Reflecting on the event later Saturday, LaMere noted the irony of being labeled a criminal by Nebraska authorities 20 years ago and later being honored by Nebraska educators – all for the same work. He said being granted an honorary degree for fighting to stop the flow of beer to the Pine Ridge Reservation demonstrated a paradigm shift in the way people have long thought about the effort to shut down Whiteclay’s beer stores. “I’ve said many times that the Whiteclay effort, our win there, was a human rights and civil rights victory,” he said. “We just have not had time to look at it and celebrate it, but that’s what it is.” At a reception prior to Saturday’s commencement at Wesleyan, members of the university’s Board of Governors congratulated LaMere and thank him for a lifetime spent seeking justice for Native people.
Fred Ohles, president of Nebraska Wesleyan University, looks on as Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) shakes hands with Frank LaMere following the conclusion of commencement services in Lincoln on May 11, 2019.
Photo by Kevin Abourezk
A congratulatory note to Frank LaMere from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska).
Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Besides his efforts in Whiteclay, LaMere has served as an advocate for Native people who have lost loved ones to violence by police and to Native parents whose children have been taken from them by state child welfare officials. He has long fought for reforms in the child welfare system, which he has argued is often too quick to remove Native children from their homes. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for this world,” one woman told him at Saturday’s reception. Wesleyan President Fred Ohles said the university had considered bestowing an honorary degree upon LaMere for several years – even naming him as the most deserving person for such a degree. With his July retirement as Wesleyan’s president looming, Ohles decided it was time to do it. “I said we have to honor Frank and we did it,” Ohles said.
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