Indigenous Students 'Humiliated' After NAIDOC Week Dance Cut Short At School Assembly
The NSW Department of Education will investigate allegations of racism surrounding a NAIDOC Week performance, after Indigenous dancers claim they were laughed off stage and subjected to racist slurs.
A group of students at Chifley College Senior Campus at Mount Druitt, in Sydney's west, allege that their NAIDOC Week performance in front of the whole school was cut short midway, and that teachers told them to get off the stage after just two dances of a scheduled four.
The group, including male and female Indigenous students, were invited to perform for their school at a school NAIDOC Week celebration last Thursday. However, they claim their music was cut early and they were left to walk off stage as other pupils laughed.
"Teachers laughed as well as other students. They heard racist remarks and all were humiliated in front the assembly," a supporter claimed in an online petition in support of the students, which has collected nearly 30,000 signatures since Friday.
"These children deserved to be heard and respected as any other child."
Latoya Geebung, one of the students involved, told 10 daily that most of the group were in Year 12, and had been excited to perform for "our last NAIDOC Week" at the school.
"We did the second dance and then the music stopped and we were told to get off the stage," she claimed.
"A teacher told another student to tell us that was enough and to get off. The teacher was laughing at us."
Other dancers claim that, as they were picking leaves from school trees for their costumes in preparation for the dance, other students called them "abo".
"It ruined our day. We wanted it to be a nice last NAIDOC for us, we were all graduating, but it went downhill," Geebung said.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said on Tuesday that the school blamed "a technical glitch" for the music being cut. The department said this issue was "unintentional" but had "interrupted the second half of the performance." Department staff at the event said they did not witness teachers or students laughing or making inappropriate remarks.
"However, the school and the department do not tolerate racism. Chifley College Senior Campus prides itself on being a diverse and harmonious school. Any allegation of racism will be looked into," the department spokesperson said.
"The NSW Department of Education rejects all forms of racism... No student, employee, parent, caregiver or community member should experience racism within the learning or working environment."
Jennifer Murray, Latoya's mum, wasn't at the performance but said her daughter later called her in tears. She rubbished claims that a “technical fault” was to blame, as alleged by the department.
"When they were going up, they thought they were doing four dances but only got to do two," Murray told 10 daily.
"They're all very disheartened, devastated. They're embarrassed."
She said parents and the dancers had met with the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW in response to the alleged incident, and that the school -- which is now on school holidays -- had offered to schedule another meeting in a fortnight, when classes resume.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said on Tuesday the department "continues to gather information on the event last week" and promised "appropriate action" if any wrong-doing is found.
"The principal presented the dancers with options to perform at other events, including on the day of the NAIDOC event last week," the spokesperson said.
The online petition has attracted nearly 30,000 signatures since Friday.
Murray and her daughter have asked for a substantial apology from staff.
"We don't think its right, especially in NAIDOC Week. It doesn't make sense," Murray said.
"It's so good to see an Aboriginal person up there, finishing their year 12 certificate. We want our kids to try and do the right thing, but to get put down like this has really affected all of us. We want a public apology.”