By Jennipher Vasquez
Protesters gathered in front of the Riverside Unified School District office in downtown Riverside Oct. 28 after a video of a teacher from John W. North High School was released showing her dancing around the classroom wearing a fake Native American headdress.
The video of the trigonometry teacher, Candice Reed, surfaced after one of her students recorded her imitating tomahawk chops and Native American chants as part of a lesson.
Among the protesters were Shiishonga Tribe Council members who were given an opportunity to meet with RUSD Superintendent Renee Hill to discuss the video, Reed’s employment status and the implementation of indigenous education.
“Fire Candice Reed,” protesters chanted outside the district office while tribe council members met with the superintendent.
Dee Dee Manzanares Ybarra, director of the American Indian Movement of Southern California, was among the group of protesters that met with Hill.
“I wish there was some good news I could give you,” Ybarra said to the rest of the protesters after exiting the RUSD building. “They insisted that they are following a process with the school district as far as the students go and their ethnic studies as far as supporting the students and their racial teachings and racial acceptance in the schools.”
Ybarra said it was part of a policy that was in effect and being worked on prior to the video but they have not fired Reed from RUSD.
“As much as we asked for it,” she said. “We even said, ‘well, isn’t this considered a hate crime, is it not a form of child abuse, isn’t that a cause for immediate termination?’ We cannot control what’s going to happen now, it’s up to the people out there to stand together and fight this until that teacher is gone.”
They asked the superintendent why Reed was allowed to continue teaching for so long based on yearbook photos of the 2012 school year, which revealed that Reed has been using this teaching method for nearly a decade.
Shiishonga Tribe Chief and chairman Michael Negrete said he hopes a solution will arise through peaceful unity, despite the meeting with the superintendent not resulting as they wished.
“We do exist and we’re here,” Negrete said. “I’m sick to my stomach … and we’re going to continue doing this until our voice is heard.”
Many of the protesters voiced their concerns over the cultural insensitivity within the educational system. They said they would return to protest until they are met with a suitable resolution.
Among the protesters was a man who said he traveled from Sacramento to be there and will continue to be present in any activism towards a change in historical teachings.
Another tribe chairman, Judy Rojos, said that she believes that what they were told in the meeting was said in order to pacify the protesters and calm down the scene.
“I think it is a form of abuse to our children,” Rojos said. “It was just unbelievable … I don’t think we should be calm about this.”
Some shared their concerns about people in authority being held accountable for what students are being taught.
“This is a call for people all across the country and the world to pay attention to their communities, their schools, their systems,” said Ivette Xochyotl, who was among the group of protestors. “We are here to make sure we are the change that we want to see. We’re here out of love for our people and we do what we do because of love.”