The Chamberlain Board of Education in South Dakota voted 6-1 to not allow a Native American Honor Song at its graduation ceremony May 19.

South Dakota School Won't Allow Native Honor Song at Graduation


The Chamberlain Board of Education in South Dakota voted 6-1 to not allow a Native American Honor Song at its graduation ceremony May 19. The negative vote was cast even though, as The Daily Republic reported, most of the 40 attendees at the meeting raised their hands in favor of the change.

Steve Fox, the lone board member in favor of the honor song said it’s up to the board to vote for change.

“We vote for change all the time,” he said. “And that’s supposed to be our goal to change in good ways.”

Fox said other cultural activities have happened at graduation in previous years, like his son receiving a star quilt.

“I could think of so many reasons to do this for our kids,” he said. “Why not give three or five minutes to teach our kids to honor another culture?”

Other board members didn’t see it that way. Board member Casey Hutmacher thanked the students for getting involved and signing the petition to include the honor song but voted against adding it to the graduation ceremony.

“I can’t see how it honors everybody when it’s not in our language, and when I say our language, I mean English,” he said. “I look at the Pledge of Allegiance and it covers everything.”

According to the South Dakota Department of Education about one-third of the students in the Chamberlain School District are Native American.

The board president didn’t think the honor song was necessary since a feathering ceremony was already added prior to the graduation ceremony.

“Most schools with our demographics have either a feathering ceremony or an honor song,” Rebecca Reimer said. “Not both.”

The Daily Republic spoke to Chris Rodriguez, who is one of the students who started circulating the petition and will be graduating from Chamberlain High School this year.

“I will come back to the school board because my sister is coming to school here, too,” he said after the meeting. “I wasn’t just fighting for this year’s seniors. I was fighting for generations after that.”

The students aren’t the only ones who are upset. James Cadwell, a bilingual instructor at the Crow Creek Tribal Schools and parent of three children who have gone through the Chamberlain district, was also disappointed by the vote. He’s been fighting for the inclusion of the honor song for the past three years. (Related story: “Will South Dakota School District Allow Native Honor Song at Graduation?)

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Cadwell said the honor song was again confused as being religious. He said in a statement in April that, “The honor song is exactly that, a song that acknowledges the efforts of all the students graduating and encourages them to continue their education.”

He said the May 13 vote was shocking to a number of students and staff and “several were seen crying as they left the room after the vote.”

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Brock Conway's picture
Brock Conway
Submitted by Brock Conway on
I lived in Chamberlain SD It is the most racist place in the country! Chamberalin is right next to reservations, and they carry a real strong anti-native outlook even though they predate on their resources! I worked at their local prison there filled with Natives! They really do hate Native People there and they will never honor anything native!

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
"“I can’t see how it honors everybody when it’s not in our language, and when I say our language, I mean English,” he said. “I look at the Pledge of Allegiance and it covers everything . . . " This is pure bullshit! It's clearly predjudice that's leading Mr. Hutmacher. After all, what is the predominant langugage spoken in that school district? What could possibly be wrong with honoring the indigenous population? He's also wrong about the Pledge of Allegiance covering everything: what if you're NOT Christian? What if you don't believe that we are a nation "indivisible?" What if you don't want to swear allegiance to a country that murdered your ancestors? The one thing Native people can ALWAYS count on is the lack of compassion, lack of empathy and the expedient fall back to false patriotism that the White man uses to cover his racism. I suggest that all the Native families whose children are graduating from Chamberlain High School to have their own graduation. This is why Native people all over the U.S. will never fully integrate, because they don't really want us to.

ilis 's picture
Submitted by ilis on
After reading i felt a great sadness, it is obvious that the members who voted against it are hiding behind policy,regulations etc, to cover their real personal reason of not wanting this HONOR song. Shame on them!! where is the Equality? The Pledge of Allegiance? the members should be made to say and write it 100 times!!!!!!! give an essay on what each sentence means to each one of them. Maybe the supposed meaning of their PLEDGE will sink in their heartened hearts.this makes me sad then angry, people continue to keep our culture from growing, but that will not happen, our nations are learning to speak up.@Chris Rodriquez, do what you must, bring attention to what they are doing.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Couldn't they have the honor song in two langguages? in the original language and then in english? When is honoring anoter culture more than once, a bad thing? Especially when 1/3 of this school is apart of that culture, this culture is a part of america, It was the first culture of america. Sometimes i wish i could have promoted more spanish culture in my own graduation, which has about half spanish heritage.

Ron Sully Sr.'s picture
Ron Sully Sr.
Submitted by Ron Sully Sr. on
these older board members are scared of change....the students accept but the board controls...Its a Honor Song Casey!

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
Look up the definition of the word colonialism and think of the centuries of Indigenous being subjugated through enslavement and genocide, at the hands of first the Europeans, then the Americans, to enable Freebooters, theives, murderers and corporations to steal their natural resources and lands for occupation and colonization. As descendants of the illegal European immigrants who stole and murdered their way across our lands, most whites see nothing wrong with these policies against the Indigenous, although everytime they foist those policies of colonialism against other countries, the backlash is the terrorist attacks like the one that murdered 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Ha Ha Go ahead and refuse to print this, since it goes against the craw of your corporate sponsors.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
This sittuation offers a prime opportunity to educate, share, and unite people which is what schools are supposed to do. What a pity the students don't have leadership on their school board that recognizes this. I'm sure the prom and the sporting events are filled with the usual disposable pop music. Why not show your students a positive song which has survived for centuries? WOW - people in the school district might have a chance to LEARN something!

Sandra Farrell's picture
Sandra Farrell
Submitted by Sandra Farrell on
Sad to know we have such narrow minded people in our world. YES IS THE WORD ! Say Yes to culture to have peace is to be compassionate. You teach our younger generation to be like you with little mind and little heart. SHame.

Malcolm Harrison aka (Bruce Irving)'s picture
Malcolm Harriso...
Submitted by Malcolm Harriso... on
I went to this school over 20 some years ago. I am glad more Natives go to this school. I have encountered prejudice and racism even back then. So sad to see that this is still going on in this town. ALOT of Natives do business in that town and they are still hated on. When is Chamberlain going to stop the hate and begin to relate. Close minded people shall not be on the school board and taught respect. Well that town will never be a city and nor will it isolate itself from other races. They will always see and need change. Let the Natives Honor students who are graduating! Regardless of "Language" It

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
I read what everyone has to say today about this decision & I 100% agree with you all. Curtj, you hit the nail on the head even if it is non-PC. As for this school board, that can be changed come the next school board election. Folks, get out there & run for these positions & let's get OUR agendas on the table to be passed for a change. Don't just complain about things, get out there & get active in your communities & get our OWN people in those positions & get them elected. We are some very bright people in our communities & that gives me continued hope for change that benefits OUR First Nation communities & OUR people, young & old alike. We just have to get out there & vote, getting our people elected everywhere. Change will not happen if we just sit & complain about the status quo, we have to get busy, fund our candidates, get them elected & then we can get OUR agendas moving from dreams to becoming reality. So people everywhere, we have our work cut out for us, so let's get busy! We have loads of things to get in place everywhere, funding to raise, candidates to stump for, speeches to get written, speeches to schedule, elections to plan & people to persuade to cast their votes for OUR candidates. Make OUR dreams come true!

Richard Johnson's picture
Richard Johnson
Submitted by Richard Johnson on
I am not suggesting my state(Nebraska) is any better but it looks like South Dakota is trying to displace the south as being the center of American bigotry. The school board should keep in mind their primary charge is facilitating education not promoting their own narrow values!

Pokey Stover's picture
Pokey Stover
Submitted by Pokey Stover on
How dear you ! ! ! You must be white people ( the kind we call white trash ) doing any thing you can to up set Indians tridition ! ! ! Our children mean a lot to us and to sing the Honer song means a lot to them and their parents and grandparents. They can live through it but it will never be forgotten ! They will still be Indian and I know they will find another way to honor their students, some way you can't do anything about.

Thomas N Tackett's picture
Thomas N Tackett
Submitted by Thomas N Tackett on
What a bunch of nonsense. All the problems in society and a School District won,t allow something as simple as an Honor Song. All School Districts should have an Honor Song for all their graduating students no matter what ethnic background as this is a major milestone in their lives.

Zach's picture
Submitted by Zach on
I live in this school. I attend this school. I am freinds with and know a lot of the people there. yes, a large portion is native american, does that mean anything? I talked to many of the Saint Joe's (native american school in town) students that come to CHS about it. about 3 of the maybe 70 people I asked about it cared. They were all native Americans from the other school. Its not that big of a deal, this is just being exploded by the Press and the few people that are actually fighting for it.

Demarus Sandlin's picture
Demarus Sandlin
Submitted by Demarus Sandlin on
Woah, TWO WHOLE Native ceremonies? I think Native language has scared immigrants for a long, long time.... Students and family should sing the song anyway.

Jesse Eagle ( Shawnee Native )'s picture
Jesse Eagle ( S...
Submitted by Jesse Eagle ( S... on
Well I would suggest that you have a gathering at the end of you graduation , something on the side and have your Honer song celibrated, be proud, you took a journy on this road to get where you are now, dont let small issues like this stop your ways, be proud, native pride, ( Aho... )

Zona's picture
Submitted by Zona on
The pledge of allegiance is racist in itself. "liberty and justice for all" my *** We live in a colonized country. Maybe singing the Honor Song in front of the narrow minded school board would be like 'casting pearls before swine'

Have Faith's picture
Have Faith
Submitted by Have Faith on
They are racist why can't they just respect the fact that there are other types of people in the world