ANDERSON, Ind. (WXIN) — An Indiana school district is reviewing its use of an American Indian chief as its mascot following backlash over a viral video posted to TikTok. The video shows two students dressed up as a chief and maiden performing a ceremony with a pipe and then dancing before a basketball game in Anderson.
“It was disappointing, but not surprising that it was happening,” said Sarah Holba, who shot the video. “The Anderson student section got really into it. You had the pep band playing. … I asked some people around me who said, ‘Oh, Anderson has been doing this forever.'”
Holba posted video of the performance on TikTok where it’s been viewed more than 700,000 times. The video has prompted so much backlash, the district put has put its use of the pre-game ritual on hold.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Joseph Cronk, superintendent at Anderson Community School Corporation, said. “You know it’s always our intent to honor our Native American tradition and maybe that was ignorant. Maybe we don’t know what we’re honoring. Maybe we’re not honoring at all.”
“It really incites an environment that is hostile, that is dangerous and damaging,” said Rachel Thunder, director of the Indiana and Kentucky Chapter of the American Indian Movement.
Groups including the Delaware Tribe and the American Indian Movement have spoken out against the ritual and the Indian mascot. Thunder said it further exploits the culture of people who have been abused since the arrival of the early settlers.
“They teach non-native children that it’s acceptable to participate in culturally abusive behavior and perpetuate inaccurate misconceptions,” Thunder said.
The district formed an internal committee to review the use of the mascot on everything from its buildings to its letterhead. The district said it will consult with Native American leaders before making a final decision.
The district said its mascot originated from Chief William Anderson, whom the city of Anderson is named after. The superintendent said the district has always used the mascot with the blessing of the chief’s ancestors.