Brookings School Board must apologize for stripping tribal senior of eagle feather
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My son, Miles Paul Livermont, a descendent of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was honored by his Cheyenne River Sioux family with an eagle feather and star quilt at a family gathering at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, SD, a couple hours before Brookings High School commencement ceremony on May 26, 2019.
Just before he processed with his class, school faculty insisted he remove and hand over the eagle feather, or he would not be able to walk into the arena with his classmates.
Because of the reconciliation efforts led by Shawn Bordeaux and others in the South Dakota State Legislature, a law insisting that state school districts ensure that an eagle feather or plume worn during commencement by tribal youth be a protected right, a law signed by then Governor Dennis Daugaard, our family was completely dumbfounded when receiving text messages from our son in the moments while Brookings School faculty forced him into the horrible position of choosing whether to walk with his class or not.
Miles, a Regent Scholar and member of the Brookings Forensics team, made his argument to the counselors and administration citing state law. They stated that he had failed to have it approved early enough to be allowed to wear it. Asking me what to do via messaging, I told him to walk (never once thinking they would take it from him completely). He messaged me just as he processed that the eagle feather had been take from him.
His father, Ross DuBray, and I went looking for it when we realized he didn’t have it (seeing Miles’s message that he didn’t after he processed), speaking with security guards, asking if they had seen the counselor who Miles indicated (from his seat via message) probably had it. They walked with us, and when they found out what we were looking for, one of them said that he had been asked to find a hanger to put the feather on and that it would be with the diplomas and handed back to our son then.
I indicated that it was not acceptable for them to have taken the eagle feather, but we returned to our seats. My sister-in-law, Donita DuBray Fischer, who has served as a school board member of the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte combined district found for us on her cellphone the text for the law from the Associated School Boards of South Dakota April 29, 2019, statement reminding schools of the law, 13-1-66:
“Wearing of traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at school honoring or graduation ceremony to be permitted. The state, any of its political subdivisions, municipalities or subdivisions thereof shall not prohibit any person from wearing traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at a school honoring or graduation ceremony. For purposes of this section the term, tribal regalia or object of cultural significance, means an eagle feather or eagle plume. Source: SL 2018, ch 89, § 1.”
A few minutes after that, one of the security guards brought us the eagle feather.
Stunned, we all just looked at it and each other, and I made the decision, with our family’s support, to go up to the front of the Swiftel Center and find Miles to fix it back to his cap. I did just that and found a seat with a fellow Brookings writer and mom and her husband near my son. Miles ended up walking across the stage to receive his diploma with a slight comment made to him by BHS faculty, but they didn’t try to seize the feather again.
The Brookings School District broke the law. As an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, a long standing member of the Brookings Reconciliation Council and Brookings resident, I insist that the Brooking School Board and Administration:
1. Immediately issue a public apology to my son and to the Brookings Senior Class of 2019 for being poor role models in reconciliation and good citizenship, recognizing that many tribes have called the Brookings area home, and that many other tribal students (and their peers) have been negatively impacted for decades over this culturally-insensitive and now illegal policy,
2. Call for a special meeting of the school board to address the following:
1. Issue a statement indicating that they will work with tribal students and parents, tribal governments, and organizations like the Brookings Reconciliation Council to begin hosting a Senior Class honoring for tribal students (those tribally enrolled and eligible for enrollment, as well as first generation descendents),
2. Pass a policy officially recognizing SD Codified Law 31-1-66 as Brookings School District policy, and consider further adding that caps also be allowed to be beaded or painted in a culturally appropriate manner without the need to be ‘approved.’
3. Subsequently commit themselves, staff and faculty, to further education on Oceti Sakowin Oyate customs, culture and language, specifically:
A. Engaging a recognized cultural competency consultant vetted by the Brookings tribal community to learn proper handling of sacred items, such as eagle feathers;
B. Create a policy to engage two ex-officio seats to the school board: one to be committed to tribal student and parent interests and the other to be dedicated to all manner of human diversity, including immigrant and differently-abled concerns.
As a child of both East River settlers and members of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, born in Pine Ridge, I am proud to call Brookings and the Sioux River valley my home. This is a good place to raise children, especially those with advanced academic ability. However, gone are the days when reservations were meant to work as prison camps. Our tribal people are free to move and live and work and learn anywhere and everywhere they see fit. We will not be prisoners any longer. Settler South Dakota must realize that this pattern of erasure must not be allowed to continue. American Indians are not a history lesson, but instead dual citizens of both South Dakota and the USA, as well as citizens of vibrant, contemporary nations.
Mitakuye Oyasin,Tasiyagnunpa Livermont Barondeau
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