The last four years at Chamberlain High School has to my mind witnessed a significant limitation to the routes of possibility for Native students. That is, students and community members (Native and non-Native) have struggled long and hard for what many South X school districts have already conceded—the simple act of allowing a traditional D/Lakota honor song to be sung at a high school commencement ceremony. It may seem to most a simple request—a not too radical and non-offensive gesture that seemingly doesn’t discriminate against non-Native students.
But, if the Chamberlain School Board has virulently resisted having the song sung at a graduation ceremony, what does that say about D/Lakota honors songs? Are they offensive? Are they coded with non-English words that may be telling Natives to overthrow the government? Of course not. Four years of actively resisting an honor song to be sung at a high school graduation does say something about the town of Chamberlain, at the least the values of the community reflected in the Chamberlain School Board.
I’m tired of writing about this issue. I’m tired of reading about it in the news and on Facebook. I’m tired of it interrupting visits with relatives when I come home. I’m tired of the back and forth of who has the right to talk about this: are students to blame? Are adults to blame? Are school administrators to blame? Are community members to blame? These questions beat around the bush, since what we’re talking about is power—or as Chamberlain School Board President Rebecca Reimer reiterated (almost comically), “It’s about control and power. It’s about control and power.” Who has the power to silence a voice, a song, a people, a nation? Who gives them that authority, and why do we invest respect for that authority in those individuals? These may seem like rhetorical questions. But if we continue to play the blame game and not acknowledge the white elephant in the room (no pun intended), we will always arrive back where we started—doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
This is the definition of insanity.
If we look at the town of Chamberlain, we will see that many of the town’s residents are Republicans, staunch Republicans at that. But this is not a bipartisan issue. What this is about is land. Without a doubt, Republican controlled local and state governments hack and slash education budgets. So then why do people continue to elect them? Land. Pure and simple.
Electing conservative candidates to the school board is not about a quality education and equal access, it is about keeping property taxes low. If you don’t believe me, maybe the eerie silence from local Chamberlain community members who elected these school board members into office says something. Recent news reports and statements from community members stress that “not all of Chamberlain is racist.” But you don’t see droves of community members filing petitions against the school board. You don’t see droves up in arms against a blatant act of institutional racism.
Democracy worked. Property taxes are low. And the majority of the school board is still vehemently opposed to the honor song.
So why should we expect different results when the same people are elected into office for the same reasons that have nothing to do with education? The ball is in your court, Chamberlain. The rest of the nation and the world has weighed in. Even the SX Indian Education Summit recently decided to pull its conference from the Oacoma/Chamberlain area because of the school board’s decision. What next?