SCOOP: Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, weighs in on Kansas state educator who told cousins to fear ‘Indians raiding the town’
She wants the education system strengthened for Indigenous students.
WASHINGTON – A portion of the D.C. chattering class was chattering away today, wondering why U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) hadn’t weighed in on the strange case of a top educator in Kansas who publicly shared a story that he had once told his relatives that they had more to fear from invading Indians than tornadoes when visiting his family in the state.
The official in the hot seat is Randy Watson, the Kansas state education commissioner. He made the comments last week during a virtual conference call on Zoom, while recalling childhood memories reportedly from 1991.
“They’re like, ‘Are we going to get killed by a tornado?’” Watson said toward the end of the conference. “And I’d say, ‘Don’t worry about that, but you got to worry about the Indians raiding the town at any time.’"
Watson’s comments soon received wider attention — and outrage.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and three Indigenous lawmakers, as well as the chair of one of Kansas’ four tribal nations, soon called on him to step down, saying he couldn’t do his job well on behalf of Native students. Some called his statement racist, while others said it was a lapse in judgment to share the story publicly, given his position of authority in serving Native youth.
“Our Indigenous students already go through enough historical trauma, and they deserve better,” state Rep. Christina Haswood said in a statement, calling for Watson’s resignation.
In a joint statement, three of the state’s Indian lawmakers further said, “Native American legislators are voices for the voiceless,” in echoing the resignation call.
So where was Davids’ voice on the federal level?
One National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) official wondered whether this was too much of a political hot potato, given the midterm election battle Davids faces this fall, made all the more difficult for her by state redistricting.
Davids had last week given the congressional response to the NCAI’s annual State of the Indian Nations address, and she’s always been known to weigh in on a range of Indian issues, so her silence was especially perplexing to some folks who know her well. She is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
Another common thought pontificated in D.C. circles today: Perhaps she viewed it as too much of a state issue for one of the few Native federal legislators to get involved.
Indigenous Wire went to the source for answers, after hearing from state officials that Davids had indeed been in touch with them on the matter, and she seemed to care deeply about it, they said.
The main reason for Davids’ slow public response, according to officials who heard from the congresswoman, was that the situation was fluid.
One minute Watson apologized profusely, but said he would not resign. Then he said he would resign, but then the Kansas Board of Education unanimously said today that they would not accept his resignation. Instead, they gave him a one-month suspension without pay – and probably a deep learning experience about what memories to share publicly about his childhood tales to family.
Davids ultimately chose to weigh in this evening, publicly.
“These misguided remarks – provided to those responsible for the education of our future leaders, including the Native students of Kansas – show the need for greater education about Native Americans in our state and around the country,” Davids told Indigenous Wire.
“I know our strong Native legislators and tribal leaders in Kansas are working to create a good path and will be important voices as we learn and move forward,” she added. “The future generations of Kansans are depending on all of us to improve and strengthen our education system.”
Is the suspension enough? Davids didn’t say.
But Native legislators in Kansas are looking for more.
Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, told local press that some people would view the suspension as a “slap on the wrist” and that acceptance of his resignation would have been morally right, although she did add that Watson generally has a record as a strong advocate for public education.
Watson has not been in similar scandals to date, according to state officials.
“At the same time, it still comes down to human rights are more important than policy,” Byers said in a statement. “For our Native American community, is a 30-day suspension without pay…enough? Or, is there more?”
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