It’s not like Native Americans haven’t suffered enough. They had their lands stolen by a bunch of unauthorized immigrants who didn’t speak their languages and who purposefully infected them with smallpox by giving them “plague blankets” that killed millions. They were driven off their native territories and herded into small isolated reservations while the natural resources that they stewarded were pillaged by the marauding invaders who didn’t respect the sacredness of the land like they did.
To this day, Native Americans remain second-class citizens in their own land as the recent voter ID debacle in North Dakota so credibly demonstrates. However, perhaps the worst humiliation that Native Americans face today in the United States is their status as victims of racism in the land they once had to themselves.
That such racism still exists was amply demonstrated by a New Mexico high school teacher who was ousted from her job after two separate incidents involving her Native American students on Halloween, according to a report by Alberquerque’s KRQE.
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Mary Easton was teaching Language Arts at Cibola High School in Albuquerque that day and decided to dress up as Marie Laveau, the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” and give her class an oral quiz.
The reward for a correct answer would be a marshmallow, but anyone answering incorrectly got a serving of organic dog food instead. If that alone wasn’t deserving enough of censure, Easton’s comments and behavior during the quiz certainly sealed her fate.
McKenzie Johnson, a Native American junior in the class, told the school district board what happened when Easton came up to her desk and saw the fake blood that she had painted on her face for the costumed-holiday.
“When she called on me, she asked, ‘Now what are you supposed to be? A bloody Indian?’ ” Johnson told the school board at a meeting where students and their parents protested the teacher’s racist behavior.
The New Mexico branch of the American Civil Liberties Union described another incident that happened during the same class in their report on the incident.
“At one point during the class, Ms. Eastin approached another female Native American student (“Student 2”) with a box cutter. The young woman had long hair combed into braids. Ms. Eastin asked Student 2 if she liked her braids. The student responded in the affirmative. Ms. Eastin then suggested that she was going to cut Student 2’s hair with the box cutter.”
“No one thought she was serious. The teacher proceeded to put the box cutter down and exchanged it for a pair of scissors, which she used to cut approximately 3 inches of Student 2’s hair from her head and then sprinkled it on the desk in front of her.”
Leon Howard, the legal director of the ACLU of New Mexico, described the cutting of a Native student’s hair as “unconscionable.”
“Anyone with even an iota of cultural awareness knows that in Native American cultures hair is sacred — particularly for women,” Howard said. “Beyond that, the cruel implications of Ms. Eastin’s actions hark back to the era of Native American boarding schools, when the cutting of Native students’ hair was a form of punishment inflicted by school masters in a racist attempt to strip children of their heritage and culture.”
Initially, school district officials stonewalled the Native protestors, putting Easton on paid leave while they investigated her actions, but student protests and Navajo Nation officials critical comments eventually forced their hands and led to Easton’s termination.
According to The Washington Post:
“In early November, students began protesting outside Cibola High School, holding signs that read ‘BRAIDS ARE BEAUTY’ AND ‘YOU CAN’T CUT MY CULTURE,’ according to the Albuquerque Journal.”
“The incident also drew sharp words from the president of the Navajo Nation, who said he stood with the students and called for “top to bottom” cultural sensitivity training in the district. ‘Our Native youths should not have to endure this kind of behavior, especially in the classroom,’ Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement. ‘We will hold the teacher, the school and the district accountable for these actions, and we demand recourse.'”
Parents of Native students say that Easton’s departure from the school was “a short-term win” but that she ultimately would like to see more districtwide changes, including a ban on “culturally appropriated dress.” If anyone deserves cultural sensitivity, it’s the descendants of our continent’s original inhabitants. It’s the least the upstart immigrants can do.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.