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OPINION: Honor song dispute reveals race divide in Chamberlain

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OPINION: Honor song dispute reveals race divide in Chamberlain
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Mitakuyapi, Cante waste Napeciyuzapi ye. (My relatives, I shake your hand with a good heart.)

I am a parent of children who attend the Chamberlain School District 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.

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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 it would make the decent decision.

In a town where race relations have been tense for many, many years, as a parent, I was hoping these elected officials would support the struggle for equality and reconciliation.

However, they just intensified the underlying feelings that a lot of us have had toward each other. Like many Native Americans who grow up here in South Dakota, I grew up with mistrust toward 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, until 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.

I want them to have compassion toward people, even those who are different. But to me when the Chamberlain School Board made its decision, it was like it was unaccepting of my children, my children's culture and my children's language.

Chamberlain is a border town, and like all border towns in South Dakota, the race relations are not the best.

I think some of the statements made at the school board meeting 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 businesses, 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 take 3-5 minutes of time so we may honor all the graduates at such a celebrated event in their lives?

In my opinion, it's because if the honor song would have been allowed, Chamberlain society would have to accept us Native Americans as equals.

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.

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