A pep-rally skit became the subject of a heated debate over racist attitudes at a Cloquet School Board meeting Monday.

At issue was a skit depicting a student dressed as a DeLaSalle Islander (the opposing football team’s mascot in Friday’s Class AAAA state quarterfinal game). The Islander was dressed in a paper crown and wore war paint on his face. In the skit, he attacked Cloquet Coach Tom Lenarz with a swimming pool noodle before being overcome by the Cloquet High School Lumberjacks mascot and dragged out of the gymnasium.

Several residents identifying themselves or their children as Native American questioned members of the School Board and Cloquet administration staff about the skit.

“I got a memo from (Superintendent) Ken Scarbrough today that talked about school spirit today. There were some spirits hurt Friday - our native students,” said Veronica Smith, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “How could that happen? There’s supposed to be an adviser working with the students.”

Cloquet High School Principal Warren Peterson responded, saying that the skit was not intended to be offensive and that the Islander mascot was not depicted as a Native American, although he understood how it might have looked that way.

Scarbrough noted that whether the supposed mascot was intended to be Native American or a Hawaiian native, people “need to understand that depiction is being insensitive to a culture.”

Both Peterson and Scarbrough talked repeatedly about making sure that communication about the incident was open and used as a learning tool.

Ricky Defoe also addressed the board, stating that the implication of the skit was that it’s “OK to be violent to indigenous people.”

He asked for accountability.

“Whoever was supposed to advise these students should be forced to resign,” he said, also talking about racism he experienced at Cloquet High School as a student in the 1960s and ’70s. “And those students should be held accountable.

“If you allow that behavior, you’re undermining the graduation rate of our students,” he added, after talking about the achievement gap in Minnesota between white students and students of color.

Board Chairperson Hawk Huard wanted to know if it was an isolated incident.

“I believe it is a symptom of an overall climate in the school district,” responded Elizabeth “Lyz” Jaakola, a musician and educator, and a member of the Fond du Lac band.

“More work needs to be done in this community,” Jaakola said, noting that one of her two sons attends school in Cloquet and she is hopeful about that son’s experience. While there was no action taken after a more than 35-minute discussion, Smith asked the district to examine its policies and consider changing them, while Defoe asked if the group could come back with recommendations to the board.

Scarbrough said the board and district appreciate input, whether it’s at a board meeting, through the Indian Education Committee or another avenue.

“I can’t count the number of times that we’ve had staff (in-service meetings) and talked to our kids about improving cultural relations,” he said, noting that he feels the district is blessed to be multicultural. “This shows we still need more improvement.”