Last updated on 2013.12.11
Following the bad precedent it set just before members of the Class of 2013 collected their diplomas, the Chamberlain School District has confirmed its misguided and marginalizing decision to keep a Lakota honor song out of its commencement ceremony for the Class of 2014—and, the School Board President implies, any future commencement ceremony.
The four veteran Chamberlain School Board members (Rebecca Reimer, Leanne Larson, Jay Blum, and Dallas Thompson) voted against including the honor song. None of the board's three newcomers opposed the song, with Foster Iverson and Marcel Felicia voting in favor of including the song and Casey Hutmacher citing an unexplained "conflict of interest" to abstain.
Reimer, the School Board President, is upset about the controversy. She made her frustration clear in a post-vote commentary shared in the nearest daily newspaper, Mitchell's Daily Republic:
Reimer said the honor song discussion was not about the students, academics or even the song itself.
“It’s about control and power. It’s about control and power,” she said. “I’m extremely disappointed in a handful of people” [Jessica Giard, "Chamberlain School Board rejects Indian honor song again," The Daily Republic, 2013.12.09].
This controversy is indeed about control and power.
It's about using the power of elected office to control who is and isn't allowed to speak. (For the record, the "isn't" category last week included Marcel Felicia, the board's only Native American member. This week, some audience members questioned the lack of student speakers on the board's agenda.)
It's about using the power of a colonizing history and a numerical majority to control the parameters of any so-called compromise.
It's about using the power of perceived authority to control the perceptions of your opponents, minimizing them as just a "handful of people" or demonizing them as being full of issues from a substandard home life.
It's about using the power of entrenched institutional racism to control the entire framework of the conversation. It's about flaunting that controlling power by characterizing majority-defined token efforts as benevolent gifts to the marginalized ...
“Our district has gone to great lengths to build relationships with the Native American population of Chamberlain School District,” [Reimer] said. “In fact, we’ve done more for this particular group than any other group in the 11 years I’ve served on the board” [Giard, 2013.12.09].
by blaming opponents' criticism, not the initially marginalizing action, for being harmful ...
“Here we are again voting on a topic which is meant to honor all and bring people together. Instead it’s dividing a community,” [Reimer] said [Giard, 2013.12.09].
and by serving as the self-imposed arbiter of when the matter is settled ...
“This agenda item has been exhausted and after tonight it’s done,” [Reimer] said [Giard, 2013.12.09].
The Chamberlain School Board majority (with the vocal support of Superintendent Debra Johnson and tacit approval of Principal Allan Bertram) has inexplicably dug in its heels on this issue for the sole purpose of asserting and protecting its own power and control. This majority apparently believes its own all-important power and control are so tenuous as to be threatened by a single song.
Though it's a different handful than Board President Reimer's, I'm also extremely disappointed in a handful of people. The citizens of the Chamberlain School District, who elected the handful of people I'm thinking of, should be extremely disappointed in them, too.