By McKenzie Johnson, former Cibola High School student
Editor’s note: On Halloween of 2018, a Cibola High School teacher, in front of the entire class, cut one Native American student’s braid without consent and called another student, McKenzie Johnson, a “bloody Indian.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, along with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Parnall & Adams Law, sued Albuquerque Public Schools on McKenzie’s behalf. A district court dismissed the case, but in late May, an appeals court ruled that New Mexico’s public schools must adhere to state anti-discrimination laws, reviving the lawsuit. In this blog, McKenzie describes how she felt about the ruling.
It was such a shocking thing to happen. When the teacher cut the other student’s thick braid off, you could hear her sawing through the hair with the blades. The class was stunned. No one said a word. Later in the class, she asked what costumes we wore, and the teacher shined her flashlight on me and asked, "What are you supposed to be, ‘a bloody Indian?" The whole class gasped. They all looked at me, waiting for my reaction. I’m normally very outspoken, but I was in shock and didn’t say anything. I could feel my face turning red.
Teachers should know better than to single out Native students like this in such a demeaning and humiliating way. We are surrounded by diverse communities so you would expect her to know at least a little bit about us and our culture and that actions like that create an unsafe environment for us as Indigenous youth.
Teachers should know better than to single out Native students like this in such a demeaning and humiliating way.
Once I got over the shock, I decided I wanted to fight back. I got a lot of support from my family and community, but I also got an overwhelming amount of pushback from other students and even teachers.
When I heard about this ruling, I was so overcome with emotion, I had to hold back tears. The ruling is a huge breakthrough for Indigenous students, and all students included.
Teachers have a responsibility to make their classrooms a safe and welcoming space for everyone in there. As Native people, we respect our elders, but with that is the expectation that they respect us too.
Teachers have a responsibility to make their classrooms a safe and welcoming space for everyone in there.
School staff at all levels need to understand our culture and our history so that what happened in my classroom never happens to anyone again.
Bottom line, a teacher should not discriminate against any student nor cut their student's hair off.