KANSAS (KSNT) – Native American legislators joined with Kansas Governor Laura Kelly asking for the resignation of Education Commissioner Randy Watson after he made insensitive comments during a state meeting.
Representative Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence, spoke with Kansas Capitol Bureau after watching the video of Watson’s controversial comments Thursday morning.
Video confirms the exact comments that were made during a virtual education conference last week, where the commissioner recalled talks with family members about Indians “raiding” towns.
Haswood said the commissioner reached out to her and others in an attempt to apologize.
“He did call me this morning. It was mainly just to apologize for his actions and his insensitivity, but I didn’t have much to say. I was still mad.”
Haswood, along with other Native American lawmakers are calling on the commissioner to be resign from his role.
Representative Dr. Ponka-We Victors-Cozad, who is serving her 6th term as the first Native American woman legislator in the state, said she is “appalled and saddened that our Native American youth have to witness the Commissioner of Education saying these racist remarks about our people.”
KSNT was first alerted to possible comments made during the hearing last week, after posts about the issue circulated online. One of the Facebook posts obtained, claimed to report what Watson said. According to the post, Watson said, “when I was a kid my cousins used to worry about visiting Kansas and getting killed by a tornado. I said well if we are being honest you have a higher chance of coming to Kansas and getting killed by an Indian.”
KSNT’s Capitol Bureau made several attempts to reach out to the Governor’s office and the State Board about the issue with no response. Now, more than a week later, a statement has been issued from the Governor calling for the commissioner to resign.
“There is no question that Randy Watson must resign his position immediately, given his comments last week,” Kelly said on Thursday. “While Education Commissioner Randy Watson has had a long career in advocating for our children in Kansas, the State and the Kansas Board of Education must take issues of derogatory and discriminatory language seriously.”
The state board told Kansas Capitol Bureau that the commissioner is not available for a response on Thursday. When trying to confirm his whereabouts, his office assistant said that they “cannot disclose” that information.
Still, lawmakers and others are speaking upset over the issue, and calling on leaders to take action..
“This is why representation and diversity matters, so we can hold officials accountable for what they say,” Victors-Cozad said.
“Our Indigenous students simply deserve better,” Representative Christina Haswood said. “This situation has reopened a trauma that many Indigenous youth experience in the classroom and contributes to the mental health crises that are faced by Indigenous youths at a disproportionate rate.”
“When you see a modern Native American, you are seeing the descendants of survivors,” Representative Stephanie Byers, the first transgender Native American legislator, said. “We existed and continue to exist in a nation that has not always been willing to recognize our sovereignty. The current assault on teaching history truthfully highlights the need for a more thorough teaching of the history of Native Americans in Kansas.”