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Port Neches-Groves' performance at Walt Disney World reignites mascot controversy

Even without the headdresses being worn, PNG's appearance at Disney has led to new conversations about the district's Indian mascot.

PORT NECHES, Texas — The Port Neches-Groves band and Indianettes find themselves in the national spotlight following a performance at Walt Disney World during Spring Break. They marched down Main Street and performed the PNG fight song which includes chants of "Scalp 'em, Indians, scalp 'em."

It has reignited controversy over the school's Indian mascot.

Disney representatives now say they regret allowing PNG to perform at all, and they're changing their policy based on the backlash. 

Native Americans have taken to social media to condemn Disney for allowing the band to perform at all.

“Last night I saw a video floating around on social media,” said Minnesota tribal attorney Tara Houska. "It was pretty shocking to see the scalp ‘em reference.” 

Houska is the founder of Giniw Collective, an environmental group, and an organization called "Not Your Mascots," which is "dedicated to fighting against stereotypical native representation in sports."

RELATED: Cherokee Nation calls on Port Neches-Groves ISD: Indian mascot 'perpetuates harmful stereotypes and inaccurately depicts our culture.

 “We're telling you it's not honor, and we've been telling you it's not honor,” Houska said. For her, and many other critics, this issue goes beyond the parade performance.

“Disney knew that this team is calling itself the Indianettes,” Houska said. “They refer to their football stadium as 'The Reservation.' They have 'The Pow Wow’ news. The yearbook is called 'The War Whoop.' These guys have doubled down through the years on behavior that has been largely condemned as racist because it is.”

PNG Assistant Superintendent Julie Gauthier said PNG has performed at Disney several times without issue. She said at the last minute on Tuesday Disney representatives asked the drill team to remove their headdresses.

A Disney spokesperson said the incident will change their policy. "The live performance in our park did not reflect our core values, and we regret it took place. It was not consistent with the audition tape the school provided and we have immediately put measures in place so this is not repeated."

PNG sent 12News that audition video. It featured the band without the Indianettes. Only the drum majors were in headdresses, and the performance did not include the school fight song.

According to Gauthier, the band started the application to perform at Disney in May 2021, and the application was approved on June 22, 2021.

"The audition tape did not include the chanting behavior demonstrated at our theme park, which is what our statement was alluding to," Disney Spokesperson Jacquee Wahler said.  

“All of this is very sacred. It means a lot to us,” said Shyanne Begay, a native American tribal member in Las Vegas. She's used her Instagram to condemn the parade.

“To see them do it, it made my heart drop,” Begay said. “I've never had that visceral of a reaction to something where it made me feel sick.”

PNG administrators say they remain "...committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion... and  making the best decisions for our students, staff, and communities." Superintendent Mike Gonzales has previously said the communities should decide whether to change the mascot.

The school district has used the Indian mascot since 1925.

RELATED: Complaint heard by Port Neches-Groves ISD school board on topic of district's mascot

RELATED: Cherokee Nation to Port Neches-Groves ISD: Indians mascot "perpetuates harmful stereotypes & inaccurately depicts our culture"

The school received a certificate from the Cherokee Nation in 1979 as an "ambassador of goodwill." An official seal followed in 1980. 

The current head of the Cherokee nation sent the district a letter in July of 2020, revoking those permissions. He said it's time for the district to have a dialogue.

In response to the criticism from across the country, the school district has deleted all of its' social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. 

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