‘You’re Native, right?’ Student says school staff member made racist comment caught on audio

Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 7:57 AM CST
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BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (WKBT) - A Ho-Chunk student is speaking out after she said a school staff member made a racially derogatory comment toward her.

The Black River Falls School District confirms the staff member is currently on administrative leave.

The family said change needs to happen because racial discrimination toward Native Americans is all too common.

Naomi Thunder’s lunchtime Monday was like any other day, hanging with friends while doing some schoolwork.

She had a question, so she asked a staff member she sees every day for some help, someone with whom Naomi said she, to this point, had only had positive interactions.

The answer was captured on Naomi’s phone.

“You don’t care. I don’t care if you get a D minus. You’re Native, right? So just ... collect a check, don’t give two [expletive] about your future? So why should I care?” the staff member is heard saying.

“I just looked over at my friend who heard the whole thing. She was pretty shocked. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do,” Naomi said.

She sent the video to a few friends, who spread it even more, reaching Naomi’s uncle Christian McClure by Wednesday.

“It just needed to be seen. You don’t talk like that to kids,” McClure said.

McClure posted the clip to his Facebook page, saying if he hadn’t, “it wouldn’t have gotten shared. It would have been brushed off. It would have blown over. Nobody would’ve acknowledged this because it happens all the time.”

The video has gone viral in the Black River Falls community, one whose high school student population is more than 20 percent Native American.

But the comments hint at a larger problem.

“I’ve gotten like six people coming out about different teachers - ‘Was it this teacher because this teacher did this?’ ... It’s gross. I’m probably going to be out of here by the time my kids are in high school,” McClure said.

The school district said it is conducting an investigation and placed the staff member on administrative leave.

All week, classmates and other teachers have offered Naomi support.

“I know this is only going to make her stronger,” McClure said.

And for Naomi, it’s a chance to make sure no one else faces discrimination again.

“I want things to change because people who look at people of color look at them different,” Naomi said.

The family identified the staff member as Laura Sahr, who’s listed as a special education program aide.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, her teaching license is currently under investigation.