DULUTH — The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is demanding a response from leaders of nearby school districts after a racist and threatening Snapchat conversation between two students was shared on social media late last week.
The exchange between a student from Esko High School and another from Cloquet High included a desire for the Cloquet school to be bombed so "all natives die." It continued with other derogatory remarks about Native American people.
"We are horrified and saddened by the ignorant and racist statements of students from schools where many of our Native youth attend," Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr. wrote in a letter to the superintendents of the Esko and Cloquet school districts.
"We want to receive an immediate response from the school districts and school leadership on how you intend to address this situation, not only with the specific students involved in the incident but also with the larger student body community."
Native American students make up about 14% of the Cloquet Public Schools enrollment. Part of the Fond du Lac Reservation, which has its own K-12 school, is in Cloquet. About 1% of Esko students are Native American.
In a statement, Cloquet schools superintendent Michael Cary said the district would not tolerate racial profiling or racist or hate language. He apologized "for the harm this language has done or may do to our students, families and community."
Cary said the Snapchat exchange event "will lead to appropriate disciplinary action, individualized education targeting these racist beliefs, and restorative practices to address the harms caused by ignorance."
Esko superintendent Aaron Fischer offered a similar statement, saying the incident doesn't reflect the district's values, but the administration shares "responsibility in shaping the character of our students."
"In addition to addressing the offenders, we will renew our ongoing efforts to build a culturally competent school community free of intolerance, ignorance and hate," he said.
Cloquet and Esko are the latest Minnesota schools where racism has surfaced on social media or at sporting events. Officials are investigating and responding to recent incidents in Edina, New Prague, Minnetonka, Prior Lake and the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District.
Racism within Cloquet schools is ongoing, said Lynn Olson, a Fond du Lac Band member whose granddaughter and grand-niece attend the high school.
"This is really affecting my girls," said Olson, who met with Cloquet school leaders after she saw the Snapchat screenshot. "This will traumatize and stay with the kids forever."
She said she wants the involved students to apologize to the Native community, and for school leaders to do more, including requiring curriculum that would educate students about Native American oppression and genocide.
Matthew Williams, a sophomore Cloquet High hockey player, said some teammates mocked Native Americans in the locker room, making fun of such traditions as pow wows and dress.
Williams said the players didn't know he was Native American until the Snapchat exchange ignited conversation about racism and he shared his heritage. Some apologized, he said, "but I feel like there is a lot of work to be done." A lifelong hockey player, he said he is hesitant to continue with the team.
Tia Tokkesdal, a Fond du Lac band member and Cloquet graduate, said she is hoping for more transparency from officials.
She said Cloquet school leaders "made remarks over the loudspeaker and put an e-mail out. But they're not being transparent about the actions they took with the students or what they will do to prevent this in the future. … Our community deserves to know the outcome."
School administrators declined to comment on disciplinary details, citing privacy laws.
Dupuis, in his letter, asked Cary and Fischer to meet and discuss with band leaders how they'll work to prevent "racist and violent rhetoric" from students.
"We need to ensure that our students remain and feel safe in the public schools they attend," he said.
Both superintendents have since met with tribal leaders.