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Fargo Public Schools taking action after family claims racist novel is read in class

A Fargo middle school has promised to make a fast change after a mom called one of their lessons racist toward Native Americans.

FARGO — As part of the eighth grade language arts curriculum in Fargo Public Schools, students read Agatha Christie's novel "And Then There Were None."

There are multiple versions of the book, which has changed over the years because of a poem that has racist overtones.

The late author's estate made one of the changes.

Rainenaya Richards was appalled when her class at Ben Franklin Middle School started reading the book, which includes the killing of Native Americans.

"I imagine innocent Native American people being killed by other people for basically no reason at all," Richards said.

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Her mom met with the school principal Tuesday, Nov. 30, and asked if students could put down the book.

"This word for us is derogatory," said Richards' mother, Jennifer Bellew. "We're not Indians — we're Native Americans."

In the early 2000s, the author's estate did change the phrase in the poem from "Indians" to "soldiers". A Fargo Public Schools spokeswoman said that version is used at the other two middle schools in the district.

"This poem actually was written for dehumanizing of Native American people," Bellew said. "They wanted people to get used to the fact that Indians are dying, basically."

A spokeswoman for the district said the principal at Ben Franklin Middle is actively working to get the newer versions of the book for students.

In the meantime, Richards' teacher has provided her a computer print-out of the revised version for her to read while her classmates read the older one.

"I don't like that I'm the only one that has it, because there are other Native Americans that I know in my school that are basically forced to be reading this version of the book," Richards said.

The family is taking the lesson from the classroom out into the community, especially since November is Native American Heritage Month .

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"I encourage them to come and talk to me, because I would love to educate them on all of this and let them know this is real pain," Bellew said. "It's real."

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