Florida Indigenous Alliance asks Disney to ban performances from groups with Native mascots

After a racially insensitive performance by a high school at Walt Disney World last week, a Florida Indigenous group is calling on the company to ban all institutions that use Native mascots.

On March 15, the Port Neches-Grove High School "Indianettes" drill team from Texas performed during a parade at the Magic Kingdom. The team's performance included a cartoonish and inaccurate Native war dance, as the dancers shouted, "I-N-D-I-A-N-S, scalp 'em, Indians, scalp 'em!"

Disney later apologized, and said they had stopped the school from wearing traditional native headdresses prior to the parade. But Florida Indigenous Alliance (FIA) said that more needs to be done, to prevent problematic performances in the future.

"The FIA calls upon Walt Disney Resorts to prohibit performances by institutions which use American Indian people as a mascot," FIA wrote in a press release. "No school in the United States uses African Americans or Jewish people as a sports mascot with the associated stereotypical depictions of each. The time has come to treat Indigenous peoples with respect."

FIA pointed out the absurd historical inaccuracy of the school's chant, highlighting the fact that Native Americans did not create scalping, the European colonizers did.

"While many falsely believe the practice of scalping was an Indigenous custom, it was instead a European practice first done in the Western Hemisphere by settlers in New York state, when the Governor in 1641 (Wilhelm Kieft) offered the equivalent of $2,955.38 for each scalp brought in signifying killing an adult male 'Indian,'" the group wrote. "Reduced rates were offered for killing an Indigenous female or child." 

The FIA also called attention to the fact that the American Psychological Association (APA) called for an end to the use of demeaning, derogatory, stereotypical imagery associated with the use of Indigenous peoples as a sports mascot.

The APA said that most of American society is uneducated about Indigenous people and becomes further uneducated by inaccurate depictions, such as the one made by the Texas High school. Native children’s self-esteem is  impacted by cartoonish depictions of their traditional cultural practices, particularly when much of their spiritual beliefs and practices were outlawed in the United States until 1978.

In a letter written directly to Disney leadership, the FIA said that there are "an abundance of Indigenous drum groups and performers" who would be able to provide actual Indigenous cultural performances and exchanges, to help the organization avoid future embarrassment.

"Despite your best efforts to prohibit [the school] from using racist stereotypical depictions of Native people, the fact that they use a people and a culture as a sports mascot inevitably and inexorably lead to the events which occurred," FIA wrote. "Only by the exclusion of those schools can Disney prevent a recurrence."

Despite the fact that Native groups have called on Port Neches-Grove High School to stop using Indigenous people as mascots for years, Disney still let the school perform.

Disney has not yet responded to request for a response to the demands of FIA, but the company has addressed wrongs toward Indigenous people in the past. In 2021, Disney changed its "Jungle Cruise" ride at Disneyland and Disney World, which for decades contained negative depictions of Indigenous people.

This post originally appeared at Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters, and consider supporting this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you Central Florida news, and every little bit helps.
Scroll to read more Orlando Area News articles
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.