Chamberlain correspondent and Indian rights activist James Cadwell sends distressing news about his local school district's intolerance of its Indian constituents' cultural practices. Cadwell reports that, after three years of requests, the Chamberlain school district continues to forbid the inclusion of a Native American honor song in its 2013 high school commencement exercise. Cadwell says the board cites religious reasons, even though the honor song is not a religious expression, and even though the district opens its commencement exercises with a prayer.
Worse, the Chamberlain board appears to be increasing restrictions on expressions of any cultural identity other than majority White. American Indian students often wear feathers on their caps and star quilts on their shoulders. Some parents tell Cadwell that they are hearing from the school that such expressions of Indian identity may be quashed at this year's commencement exercise as "interruptions" that may result in disciplinary action.
If Cadwell's sources are correct, Chamberlain's actions suggest a manifestation of White Tea Party fear. The country changes. Our neighbors look less and less like ourselves. When America stops looking the way we have envisioned it since our youth, we get antsy. In our desire to keep America the same, we react in negative ways that will make it harder to deal with the inevitable change.
Cadwell's full press release follows:
Chamberlain School Board and Administration again refuses to allow a Lakota/Dakota honor song to be sung for all of the graduating seniors.
Not unlike other ceremonies and songs sung during the event, the honor song is to acknowledge the accomplishments the entire senior class. This is the third year in a row that the school system has rejected this effort to bring the communities of Fort Thompson and Lower Brule together to add additional celebratory efforts to the occasion.
Over the years the school board has stated that they do not allow religion to be part of the ceremony. They are obviously confusing the honor song with a religious ceremony. The honor song is exactly that, a song that acknowledges the efforts of all the students graduating and encourages them to continue their education. Yet the school system has opened the ceremony with a prayer for years. In addition, school concerts have included religious songs as part of the program.
They have said that they do not alter the graduation ceremony but have allowed for exception every year by acknowledging different entities or people for their accomplishments. Most recently they said they needed to see the song in english before they could allow it to be sung, but have since reneged on that commitment of what appeared to be an effort to include the honor song as part of the graduation ceremony.
Nearly 40% of the students that attend Chamberlain Schools are identified as American Indian. In some class rooms the American Indian population is over 50%, yet it would appear that school administration struggles with efforts to acknowledge the cultural diversity in the school district.
Every year Chamberlain receives hundreds of thousands of impact aide dollars from the federal government for every American Indian student enrolled in the school system.
The most recent policy issued by the school system has been interpreted by American Indian parent as being further restrictive. The parents as part of their tradition have placed eagle feathers on their students caps in recognition of the students efforts. In addition star quilts that are now used to replace the buffalo robe are placed over the students shoulders also in recognition for the accomplishment. Parents are being told if these types of efforts are done, the party responsible for the effort and or the student will be removed from the graduation exercise. The parents are also told disciplinary action could be taken toward the student.
In light of the most recent statistics of the graduation rate for American Indian students going from a very low rate of 64% to and even lower rate of 43% nationally it would appear more effort should be made to incorporate American Indian traditions into the school system to help these Native American students with their cultural needs. With the recent adoption of the Oceti Sakowin (Council of Seven Fires) standards on July 25, 2011, it is apparent that the South Dakota Department of Education sees the value in cultural understanding. Schools are to begin implementation of these standards by the fall of 2013. These standards have been in place for nearly two years across the state. Yet few schools are preparing for these changes that could be a contributing factor in improved race relations better test scores for American Indian student and most of all an increased graduation rate [James Cadwell, press release, 2013.04.20].