The Chamberlain Board of Education in South Dakota voted 6-1 to not allow a Native American Honor Song at its graduation ceremony May 19. The negative vote was cast even though, as The Daily Republic reported, most of the 40 attendees at the meeting raised their hands in favor of the change.
Steve Fox, the lone board member in favor of the honor song said it’s up to the board to vote for change.
“We vote for change all the time,” he said. “And that’s supposed to be our goal to change in good ways.”
Fox said other cultural activities have happened at graduation in previous years, like his son receiving a star quilt.
“I could think of so many reasons to do this for our kids,” he said. “Why not give three or five minutes to teach our kids to honor another culture?”
Other board members didn’t see it that way. Board member Casey Hutmacher thanked the students for getting involved and signing the petition to include the honor song but voted against adding it to the graduation ceremony.
“I can’t see how it honors everybody when it’s not in our language, and when I say our language, I mean English,” he said. “I look at the Pledge of Allegiance and it covers everything.”
According to the South Dakota Department of Education about one-third of the students in the Chamberlain School District are Native American.
The board president didn’t think the honor song was necessary since a feathering ceremony was already added prior to the graduation ceremony.
“Most schools with our demographics have either a feathering ceremony or an honor song,” Rebecca Reimer said. “Not both.”
The Daily Republic spoke to Chris Rodriguez, who is one of the students who started circulating the petition and will be graduating from Chamberlain High School this year.
“I will come back to the school board because my sister is coming to school here, too,” he said after the meeting. “I wasn’t just fighting for this year’s seniors. I was fighting for generations after that.”
The students aren’t the only ones who are upset. James Cadwell, a bilingual instructor at the Crow Creek Tribal Schools and parent of three children who have gone through the Chamberlain district, was also disappointed by the vote. He’s been fighting for the inclusion of the honor song for the past three years. (Related story: “Will South Dakota School District Allow Native Honor Song at Graduation?”)
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Cadwell said the honor song was again confused as being religious. He said in a statement in April that, “The honor song is exactly that, a song that acknowledges the efforts of all the students graduating and encourages them to continue their education.”
He said the May 13 vote was shocking to a number of students and staff and “several were seen crying as they left the room after the vote.”