Another protest ensued days after the Albuquerque Public School District “severed” their relationship with a teacher who allegedly cut off the braid of a Native American student.
The packed Board of Education’s meeting saw about 30 speakers address APS’s governing body. Many speakers were there to express their outrage at the board for allowing the incident to happen and for not removing the teacher.
“It took more than a whole month for this apology to happen,” said Demetrius Johnson, the brother of the student who said her teacher referred to her as a “bloody Indian.”
Johnson, his parents and the other speakers were limited to one minute each during the public comment period, instead of the typical five minutes. Board member Yolanda Montoya-Cordova said the change was to give all the speakers time to speak.
When the minute concluded, an alarm would sound and the mic would be cut.
Danielle Baker told the crowd she was there in support of Mary Eastin, the former Cibola High School teacher. “It saddens me that my child supported her teacher exercising her rights, as others have exercised their rights.”
At that point, a member of crowd shouted back, “She also cut off the braid of a student.”
Other members of the crowd then started to speak out against Baker before President David Peercy threatened to throw them out. “That is not fair, you understand? Not fair.”
“You can’t really talk to Natives about what’s fair,” replied another person in the crowd.
As Baker resumed her speech, with her time restored by the BOE, she said, “I purposefully haven’t said anything negative about (the student) because she is a child, but I could think of negative things to say about the other side and I am not going to. I am just here to support Ms. Eastin.”
Many members of the crowd booed. Someone shouted, “Not your problem because you live with privilege.”
“How do you know my husband is not Native American?” Baker responded. “Do you know that? No, you don’t. I am from Oklahoma, the majority of my friends are Native American.”
Baker said it was sad Cibola students would miss out on Eastin’s teaching. “I am not saying she didn’t make a mistake, I am saying she was the best teacher at Cibola.”
That was the rowdiest Wednesday's meeting got. Much of the crowd cleared out after public comment period. Before leaving, several of the protesters began shouting “What is sacred? Our hair! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Baker and the people she was with were offered and accepted a police escort out of the building.
After the public comment period, board members discussed some ways to respond to the outrage and the incident.
Peercy said that it was clear, after two rowdy public comment periods, what the speakers wanted was a dialogue, not a monologue.
Some of the board members suggested changing history credit requirements.
“Just by writing the words and saying it,” Montoya-Cordova said, “isn’t going to be the answer to this either.” She added that without additional funding “we can’t get there.”
Peercy also said the board was hoping to meet with Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye to discuss further changes.
Halloween at Cibola High
On Oct. 31, a 17-year-old student at Cibola said that former teacher Mary Eastin asked her “Now what are you supposed to be? A bloody Indian?” when Eastin noticed her red riding hood outfit. McKenzie Johnson recalled the day at last week’s APS board of education meeting.
In a letter addressed to the school board, the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote:
“At one point during the class, Ms. Eastin approached another female Native American student (“Student 2”) with a box cutter. The young woman had long hair combed into braids. Ms. Eastin asked Student 2 if she liked her braids. The student responded in the affirmative. Ms. Eastin then suggested that she was going to cut Student 2’s hair with the box cutter.”
The Albuquerque Journal reported that APS sent out a letter to parents regarding the incident on Nov. 2 as a “Halloween stunt.”
The Journal also reported that APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said after an internal APS investigation, the district attorney would not pursue charges against Eastin. The DA’s office later clarified the statement, saying “based on preliminary information (the incident) does not appear to meet the necessary elements for criminal prosecution.”
Eastin is no longer a teacher at Cibola, according to Armenta. However, a report by KOB has revealed that she is currently still on payroll.
Since Halloween, the incident has gained national attention over the last month including an article in the Washington Post published earlier this week.
Justin Garcia is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers ASUNM. He can be contactacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Just516garc.