ORLANDO, Fla. – Walt Disney World is under fire after a viral video posted to social media on Thursday shows a Texas high school dance team chanting an inflammatory phrase about Native Americans that many consider offensive during a performance at Magic Kingdom.
The video, posted by a user named tara houska ᔖᐳᐌᑴ on Twitter, has racked up hundreds of thousands of views and features the Port Neches-Groves High School “Indian Band” dancers performing a routine on Main Street, U.S.A. During the performance, the dance team chants, “Scalp ‘em, Indians, scalp ‘em.”
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According to the school’s website, which chronicles their history of “Indian traditions,” the “Indian Spirit” dance team formed at the school starting in 1961 and “proudly dances to “Cherokee” in a style that has evolved over the years.”
Disney spokesperson Jacquee Wahler on Friday issued a statement about the viral video:
“We regret this performance took place as it did not reflect the audition tape that was submitted. We have immediately put measures in place to ensure performances reflect the auditions.”
News 6 reached out to Disney to ask what specific measures are being put in place to ensure performances reflect auditions, if the company corresponded with the team since the performance and if it plans to deal out any repercussions because of this.
According to Disney Imagination Campus’ website, participants performing in this program at the theme parks are “supported by a professional crew of Disney technicians and a dedicated coordinator” and “featured on some of the very same stages where world-class Disney entertainers perform.”
The website does not provide any information on what the current audition process is like, aside from that it is required a certain number of performers must be in the group to participate.
When News 6 reached out to the Texas school, Port Neches-Groves High School’s NGN Press offered this preliminary response:
“Hi, thanks for contacting us. We’ve received your message and appreciate you reaching out. We’ll respond as soon as we’re available!!”
The Port Neches-Groves school district issued a statement to KFDM-TV in Beaumont, and the Associated Press, saying that the district was “aware of the concern regarding the performance of our band and Indianettes at Disney World.”
“We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our school district. Our district is nearing 100 years old, and our Board of Trustees is committed to always making the best decisions for our students, staff, and the communities of Port Neches and Groves,” the district stated.
A PN-G spokesperson told KFDM-TV that this was the eighth time that PN-G performed the routine at Disney World. The spokesperson says Disney has never asked ahead of time about the planned performance.
Shyanne Begay with the Indigenous Peoples Movement said she felt saddened to see video of the performance.
“To see everybody in the crowd, and everybody working there cheer, and clap like nothing bad is happening. That is the absolute worst feeling,” Begay said.
She said the school has been contacted by native groups for years, expressing concern at what they call offensive behavior.
The Cherokee Nation issued a statement from Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.:
“Port Neches-Groves Independent School District continues to use offensive and stereotypical depictions of our tribe, and this is yet again exampled by their cheer team recently in Orlando. For the past couple of years, we have written to the Port Neches superintendent and school board asking them to cease using this offensive imagery, chanting, symbolism and other practices in their school traditions as this does nothing but dishonor us and all Native American tribes who are making great strides in this country. School leaders need educating on cultural appropriateness, should apologize for continuing to ignore our requests to stop and need to make swift changes to correct these offensive displays across their school district.”
The Cherokee Nation said the Port Neches-Groves Independent School District has never acknowledged the letters or requests it sent.
Begay also said as a Disney fan, she feels let down that the group was allowed to perform inside Magic Kingdom.
“I feel like, there needs to be more in place saying the Indianettes can never perform there,” Begay said. “We do not have a motherland, we do not have anywhere else to go. This is our only land and we do not have a space to be here.”