School, Parents, Tribal Members Meet to Discuss Discrimination Allegations

By KBJR News 1

June 10, 2013 Updated Jun 11, 2013 at 6:29 PM CST

Bayfield, WI (NNCNOW.com) - A graduation speech delivered by the 2013 valedictorian of Bayfield High School has the entire town talking.

Victoria Gokee-Rindal spoke out at her graduation last week saying what she believed to be discrimination against Native American students within the halls of Bayfield High.

Two days after the speech, 15 students with parent permission, walked out of the school in protest.

"They're hurt, and that has to be addressed. It's okay for people to express themselves and say how they feel," Brian Goodwin of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The most notable issue, the students say, is their inability to smudge or burn sage at school.

Concerned members of the Red Cliff and Bayfield community attended the Bayfield School board meeting Monday to try and find a solution.

"I have no objection to anybody smudging. If it's a religious ceremony. Go for it. It's not mine it shouldn't be forced on my child," said the mother of one student.

"If you guys are going to make a smudging policy, I would like to personally thank you for encouraging me to go into tribal law," said a tribal member.

Ultimately, the board decided the topic required more thought and table the discussion.
Dawn Gokee-Deregon, says she feels the issue is unresolved, but remains optimistic.

"I feel like the school has come a long way. I feel like they're going to look at it now," said Gokee-Deregon.

Deregon said she's a shy person, but said she was moved to speak because she wants her daughter to be proud of her culture.

"Maybe I would have thought about it and done that as a child I would have been a stronger better person and that's were i want my child to be," said Gokee-Deregon.

The Issue will be revisited in July.

Gabrielle Ware
gware@kbjr.com