Clintonville High School has cancelled all activities for Friday night, including the Homecoming football game, after four non-Native students performed a mock Native American dance at a homecoming “dance-off” Thursday.
Video of the dance went viral Friday morning.
Clintonville, about 45 miles north of Oshkosh, is surrounded by Native American communities, including Ho-Chunk, Stockbridge Munsee, Menominee and Oneida people. Just over one percent of the district’s roughly 1,300 students is Native American, according to the state Department of Public Instruction data.
“From what I saw it looked like a complete mockery of our culture,” said Paul Roberts, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation who also works in social services for the Nation and lives near Clintonville. “We are really trying to revitalize not only our language but our culture. To have this nearby sets us back to when our culture was taken from us.”
Roberts said the mocking of traditional dance is especially offensive.
‘There’s reasoning behind why we use that drum. There’s reasoning behind the steps we take,” he said. “It’s all about honoring our ancestors. To see this mocked is disgusting. Our kids have been through enough.”
“It saddens me that high school students from Clintonville, Wisconsin learn to act in such a careless manner,” said Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle in an email to FoxValley365. “Their inappropriate behavior is a direct reflection on their family, school, and community. It’s no surprise that cultural appropriation continues when we live in a society that promotes inaccurate history in its classrooms and marginalizes the indigenous people. It’s a complete irony that students mock native culture inside an educational institution.”
In an email to FoxValley365, Clintonville High School Principal Kelly Zeinert wrote that “CHS did not approve the music or the dance. Within minutes of the dance taking place the students were called to the office and parents were notified. … we are currently working with DPI to gather resources to better educate our students.”
In a statement Friday, Clintonville school district officials apologized and announced that tonight’s Homecoming game and all other activities were cancelled.
“Immediate initial action steps have been taken, including the cancellation of all Friday homecoming events,” a statement posted to the district’s Facebook page reads, in part. Clintonville Public School District does not support, nor do we condone any behavior that would affect or offend any culture, race, color, religion, sex, nationality or origin. Clintonville Public School District would like to thank local tribes and tribal members who have already reached out to the district and offered cultural education and support. We will seek additional input and put together a long term plan to repair the harm and use this incident to reflect upon, learn, embrace, and to better understand and celebrate the diversity of all, including the Tribal Nations of Wisconsin. Please know, we strive to create an environment of diversity and inclusion. This will continue to be a top priority within the District.”
District officials did not say what, if any, discipline the four students in the video might face.
At a school assembly Friday, Zeinert said the homecoming game was cancelled not out of contrition but to avoid a “circus because of protesters who feel … that the students here at Clintonville High School are racist, and, in turn, me as well, because I allowed that to happen. Or so they think.”
It is not clear whether any major protests had been planned for Friday night’s game, though, one Wisconsin Dells mother said she and her children did plan to “quietly protest.”
“I just want light shed on the ignorance our Native American children face,” said Alyssa Lonetree, whose husband and children are members of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
Clintonville schools superintendent David Dyb said the homecoming dance scheduled for Saturday has been postponed, not as a punishment but due to “safety concerns.” In a telephone conversation with FoxValley365 late Friday, Dyb said he had spent the afternoon speaking with tribal leaders and other educators to craft a way forward.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Dyb said.
This story has been updated to include the comments of Ho-Chunk President Marlon WhiteEagle and Superintendent David Dyb.