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OUR VIEW: A missed chance at fairness in Chamberlain

The Chamberlain school board has decided that the school's graduation ceremony will not include a traditional American Indian honor song as part of the day's events.

That's a tough call, and one that obviously has generated plenty of interest in the Brule County town along the Missouri River.

Chamberlain isn't on an American Indian reservation, but Indians still comprise about one-third of the district's enrollment. Geographically, the district is bordered on its northern edges by reservation land.

The issue came to the school board after some students, including senior Chris Rodriguez, circulated a petition. Rodriguez told the school board that he isn't just trying to get an honor song for this year's graduation, but for years to come.

That's a noble fight, and we appreciate that Rodriguez and others are taking a stand. It's not easy for kids to get up before a panel of adults and seek change.

Should the board have decided differently? We think so.

Part of the board's rationale behind the decision was that a separate "feathering ceremony" honoring seniors of American Indian heritage is already scheduled Friday, ahead of Sunday's graduation.

We are glad the feathering ceremony will happen, but since it's not part of the actual graduation ceremony, we can understand why Indian students also requested the honor song. They don't want their culture relegated to a separate ceremony. They want it included as a proud part of the district's makeup.

The board also expressed concern that other students with varying heritages will seek special treatment at graduation ceremonies.

Here in South Dakota, and especially in rural South Dakota, it's pretty much an issue of whites and American Indians. We really don't have other ethnic groups represented with such large numbers.

An honor song would only take a few minutes, and considering the vast number of students it would affect, we think it would be an appropriate nod toward an ethnic group that has great numbers in South Dakota and, especially, in the Chamberlain area. Not every school in South Dakota should consider an American Indian honor song during graduation ceremonies, but a school that is one-third Indian should consider it.

Change isn't easy, and we understand that. But this could have been a change backed by sound reasoning, fairness and, maybe, even a bit of reconciliation.