CHAMBERLAIN -- The honor song fight is not dead in Chamberlain.
The Office for Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into a complaint filed against the Chamberlain School District for halting public comment on allowing an American Indian Honor Song at graduation.
James Cadwell, a former teacher at Crow Creek Indian Reservation and a former Chamberlain student, filed the complaint. He contends his civil rights were violated by the Chamberlain Board of Education, which ruled he couldn't speak for longer than five minutes on the honor song topic earlier this spring.
"I told the Office for Civil Rights I'm being discriminated against because of my race," he told The Daily Republic.
Cadwell spoke to the Chamberlain Board of Education on several occasions in support of implementing an American Indian Honor Song into high school graduation ceremonies. An honor song is meant to honor all students and celebrate the diversity of the district, not just celebrate Indian students, Cadwell said.
Chamberlain Superintendent Debra Johnson said in a May interview that honor songs were performed at the district's annual powwow and at an all-school assembly before graduation.
Johnson offered a statement in response to the complaint.
"The district received a letter from the Office for Civil Rights informing us a complaint was filed against the district," Johnson told The Daily Republic on Tuesday. "We are complying with the Office of Civil Rights and will have no further comment at this time as the complaint is under investigation."
In April, the board refused to schedule Cadwell on the agenda to speak on the honor song issue at all, telling him in an earlier meeting it was "a dead issue."
"I realize they're tired of hearing about it, but it's not a dead issue," Cadwell said, adding that even a national group has taken interest in supporting the change.
In March, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Alabama sent a letter of support to include an honor song.
Cadwell filed the complaint in July and the Office for Civil Rights sent a return letter in early September. The letter states the Office for Civil Rights will conduct an investigation into the issue. If the school district is found in violation, it will be given the chance to remedy the situation or will be ordered to do so. The Office for Civil Rights will then monitor the outcome.
Chamberlain School District receives federal funds under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because of its large American Indian population.
Cadwell hopes two things will come from the complaint he filed.
"I hope that the school district recognizes parents, grandparents and community members have the right and a voice in their community," Cadwell said. "And when you are an elected official, you are not able to pick and choose who you want to talk to."
Cadwell also hopes the board is made to reverse its decision on banning any more conversations about incorporating an honor song into graduation ceremonies.
"I hope the board reverses its decision on the honor song," he said. "It's not going away."