Outrage in Hinckley as Native students barred from performing traditional song at graduation

Outrage in Hinckley as Native students barred from performing traditional song at graduation

Outrage in Hinckley as Native students barred from performing traditional song at graduation

There have been drums and voices of protest in Hinckley this week.

“The most we’ve been doing right now is coming out and protesting each day after school and singing and stuff,” says Kaiya Wilson, a graduating senior at Hinckley-Finlayson High School. “We as a people need to stay strong and we need to be respected and heard.”

Dozens of students have been marching and protesting, calling for the school board to reverse its decision to bar the Ojibwe Traveling Song performance from this year’s graduation ceremony.

“It’s frustrating, it really is,” declares Cyliss LaFave, also a graduating senior. “We want to celebrate. We want to cherish this moment right now because you only graduate once from high school.”

The traditional Native American song, accompanied by drums, was included in last year’s ceremony for the first time.

Its theme is to wish people well in their next chapter in life.

“Last year was a huge step when they allowed the drum to come,” recalls Timothy Taggart, an alumnus of the high school, who has several family members attending classes in the district. “At that point, we realized hey, we’re bridging together. Finally, we’re bridging together.”

But the district says Monday’s vote eliminates all extracurricular groups from presenting or performing, saying they want to focus on the new grads.

Superintendent Brian Masterson declined our request for an interview but said in a statement, “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 education career, feel celebrated at graduation.”

The district has offered the Fine Arts Center as an alternate venue after graduation ceremonies are completed, but some students say that’s not acceptable.  

Meanwhile, an online petition to return the song to graduation has received more than 2,700 signatures.

Wilson says she’s demoralized and frustrated.

“I feel like our culture and traditions are not respected here, and overall, that makes me feel unwelcome in the school,” she explains.  

The superintendent says he’s committed to supporting Native students, noting the district’s Native American student graduation rate has risen in each of the last three years.

Masterson also says the graduation rate amongst the district’s Native American population exceeded the statewide average by nearly 20%.

Protesters tell us Native students make up about 30% of the school’s enrollment, but the Ojibwe Traveling Song would be dedicated to everyone.  

“This is for everybody,” Taggart says. “It’s just that next step in life that we just want to wish you well, in a good heart and a good way, we wish you the best.”

Graduation ceremonies for the high school are scheduled for May 24.