Complaint grounds school's 'Peter Pan'

March 08, 1994|By New York Times News Service

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Peter Pan, the fairy tale character who flies through the sky and battles with pirates, has been grounded by a new foe: the 1990s debate over multiculturalism.

A middle school in Southampton canceled last month its production of "Peter Pan," scheduled to open last weekend, because administrators found that its portrayal of Indians was offensive to members of the Shinnecock tribe, whose reservation is on the town's border and whose children make up about 9 percent of the district's student body.

Particularly upsetting, school officials said, was the song "Ugg-a-Wugg," which has the Indians speaking of "the brave noble redskin" and singing lines of childish doggerel, like "Ibbity Bibity Bibity Bibity Sab!"

"We wouldn't do 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' in a school," said Sherry Blakey-Smith, a Cree-Ojibwa Indian who directs the Southampton School District's federally financed Indian Education Program. "For Native Americans, Peter Pan's scene with the Indians is very much like that. We don't have picaninny warriors."

But the decision has stunned many in Southampton and outside the community for whom Peter Pan is a childhood classic. It also has sparked heated debate in Southampton and left some children saddened that a play they rehearsed for weeks is going to Never-Never Land.

"I just want to say it's really stupid," said Kelly Major, a sixth-grader. "Everybody picks at what everybody else is doing -- soon we're not going to be able to do anything."

School principal John O'Mahoney said people knew about the play for months without complaining before he showed it to tribal representatives, and that four Shinnecock students were in it, two playing Indians.

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