Pocahontas float at high school homecoming parade sparks outrage from Native American students

Posted at 6:46 PM, Sep 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-29 22:38:03-04

WEST JORDAN, Utah – A group of American Indian students who attend Copper Hills High School didn’t like how their culture was being portrayed during homecoming festivities last Thursday and took their concerns to administrators.

Disney-themed characters such as Snow White, Cinderella and Mulan lined the parade route for the Copper Hills High homecoming parade. But a float carrying cheerleaders dressed as Pocahontas filled with teepees didn’t go over well with the President of the school’s American Indian Association.

Shelby Snyder said the costumes and float was disrespectful and demeaning towards Native American culture. Snyder Gathered 190 signatures from students and delivered them to the principal urging him to address the issue.

Principal Todd Quarnberg apologized to Snyder.

He issued the following statement to FOX 13 News:

“Copper Hills High is sorry for the insensitivity that caused our Native American brothers and sisters or anyone else to be offended.

The homecoming parade had a Disney theme, which was 'Once Upon a Time.' There were approximately 20 floats that included Pirates of the Caribbean, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney Princesses, Mulan, Pocahontas, Peter Pan and others.

Administration, parents and staff involved were devastated to learn that others were offended and hurt by the Pocahontas float.  I have offered several public and private apologies to those offended.

In regard to sensitivity toward Native Americans, the school is taking action to ensure that no individual from any culture is singled out in a negative way.  We admit this was not culturally sensitive. Current online discussions can be unproductive. We encourage civil dialogue, rather than negativity.  We don’t need threats we need increased understanding.

There have been several public apologies, numerous meetings with students and parents who took offense and the school is speaking with Native American leaders in the community to help educate our students and staff.  Copper Hills High embraces diversity and we want an inclusive environment for every student.

We are in the business of education and will learn from this mistake and use it to educate our students and staff. We teach students to stand up for what they believe in but we also need to protect those students. We have a Native American club at Copper Hills High and we will work with them and include them as we move forward through this process.

I love Copper Hills High, its students and community. We are devastated that people were offended and ask for civil conversation so healing can begin and we can move forward in harmony.”

Matt Hunsaker was surprised when his daughter told him about the backlash over her costume and float. He says it was all in good fun.

“I don’t believe in any sense that these girls would have intentionally try to hurt anybody,” Hunsaker said.

James Singer, a blogger, and Native American activist wrote an article blasting the school for perpetuating stereotypes.

“Racism today looks like this. This is 21st century racism. It’s different than looking at something like Chip and Dale or Mickey Mouse dressing up as that. It’s not the same as someone’s culture. We’re looking at all the natives throughout all the Americas and saying, ‘look we can boil you down and centralize you to this costume and make you look like a fool,’” Singer said.

Jordan School District officials say they are working with the State Office of Education to provide sensitivity training for students and teachers.