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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Year of Unity Not Going Well... or Is It?

Aloysius Dreaming Bear lost his lawsuit against the Oelrichs School District, which refused to let Dreaming Bear or any of the Lakota students that keep the school open wear traditional Lakota robes for graduation. The Rapid City School District kept its foot out of the bad press bear trap and granted permission for an American Indian student to wear Lakota regalia to graduation.

Eric Zimmer writes a thoughtful discussion of reaction to the graduation controversies in The Dakota Day. He notes that the Oelrichs controversy, along with the "White Pride" t-shirt incident at Chamberlain High School and police shooting of a local Native man, made the most recent "Campaign to Unite a Community" less about unity and more about recrimination and continuing distrust. The controversy also brought out crotchety old white man Gordon Garnos to gripe about those darned Indians and their "so-called rights" and to tell our native neighbors that they have "bigger battles to fight." (Garnos's gripe originally appeared on South Dakota's best source of white-rage-entitlement thinking, Dakota Voice, but has since disappeared.)

Angry words don't sound like the right first step toward the "Year of Unity" that Governor Rounds mentioned back in February. But maybe they are. Perhaps there are arguments we need to have, grievances we need to air, before we can make any progress toward reconciliation. Maybe we white folks don't get to clap at a few comfortable pow-wows and call it good. Maybe we do need to be reminded of every symbol of the oppression we've perpetrated. Maybe our Lakota neighbors need to be reminded of every way in which they have failed to live up to the ideals of Black Elk and their ancestors.

We may not like angry words and confrontation. But South Dakotans of all races have a lot to confront. Some angry rallies and arguments may be exactly what the Year of Unity needs.

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