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Chamberlain School Board Denies Singing of a Lakota/Dakota Honor Song

[node:summary]An opinion piece about the Chamberlain School District preventing a Lakota/Dakota honor song from being sung at graduation.

Mitakuyapi, Cante waste napeciyuzapi.

I am a parent of children who attend school in the Chamberlain School District in Chamberlain, South Dakota, and I am also one of the individuals who is involved in a movement against the decision that the Chamberlain School Board has made to deny that a Lakota/Dakota honor song be sung at the high school graduation service.

I did attend the meeting in which the final determination was made. I knew that the school board would most likely say no but there was a little bit of hope in my heart that they would make the decent decision. In a town where race relations have been tense for many, many years, I was hoping as a parent that these elected officials would support the struggle for equality and, most important, reconciliation. However, they just intensified the underlining feelings that a lot of us have had towards each other. Like many Native Americans who grow up here in South Dakota, I grew up with mistrust towards white people; it’s a reality that my grandmothers prepared me for.

My husband and I made the choice to send all eight of our children to Chamberlain, but a few years ago there was an incident in which some non-Native students wore "White Pride Worldwide" shirts to school and we pulled our four older daughters out of the middle school and high school. Our four younger children attend Chamberlain Elementary School. I send my children to Chamberlain because I want them to grow up appreciating the differences in people, that you may not look the same or have as much money, but you can still get along, to have compassion towards people even though you are different. But to me when the Chamberlain School Board made their decision, it was like they were unaccepting of my children, my children’s culture, and my children’s language.

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Chamberlain is a border town and like all border towns in South Dakota, the race relations are not the best. I think that with some of the statements made at the school board meeting, they reflected the true colors of how this little town perceives us Native Americans. Furthermore, without us Native Americans, would this town “survive”? We bring hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars of economic stimulus to this town. We have two reservations that utilize the banks, the small business, the restaurants, and millions of dollars of Federal Impact Aid money that goes to the Chamberlain School District because of the Native American students. Yet they cannot give three to five minutes of time so that we may honor all the graduates at such a celebrated event in their lives?

In my opinion, it’s the action of letting the Honor Song take place that's important; that Chamberlain society will have to accept us Native Americans as equals and from a town where it was once legal to shoot a group of three or more “Indians," they may not be ready to move forward.

Tally Monteau-Colombe is a Culture/ Language Teacher at Crow Creek Tribal Schools in South Dakota. Previously, she taught at Lower Brule Day School.