ORLANDO, Fla. — Disney World is coming under fire for hosting what activists called a racist depiction of Native American culture during a performance by Texas high school students at the Magic Kingdom this week.

The criticism comes as Disney continues to deal with backlash over its early silence on Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill approved by the Legislature.

Disney Marching Band

Officials at Walt Disney World say a performance by a visiting Texas drill team that used American Indian stereotypes, including chants of “scalp ’em,” doesn’t reflect the resort’s values. A Disney spokeswoman said Friday that the company regretted the Tuesday show by the Indianettes from Port Neches-Grove High School. John Raoux/Associated Press, file

Performing in a marching band showcase Tuesday, members of the Indianettes drill team from Port Neches-Groves High School in Port Neches, Texas, wore fringed outfits and yelled “scalp ’em, Indians, scalp ’em” near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, a moment captured on video. The phrase is part of the school’s “Cherokee” fight song.

Tara Houska, an Ojibwe tribal attorney and founder of the Giniw Collective, a Native American advocacy group, posted the footage to Twitter on Thursday night, calling out the school and Disney.

“Any Natives who attend (Port Neches-Groves High School) should probably just accept their classmates dehumanizing them cuz ‘tradition’, right?” She wrote. “Shame on (Disney) hosting this. Nostalgic racism is RACISM.”

Photos and videos of the performance were publicly posted on social media accounts affiliated with Port Neches-Groves High School, and video of another part of the parade was streamed live by its journalism club Tuesday.


By Friday afternoon, the club’s social media pages had been deleted or made private. Representatives for Port Neches-Groves High School did not respond to requests for comment.

Houska said others who have emailed the school have received a response that it was “terribly disheartened by the disrespect with which they were treated at Walt Disney World in Florida.”

Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler released a statement saying that Disney regretted the performance.

“The live performance in our park did not reflect our core values, and we regret it took place,” it read. ”It was not consistent with the audition tape the school provided and we have immediately put measures in place so this is not repeated.”

Though specific measures were not mentioned, Disney is reviewing its processes and the other groups scheduled to perform to ensure a similar incident does not happen again, Wahler said.

A Disney employee asked the group to remove headdresses prior to their performance, and the chants heard in the parade were not part of the school’s rehearsal either, she said. Photos and videos of the Port Neches-Groves High School drill team show them wearing headdresses in past performances.


In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Houska said Tuesday’s performance included dancers performing gestures used to stereotype Native American communities and that nobody stepped in.

“You see not only this really obviously racist chant being said and a bunch of presumably non-Native people wearing fringe and putting their hands over their mouths and doing ‘war whoops’ or whatever. There’s that, and then there’s all the people that are cheering them on … who are tacitly saying, ‘This is okay,’ ” she said.

In recent years, Disney has increasingly denounced insensitive and inaccurate depictions of other cultures in its content and launched a new diversity and inclusion initiative.

Just 0.3 percent of Disney’s total workforce is Native American or Alaskan Native, and these workers make up 0.2 percent of Disney’s executive team, data from the company show.

Some older movies on its streaming service, Disney+, now include disclaimers that the films feature “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures.”

For example, the company warns that 1953′s Peter Pan shows Indigenous people “in a stereotypical manner” and refers to them using a racial slur.


In 2021, the Jungle Cruise ride at the Magic Kingdom was updated to remove colonialist misrepresentations of African cultures and include more diverse characters. Construction on the anticipated re-theme of Splash Mountain, inspired by the 1946 movie “Song of the South,” has not started in the park since it was announced in June 2020, but officials have said it is still going forward.

Houska said she believes the company gave “overt racism” a platform in allowing the performance to happen and did not explicitly denounce it in their statement afterward.

“(It) doesn’t actually get at the root of the issue, which is you have a team called the ‘Indianettes,’ who you knew normally wear headdresses and who were not allowed to wear their fake headdresses but were allowed to use their chant,” she said. “So that seems really disingenuous on Disney’s part.”

Houska, who co-founded Not Your Mascots, an organization fighting against the use of stereotypical Native American mascots in sports, wants Disney to take further action.

“It would be a lot more believable that they are willing to carry out these values if they unequivocally condemn this behavior, acknowledge their mistake and continue to try to not only increase representation, but prevent something like this from happening again,” she said.

The National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit representing tribal governments and communities, recently counted 1,929 K-12 schools that use “Native ‘themed’ school mascots” across the United States. A representative for the nonprofit was not available for an interview Friday.

Such stereotypes and depictions are harmful to Native American people, especially children, and they further dishonor communities that have been historically marginalized, Houska said.

“People just have no understanding of living Native people,” she said. “They think that we’re still these kind of ‘savage’ characters from the past or the remnants of those people, like that we’re not living and breathing communities that exist today.

“And to call Native people overly sensitive, given our resilience and survival of multiple attempts at genocidal acts to wipe us out, that’s simply not the case,” she added. “We’re saying we deserve to be at least treated like humans. We’re not mascots.”

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