to further erase and distort actual Indigenous cultures. It's notable that while there appears to be widespread agreement that what this teacher did was wrong, other sorts of colonial violence, such as racist sports mascots, remain supported by many."

Assemblymember Jose Medina of Riverside joined his colleagues Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes and James Ramos in condemning the teacher's actions in a statement.

"It is damaging and disheartening to see Native American and indigenous culture represented in such a trite and insensitive way," the legislators wrote. "However, this is not an isolated incident, as such teaching practices have been used across the nation. It is time that we stop this behavior. We need to ensure that students learn about themselves in positive, accurate, and appropriate ways."

The district, which is investigating this incident, did not confirm the identity of the teacher but said this in its statement: "We are deeply committed to implementing inclusive practices and policies that honor the rich diversity of our district and the greater region. We will be working with our students, families, staff and community to regain your trust."

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Updated October 21, 2021 at 6:41 PM PDT
This story was updated with comments from Assemblymembers and UC Riverside Professor Wesley Leonard.
Updated October 21, 2021 at 3:31 PM PDT
This story was updated with comment from Dr. Joely Proudfit, who is the director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at Cal State San Marcos.