A California teacher’s bonkers decision to mock Native American culture in a math lesson earned her a suspension
If you ever took a trigonometry class back in high school, hearing the pneumonic device “SOHCAHTOA” might jog a memory in the cobwebby corners of your brain. You might recall that it has something to do with sin and tan and hypotenuse, and you’d be right. For students in one California school district, however, SOHCAHTOA will forever have a way different connotation, after a shockingly oblivious teacher decided the name sounded like a Native American one, and proceeded to whoop it up in class.
The jaw-dropping display was filmed by a Native American student who understandably felt hurt, shocked, confused, and offended. The unidentified teacher is seen wearing a feathered headdress and waving around imaginary tomahawks, as she dances and chants in front of the class. On the white board behind her, there’s a drawing of a stick figure in a headdress and two teepees, in case it wasn’t already abundantly clear what she was going for.
The student shared the video with a family friend, Akalei Brown, who uploaded it to social media and asked followers to contact the school district to report it. “After watching the full 6 minute video I was left shaking,” Brown told Scary Mommy. She added there was even more footage but her hands were shaking too badly to go through it all.
“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 every day,” she said. “This is not a one off scenario.”
Brown said there was absolutely no excuse for what happened. “We are constantly looked at as an afterthought, a mascot, less than human,” she said in an interview with NBC News. “And in this day and age, it’s just time for change.”
The school district released a statement after the video went viral, saying the teacher had been placed on leave. “The behaviors are completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices. Her actions do not represent the values of our district.” The statement also noted that the district would investigate further.
As always, there will be plenty of people who rush to defend the teacher — saying it’s “just harmless” or that she “didn’t know” it was wrong. But come on. It’s 2021. This is not a new discussion, and it literally comes up every single year right around this time thanks to Halloween.
So here’s a reminder: cultures are not costumes, and it is absolutely not harmless to don a headdress and feathers and braids to say you’re a Native American — it is completely ignorant, and turns a blind eye to centuries of trauma and suffering inflicted on Native Americans because of that very same culture. “Every year there are news reports of Native youth having their braids cut off at school by non-Native students,” Brown said.
The teen who filmed the video does not want to be identified for safety reasons, but Brown says he’s coping well with what happened. He and his family are asking people to “not take their anger out on the teacher directly,” as they are concerned about her well-being. Instead, it might be an opportune time for people to educate themselves about Native American history and culture — even as another holiday with racist origins looms at Thanksgiving.
“This is the reality for native people in the US and we’re going to take it sitting down anymore,” Brown said. “We’re standing up for our children and setting a new standard for the treatment of Native people.”