Education | Opinion

Nick Estes: Border town still has a problem with an honor song

YouTube: CHS Honor Song 2014

Nick Estes discusses the continued refusal of school officials in a border town to allow a Lakota honor song for high school graduates:
Standing in a parking lot across the street from the 2014 Chamberlain High School commencement ceremony last Sunday, singers, supporters (Native and non-Native), students, and families crowded outside the National Guard Armory to honor graduating seniors with a simple song—a song that has caused its fair share of controversy. The song itself is beautiful, as most Lakota honor songs (olowan) are. But it has attracted some of the ugliest sentiment from its biggest, vitriolic detractors—the Chamberlain school board. Many have struggled long and hard for the honor song only to be denied by the school board.

For years the script went something like this: Native and non-Native students suggest an honor song be sung at commencement to reflect the school’s ever-growing Native student body. The school board listens politely, sometimes, and most recently, impolitely. They deny the request. Parents and community members challenge them. White detractors fumble their words and reveal their ignorance, if not overt racism, trying to maintain the last vestiges of a vanishing way of life. The school board digs in and cites every excuse not to have it a part of commencement. Then it is revealed that there are deep-seated, unresolved historic and ongoing issues between a decreasing white majority and an increasing Native minority. Then, the honor song is sung outside commencement, usually from the curb across the street from the Armory.

But it’s more than just an honor song. And Chamberlain, despite its best attempts, will never live this down. It will haunt this border town in the annals of history. It will, as they say, go down in history.

Get the Story:
Nick Estes: Chamberlain, South Dakota: A Border Town and Its 'Indian Problem' (Indian Country Today 6/25)

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