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Catholic Diocese Apologizes After 7th Grader Punished for Speaking Native American Language in School

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Seventh-grader Miranda Washinawatok was punished after speaking several phrases in her family's Native American language to her friends during class.

The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wis. has apologized to a seventh-grade student who was punished by a local Catholic school after telling her friends "I love you" in the language of her family's Native American tribe, but the girl's mother still wants her teacher fired.

Miranda Washinawatok, a student at Sacred Heart Catholic School, said she was reprimanded by her teacher, Julie Gurta, and later suspended from a basketball game for saying Menominee phrases meaning "Hello," "I love you" and "thank you" to two of her friends in class Jan. 19.

"She sort of threw her hands down on her desk and said don't be talking like that. How would you like it if I started talking Polish?" Miranda told Green Bay NBC affiliate WBGA-TV of Gurta's reaction.

Miranda's mother, Tanaes Washinawatok, was outraged at the teacher's response, and has spent the last month meeting with school and diocese officials, the Associated Press reported. She said it's a delicate issue because tribe members used to get beaten for speaking in their native tongue in school -- a reason they're losing the language.

In a Feb. 22 letter to Tanaes Washinawatok, Gurta said she was not trying to single out Miranda or the Menominee language, but that Miranda had acted disrespectfully several times that day and on other occasions.

"Unfortunately, the actions of your daughter were not brought to your attention as quickly as they should have been, and for this I apologize," Gurta wrote.

But Washinawatok, who described Gurta as being insensitive and having an "arrogant, narrow-minded way of teaching," according to the AP, said she plans to ask the diocese to fire her.

"I don't want this to happen to another family or another student," Washinawatok said.

Joseph Bound, director of education for the diocese, said in a Feb. 22 letter to the Washinawatok family that the events that happened were never meant to be insensitive to the Menominee tribe but acknowledged a need for staff cultural sensitivity training.

“We ask for your forgiveness for our actions that have inflicted heartache, pain and anger to all those who have felt these emotions over the past several weeks,” Bound wrote, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. “It is our hope that with this greater awareness, we can begin to repair any harm that has been caused and to be able to build new and improved relationships.”

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