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Honor song group promises continued efforts in Chamberlain

CHAMBERLAIN (AP) -- Supporters of having an American Indian honor song played during high school graduation ceremonies in Chamberlain say they will not give up their battle with the school board.

Members of the Crow Creek and Lower Brule tribes gathered outside the National Guard Armory in the southeastern South Dakota city on Sunday to protest and to play an honor song for the graduates as they filed out of the building following the graduation ceremony inside.

"I want them to be proud of their heritage, proud of their culture, and proud of their language," Tally Colombe, a part of the group, told KELO-TV.

The school board last week rejected a request by petitioners to have the honor song played as part of Sunday's commencement ceremony. Board members said a feathering ceremony the night before graduation honors tribal students and that the commencement exercise should be about recognizing academic achievements rather than cultural ties.

Drum circle singer Kevin Wright said the honor song played outside the armory on Sunday was for all of the graduates.

"All the graduates need to be honored and this is how we do it," he told KELO. "This is how we say we appreciate you and we want to thank you for all your accomplishments."

About one-third of the 900 students in the school district are Indian. Crow Creek Chairman Brandon Sazue has called for an economic boycott of the town to protest the school board's decision.

Student Christopher Rodriguez, who led the unsuccessful petition drive, said he plans to enroll at the University of South Dakota in the fall, but that he doesn't plan to stop pushing to have an honor song included at his high school's graduation. He has a younger sister at the school, and he hopes to hear an honor song at her graduation.

"I'm coming back," he told the Argus Leader.

Superintendent Debra Johnson remained in the armory until the last graduates and most of the audience had left. She told the Argus Leader that she thought the ceremony went well and that the honor song controversy didn't mar the day.

"People were here for the graduates," she said.