TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Kansas Education Commissioner is facing calls to resign after a video showed he made a controversial comment about Native Americans during a meeting.
KSNT’s Capitol Bureau obtained video of the virtual conference Thursday that showed Commissioner Randy Watson make the remarks. The comments, which Native American legislators in the state said left them “appalled,” were made when the commissioner was telling a story about tornadoes in the state. Watson had changed the subject after thanking attendees for their work in improving the postsecondary effectiveness rate, which is a measurement towards high school graduation rate and student success.
Below is the full transcript of Watson’s statement that flagged controversy:
“It’s always fascinating, I had some cousins from California, they were petrified of tornadoes,” Watson said. “They’d come visit us, you know, in the summer. They’re like, ‘Are we going to get killed by a tornado?’ I’d say ‘Don’t worry about that, but you got to worry about the Indians raiding the town at any time.’ And they really thought that.”
The commissioner also made a remark about Canadians leading up to the story about tornadoes.
“You guys know, what do you do when there is a tornado in Kansas? Not if you’re born in Massachusetts, okay, or you’re a Canadian. ‘Eh? Eh? Ya hoser,'” Watson said. “You’re not a Canadian, you’re a Kansan.”
After the story about tornadoes, Watson then moved on to discuss hurricanes and how people near the coast prepare for days as the storms eventually hit land. The commissioner came to his point by saying in the past couple years, workers in education are “living in both.”
“Like every day, this tornado. ‘Who’s going to be in school? Who’s not in school? Who has COVID? Who doesn’t have COVID?'” Watson said. “And then the hurricane part, it just goes on, and on, and on, and on, right? It’s this combination of storms that we’ve all been living through, and we’ve all been trying to make some sense of. So everyone wants to talk about the effects of the pandemic, guess what? We’re still living through it.”
Watson used this as a lead-in to a presentation about statistics on the effects of the pandemic on student success.
The comment regarding “Indians” drew Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s attention Thursday.
“There is no question that Randy Watson must resign his position immediately, given his comments last week,” Kelly said. “However, the Board of Education must also focus on ways to address these issues going forward. Let’s build on this moment to celebrate diversity and ensure that all Kansas school children are treated with dignity and respect.”
Native American lawmakers, including Rep. Christina Haswood, also weighed in.
“Our Indigenous students simply deserve better,” 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.”
Chairman Joseph Rupnick of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation also sent out a response Thursday to Watson’s remarks, which he labeled as “dangerous and inflammatory.”
“As an education leader in the state of Kansas, Commissioner Watson is responsible for guiding our future generation forward, but that cannot happen when he’s ignorant to the diverse history of our youth,” Rupnick said. “Many Native American communities are still recovering from the injustices that occurred on our land two centuries ago and haunt us today. Commissioner Watson revealed himself as someone who is not suited for a leadership role and because of that he should resign immediately.”
A social media post previously reported Watson’s comments, but inaccurately claimed that he said “You have a higher chance of coming to Kansas and getting killed by an Indian,” in response to his cousins’ fears about tornadoes.