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Tribal honor song issue arises again in Chamberlain

CHAMBERLAIN (AP) — School officials in the southeastern South Dakota city of Chamberlain are set to decide next month whether to include an American Indian honor song at future graduation ceremonies.

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The controversy first arose last spring, when the school board rejected a request for a Lakota honor song. 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.

The issue arose again at a contentious board meeting this week, and the board scheduled a Dec. 9 vote to resolve the issue, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

More than one-third of the Chamberlain School District's 900 students are American Indian.

Superintendent Debra Johnson said “compromise is the word,” and that the discussion ahead will include the possibility of finding a song that would honor all students, perhaps one that isn't yet written.

Board member Marcel Felicia, a member of the Lower Brule tribe who was elected last spring and took his seat on the board in July, said the issue concerns an honor song already written and sung in ceremonies for at least four South Dakota schools to honor all races.

“It's a Lakota song,” he said. “I could sing an Italian song about all your great accomplishments, and is it just for Italians?”