Hmm... did Annette Bosworth get a job writing fundraising letters for St. Joseph Indian School?

Dr. Bosworth is now marketing example #1 that Base Connect uses to tout its political fundraising potential. On a webpage titled "Nuts & Bolts" (you had her at "Nuts," boys), the Washington D.C. direct-mail firm cites Bosworth as an example of how they can raise millions of dollars on an entirely fake candidate.

Now CNN finds that St. Joseph's in Chamberlain is raking in cash with stories of abused Indian children who don't exist:

According to its financial statements, St. Joseph's Indian School raised more than $51 million last year from millions of Americans who donated because of those mailings.

CNN began receiving complaints about mailings like this more than two years ago. When asked about Josh Little Bear's letter, Kory Christianson, the director of development, wrote us that there was no such student.

"The name 'Josh Little Bear' is fictitious," he wrote, "but unfortunately, his story is not" [David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin, "U.S. Indian School's Fundraising Letters Sent to Millions Signed by Fictitious Kids," CNN.com, 2014.11.17].

CNN sees no sign that St. Joseph's is misusing the millions it makes on what one critic calls "poverty porn." However, making up stories to convince people to give money is something we expect of Annette Bosworth and Mike Rounds, not folks trying to do real good for South Dakotans.

CNN almost got the school's president to discuss the proper boundaries of truth in marketing, but his marketing director cut off the conversation:

We tried unsuccessfully to interview the leadership of St. Joseph's. The communications director, Jona Ohm, first invited us to meet the school president at the small museum operated by the school.

The president, Mike Tyrell, acknowledged that the mailings "push the edge" of marketing and asking about them "is a legitimate question." But Ohm told us to stop.

"You don't have permission to record in any way, shape or form," she said [Fitzpatrick and Griffin, 2014.11.17].

I have no doubt that St. Jospeh's Indian School is doing good work that merits its donors' support. I also have no doubt they can earn that support with simple fact, not fiction.

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Last March, the Chamberlain School Board received a letter from the King (as in Martin Luther King. Jr.) Center for Nonviolent Social Change asking the board to recognize the ongoing request of many of its constituents to include a Lakota honor song in its high school graduation ceremony. Long-time Chamberlain resident and Indian rights advocate James Cadwell asked the Board for an opportunity to discuss that letter publicly at its April meeting. Chamberlain superintendent Deb Johnson responded thus:

Jim,

You will be placed on the April 14 school board agenda under the 'delegation' portion to address the topic: Resolution Recognizing District-Wide Cultural Competence (7/12/10). You will be granted five minutes to present comments to the board. Please note that the honor song will not be addressed or discussed... [Supt. Deb Johnson, e-mail to James Cadwell, Chamberlain School District, 2014.04.10].

Ah, the administrative passive voice, a sure sign someone is saying something unpleasant that she doesn't want to own.

The Mitchell Daily Republic called the banning of discussion of the honor song unconstitutional. James Cadwell calls the speech ban a violation of his civil rights, and in July, he submitted a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights:

6. Describe the discrimination: On what basis were you discriminated against?

Race; retaliation—I received a letter from superintendent Debra Johnson of the Chamberlain public schools that I would not be allowed to participate in the Chamberlain school board's meeting because I wanted to talk about the Native American honor song and the letter of support that was sent for the honor song from the Martin Luther King center in Atlanta, Georgia. I was also told by the school board president Rebecca Reimer that the honor song issue is a dead issue and we will not be talking about it anymore.

...8. What would you like the institution to do as a result of your complaint?

Follow their own bylaws and allow everyone to speak openly about their concerns with school policy. Resend the motion and change the bylaws back to allowing a subject to be discussed more than one time. This came about at the exact time the denial was given for further discussion of the honor song. And remove the change in length of time that was additionally imposed as a result of the request to further discuss the honor song. There currently are no Native American people serving on the school board, The time allowed for input was 10 minutes and has now been reduced to 5 minutes unless approved by the school board, as no Native American peers serve on the board this has never happened. I have seen many non-native people exceed the 5 minute rule without consequences being imposed. I however have been held to the 5 minute rule with a stop watch. Nearly 40% of the students in this school are Native American [James Cadwell, text submitted in support of civil rights complaint to U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, July 2014].

This complaint has bite because it speaks the one language that every school board understands—money:

OCR is responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. §2000d, and its implementing regulation, 34 C.F.R. Part 100. Title VI prohibits recipients of Federal financial assistance from the Department from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

As a recipient of Federal financial assistance from the Department, the District is subject to Title VI [Joshua Douglass, supervisory attorney, Office of Civil Rights, letter to James Cadwell, 2014.09.03].

The Chamberlain school district receives hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in Federal Impact Aid as compensation for the large number of American Indian students from families living on federal, non-tax-generating property. According to the board's June 23 minutes, as of May 31, the district had a balance of $2.66 million in its Impact Aid account.

If the OCR finds Chamberlain is violating civil rights by stifling discussion of the Lakota honor song, it can order the board to remedy the situation or lose that valuable federal funding.The OCR acts on the authority of Title VI and federal dollars. A ruling on this one point would say to Chamberlain that it has been acting in ways that could cause it to lose a big chunk of federal dollars. Thanks to the cowardly misers we send to Pierre, Chamberlain and other school districts can't afford to lose a penny. If the OCR rules in favor of Cadwell on his complaint, it will hang a sword of Dollarcles over the Chamberlain school board's heads... a sword sharpened by Republicans themselves.

The Chamberlain school board could render this complaint and this threat to its federal funding moot with six simple words: "Mr. Cadwell, the floor is yours." They could let him speak at length about the King letter, the honor song, and civil rights. They wouldn't even have to respond, just listen. Listening isn't that hard... unless it's an invitation to a conversation that you don't want to have.

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The Chamberlain School Board won't even talk about allowing the Lakota members of its student body and community present a Lakota/Dakota honor song at its high school graduation ceremonies.

Fine. Let's take it outside. Chamberlain alumnus, now doctoral student Nick Estes posts this video of the Lakota/Dakota honor song presented to graduates as they left the official Euro-ceremony at Chamberlain High School on Saturday, May 17, 2014.

We marginalize our Lakota and Dakota neighbors, yet they still come, as close as their oppressors will allow, and raise their voices in song for all the children, ours and theirs, in the strange red robes. We can learn much about honor from this gesture.

And not to facilitate the racist resistance, but we may make an argument that the honor song sounds better outside, where it may rise unbound to the sky.

p.s.: In a March 2013 essay, Estes contends that our state does not deserve the name Dakota. He thus refers to his education at the University of South X and his home as Chamberlain, SX.

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The Chamberlain School Board finds discussion of its refusal to include a Native honor song in its graduation ceremony that in April it banned the subject from further discussion at its meetings, and maybe forever. The Chamberlain School Board has also tightened the rules for members of the public to place their issues on the official agenda, requiring longer notice ahead of time.

The Mitchell Daily Republic sees this increased oppression as unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional:

The latest moves to squelch public debate are particularly unsavory. The First Amendment to our national Constitution includes the right of Americans to petition their government for a redress of grievances. That right doesn't only cover the circulation of printed petitions. It's a right that's been broadly interpreted as applicable to all levels of government and covering activities such as communicating with elected officials and organized lobbying. "In modern America," says the First Amendment Center, "petitioning embraces a range of expressive activities designed to influence public officials through legal, nonviolent means."

We're not constitutional scholars and can't say whether anyone's rights are being violated in Chamberlain. It seems clear to us, though, that at least the spirit of the First Amendment is under attack when local government leaders go out of their way to shut down public discourse on a matter of public concern [editorial board, "Hardened Views Against Honor Song Violate Spirit of 1st Amendment," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.05.08].

Shutting out public input on a specific topic violates basic tenets of representative democracy. Suppose members of the community waged a successful public relations campaign. Suppose Chamberlain folk were swayed by the letter from The King Center, a letter the board ignored, and they wanted to come en masse the the school board to ask for a change in policy to acknowledge the sizable Native American population among their graduates and families. The board has made it impossible for citizens to be heard, now or perhaps ever.

Against such intransigence, the only remedy appears to be the ballot box. Chamberlainers, vote the bums out.

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Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., has put the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change's name on the line, writing the Chamberlain School Board a letter asking them to honor American Indian students' request to include a Lakota honor song in their high school graduation ceremony.

The Chamberlain School Board appears disinclined to listen. Last week Chamberlain superintendent declined comment on the letter. Chamberlain resident James Cadwell tells me that last night, the board refused to allow him and Lynn Hart from Flandreau to place the letter on the agenda.

I want to believe that civil discourse can solve most of our problems. But when public officials won't listen, when they block further discussion, it's time to stop talking and start voting. Chamberlain residents, if you want an honor song at graduation, it's time to get your friends together, take every one of them to the polls, and make sure you are the deciding majority at the next election, and the next, and the next. Vote out the people who won't listen, vote in the people who will.

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The Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change has written a letter urging the Chamberlain School Board to allow American Indian students to sing their honor song as part of the Chamberlain High School graduation ceremony. Here's that letter in full:

Bernice A. King, King Center, letter to Chamberlain SD School Board, 2014.03.26

Bernice A. King, King Center, letter to Chamberlain SD School Board, 2014.03.26

These songs convey positive messages of value to students of all cultures. When they are sung in the Native language, they affirm shared pride in the wonderful Native American heritage of South Dakota and other states in the region. It would allow non-Native students to express their respect and goodwill toward native students, just as Native students have frequently joined in singing songs originating in cultures different from their own. When all students join together to sing songs of different cultures, it promotes an appreciateion of diversity, which is a very good thing to celebrate anywhere. As my father, Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his "I Have a Dream" speech, "With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood" [Bernice A. King, Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Ninviolent Social Change, letter to Chamberlain School Board, 2014.03.26].

Will the Chamberlain School Board respond to this call for a more perfect symphony representing all of its students? Or will more national attention like King's letter trigger the South Dakota bunker mentality and provoke board members to kick back all the harder and portray themselves as defenders of some South Dakota faith against the ingressions of outside agitators?

Chamberlain graduation is May 18, just seven weeks away.

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Jessica Giard reports that Florida-based Youth Services International is closing the Chamberlain Academy, a youth detention and treatment facility in Chamberlain. This private facility, licensed by the state Department of Social Services, has housed an average of 22 juveniles over the past year (its capacity is 40) and supported 37 jobs in Chamberlain.

YSI is closing a similar facility in Elmore, Minnesota. Three years ago, YSI closed its youth detention facility in Springfield, South Dakota.

YSI has a history of bad news related to its for-profit youth detention facilities. In 2000, YSI gave cash settlements to get five of six juvenile plaintiffs to drop their lawsuits over sexual abuse by insufficiently vetted and supervised Chamberlain Academy employee James Johnson. YSI initially tried to get out of the lawsuits by claiming immunity under the South Dakota law protecting public correctional facilities from prosecution, but Judge Lawrence Piersol nixed that ploy.

A child under YSI's care at its Forest Ridge facility in Estherville, Iowa, died after being denied adequate medical care for ten days, as staff seemed more concerned that the inmate was faking illness. An Oklahoma attorney visited YSI's Forest Ridge in November 1995 and found "excessive restraining of youths, group punishment for individual acts, unwritten rules, inadequate access for youths to the courts, and a poor policy for youths to air grievances." (Forest Ridge is now owned an operated by an apparently local non-profit organization.)

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action lawsuit against YSI in October, 2010, for alleged abuses of youth at YSI's Florida facilities. YSI arranged a sealed settlement. YSI continues to run a number of juvenile detention facilities in Florida and to skirt rules while profiting significantly from that state's privatization of juvenile corrections:

Florida’s permissive oversight has allowed Youth Services International to essentially game the system since entering the state more than a decade ago. Despite contractual requirements that the company report serious incidents at its facilities, YSI routinely fails to document problems, sanitizes those reports it does submit and pressures inmates to withhold evidence of mistreatment, according to interviews with 14 former YSI employees.

“The state is not doing enough,” said Wanda Williams, a former staffer at YSI’s Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, who quit in 2010 after growing disgusted with the violence and squalid conditions she saw inside the prison. “Because if they were, that place should have been shut down by now” [Chris Kirkham, "Prisoners of Profit: Florida's Lax Oversight Enables Systemic Abuse at Private Youth Prisons," Huffington Post, 2013.10.23].

Last year, a federal report found almost one in three inmates at YSI's Paulding Youth Detention Center in Dallas, Georgia, reporting sexual abuse. In October, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice closed the Paulding facility. State officials say that closing was about declining juvenile detainee numbers, not sexual abuse problems. Georgia has maintained contracts with YSI to run two other youth detention centers.

In 2012-2013, the South Dakota Department of Social Services contracted with Youth Services International to provide services for juveniles placed through Corrections, Child Protection, and Tribal Court at the Chamberlain Academy at a rate of $142.94 per child per day. Given YSI's track record and the unseemliness of for-profit prisons, perhaps South Dakota can find a better use for that money now that YSI is leaving the state.

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As a footnote to Toby's post on Chamberlain's persistent apartheid, consider this segment of the river city's cultural DNA, a 1954 letter from Mayor Herschel V. Melcher to Washington officials explaining local opposition to a proposal to move the Indian Office from Fort Thompson to Chamberlain:

...we have no intention of making an Indian Comfortable around here, especially an official. We have a few dollar diplomats that have been making a lot of noise and trying to get everyone that possibly could to write you people in Washington that they wanted the Indian here, but the fact is that 90% of the people are strongly opposed to it and will get much more so, if this thing comes in. Anybody who rents them any property will have to change his address and I would not want the insurance on this building. We do not feel that this town should be ruined by a mess like this and we do not intend to take it laying down irregardless of what some officials in Washington may think [Mayor Herschel V. Melcher, letter, Chamberlain, South Dakota, 1954.04.14; reprinted in Christina Rose, "Is Racism Behind Banning of Honor Song from Graduation Ceremonies?" Indian Country Today, 2013.12.12].

Along with this implicit threat against believers in equality, Mayor Herschel included a resolution approved by his city commissioners and the Brule County Commission. It says:

...the people of the City of Chamberlain, SD are opposed to the city being made an Indian town and are opposed to having Indians in our schools or living in the unsanitary conditions about the city... [Herschel, 1954].

The resolution also protests the "drunks and petty larceny" that would accompany an bringing the Indian office to town.

I suspect we could dig through the archives of every town in South Dakota and find ugly examples of anti-Indian sentiment that our great-grandparents found utterly uncontroversial and vocalizable. Yet Winner, Lyman County, Pierre, and Rapid City have overcome such sentiments in their cultural DNA and now include Native honor songs in their high school commencement exercises. Chamberlain, alas, has not.

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