Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Much Ado About Something . . .

     The Chamberlain School Board is tenaciously committed to doing the wrong thing by refusing to allow a Lakota Indian honor song to be performed at its high school graduation exercises.  On a 4 to 2 vote, rejecting a  request to perform a traditional musical number in Lakota to honor the school district's Indian students, many of whom are residents of the nearby St. Joseph's Indian School and who make up about a third of the district's enrollment,  is a bad move on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start.  I guess a place as good as any for my business-minded take on the world is the consideration that each of these students is responsible for bringing thousands of dollars a year into their district, which would be a fraction of its size but for the Indian students.  That accounts for a serious economic presence that should automatically give those kids and their families some say about getting recognized come graduation day. 
     Perhaps a less materialistically crass consideration is the divisive effect that this must be having on the Chamberlain community itself.  In fairness to the school board it should be noted that the district does much in the way of recognizing its Indian students in the way of activities and learning opportunities, and that a special feathering ceremony takes place the night before graduation--but none of these quite matches the signal moment of a graduation exercise with all its pomp and ceremony--virtually all of it derived from European traditions and their Anglicized variations.  Adding a touch of the Indian sense of ceremony and recognition  to a graduation whose Indian participants form such a large number of the honorees only makes sense and gives a nod to the fact that times change, and along with the change come changes in traditions and ceremonies.  Refusing to accept changes and adapt to them can only create conflicts between those who revere  the past and those who are creating the present. 
     On a broader scale, there's also the consideration of how this plays out in the very tough and demanding world of public relations.  I can just see how this will play out and reflect on South Dakota if and when the national media get their mitts on it.  It's hard for me to see a story that has any sympathy at all for the school board's position.  It's easy for me to see plenty of stories that have nothing but derision.  I urge the Chamberlain school board to reconsider this decision and let these outstanding young Indian scholars have their moment in the sun come graduation day.

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