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Students protest removal of Native song from northern Minnesota graduation ceremony

Minnesota students protest decision to remove Native song from graduation
Minnesota students protest decision to remove Native song from graduation 02:17

HINCKLEY, Minn. — In a protest through songs, more than 50 students gathered outside Hinckley-Finlayson High School Wednesday afternoon, demanding a reversal to a school board decision to take a traditional Native song out of this year's upcoming graduation ceremony.

"It makes me happy that people actually care about what's going on here," said Hinckley-Finlayson High School senior Kaiya Wilson.

The Ojibwe Traveling Song is meant at graduation to symbolize the transition from high school to what's next.

"It's super important to have this at our ceremony because this is something we do as Native Americans in our culture. This song is meant to send off people in presence with good energy, safety and being productive," said Wilson.

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WCCO

The decision was made Monday at the district's school board meeting.

"After they voted it out everybody was obviously outraged," said Wilson.

An online petition, in favor of returning the song to graduation, has received more than 2,000 signatures.

In an email, the district's superintendent, Brian Masterson, writes that the decision eliminated all extracurricular student groups at the graduation ceremony, and was meant to make every student feel included.          

"The District's goal at graduation time is to make all District seniors, and the families and community members who have supported them during their educational career, feel celebrated at graduation," Masterson wrote.

Masterson, who said he could not go on camera Wednesday, wrote that the drum ceremony will be allowed to be performed at the school's Fine Arts Center after the graduation ceremony has finished. Students said that's unacceptable.

"It's disappointing because it seems like they're shoving us back into a little room to do our things when we should be included," said Wilson.

"This is our land, occupied since before this was a state, and there's no reason that our ceremonies should not be included in the entire ceremony for this school's graduation," said Niiyo Gonzales, commissioner of education for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Gonzalez said the decision by the district was embarrassing, with Native students representing one-third of the school's enrollment.

"There should be no problem with this song being right next to 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' the Pledge of Allegiance, this is us," said Gonalez.

The school's decision will not stop the songs and drums come graduation day, Wilson said.

"People are going to show up with their drums anyway to graduation, if they want it or not," said Wilson.

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