A high school teacher from Riverside, California has been placed on leave after viral videos show her mocking Indigenous cultures during a math class this week. The teacher, wearing what appears to be a plastic headband with paper cutout feathers to look like a headdress, is seen in videos jumping around the room screeching "SoCahToa," a shortened phrase for teaching trigonometry functions, and "tomahawk chopping."
Indigenous woman and business owner Akalei Brown posted the videos on Thursday, which she says she received from an Indigenous student who filmed the incident in his math class. The student allegedly told Brown that he "felt that violence was being committed against him and he had the right to record," according to her Instagram post.
The footage shows the teacher dancing around the room, jumping on tables, screaming, and screeching "SohCahToa" while also doing what is supposed to resemble a "tomahawk chop." "SohCahToa" is a controversial shortened phrase commonly used to teach trigonometry functions sine, cosine and tangent.
While the teacher was doing the dance, she had drawings pulled up on the class projector of stick figures with headdresses, rocks and teepees. The teacher then sat on top of her desk at the front of the classroom and pretended to pray to a water goddess.
"Water goddess, again I ask you, please tell me the secret Indian chant," she says in the video, before laughing. "Because obviously this is ridiculous."
She also made comments about a "rock god," saying he "spit out" several rocks that she used during her demonstration.
"The rock god did this," she told her students. "Thank you, rock god."
In a statement published Thursday, the Riverside Unified School District said the teacher is one of their own and that her "behaviors are completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices."
The teacher, who remained unnamed, has been placed on leave while the school district investigates the incident, the district said. At a board meeting that day, the district's superintendent Renee Hill said the teacher's "words and actions, done during class time, were highly insulting and marginalizing to Native American and Indigenous cultures, among others."
"This has our full attention and it will be addressed expeditiously," Hill said.
Brown posted a video of the board meeting, during which a young Indigenous girl confronted board members about the video. Brown, an Indigenous woman who serves as a Native history and culture consultant, has said she is the official spokesperson for the family, as they do not want to be identified for safety reasons.
"When I saw that video of her, I just thought that I just was going to explode," the young girl says. "...She's racist and that just makes me so mad. Me and my people, we don't have our rights still. ... I always feel so sad. I don't like how people are treating us. They treat us bad, they bully us."
John Wesley North High School posted a photo of the district's original statement, saying the teacher in question is one of their own.
"Her actions were marginalizing, especially to Native Americans," the school wrote on Instagram. "This behavior is not condoned or tolerated... It goes against our core values and beliefs and values of equity and well-being."
The incident sparked massive backlash online. Popular Indigenous TikToker Lance Tsosie, who is known for their "hey colonizer" videos, posted the footage, saying the video is "racist, ignorant and disgusting."
"This behavior is not a good representation for your school," Tsosie said, encouraging followers to contact the school and hold the teacher accountable, but also enforce diversity and equity trainings for teachers.
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