MISSION,S.D. - Three Todd County High School seniors are on fire about a posting on an Internet bulletin board by a school district employee.
Luke Lunderman, Michelle Yellow Eagle and Joleva Carlow say they will not stop until the message sender loses her job. "I thought we left this kind of thinking back in the 1800s," said Lunderman.
The message was sent by Todd County School District secretary Penny Herman and was placed on a KELO-LAND Forums page at 9:09 a.m. on March 15. Though sent during business hours on school district equipment, the controversy centers around the content of the posting.
Picked off the Internet by an unknown employee in the Rosebud tribal offices on March 16, copies spread like a brushfire across the reservation. In part, Herman's message read: "If the Indians were allowed to form their own government in Pennington County and live their own way, that nation would look just like this reservation does. Broken down cars, trash and no respect for the land and other people's property."
Herman's posting was written in response to a news story aired by the station about a Rapid City Indian group requesting money from the Pennington County Commission (see sidebar for copy of posting).
On June 14, the district school board voted three to two to extend an earlier suspension of Herman by school district superintendent Dr. Richard Bordeaux. The board's action added seven working days to Herman's suspension without pay, and includes mandated racial sensitivity counseling through the district's employee assistance program.
Made aware of the Internet posting on March 17, Bordeaux had suspended Herman for three days without pay in late March, and required her to write a formal apology.
"To the Lakota people: I am writing this letter to the Lakota people regarding a letter that was written by me to KELOLAND TV (sic).
I take full responsibility for writing the letter. It was not my intent in the letter to offend any person or race of people.
To those who were offended, I sincerely apologize.
The letter appeared in the local Todd County Tribune but did little to appease Indian anger.
School board member William Long, who voted for the additional action, said, "I think it's gotten as bad as it can get. You have people who have been friends for years that don't talk to each other now. Our board is now being labeled as three Indians against three whites. But it's not that simple," said Long.
Yellow Eagle, Carlow and Lunderman met with Bordeaux in late March and have since appeared at Herman's hearing and two school board meetings to push the issue. "It makes me very angry that someone who works with Indian kids, and who should be a role model for us, is so negative about us," said Carlow. Carlow testified for a half hour at the June 14 hearing.
After learning the June 14 decision, the students said they will continue to seek Herman's termination by appealing to the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court. "This kind of hatred will no longer be tolerated by our people, especially from someone who is supposed to be working for us," said Yellow Eagle.
The vote broke on racial lines, with three of the Indian members voting for the extended suspension, and two non-Indian members voting against. Todd County School District is located entirely within the Rosebud Reservation and has a student population that is 93 percent Native American.
Superintendent Bordeaux did not return calls to his office. Reached at their home, Penny Herman's husband, Mission Mayor Jack Herman, said their only response would be, "No comment."