Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.COM)
Approximately 15 Native American students at Bayfield High School, walked out of their classrooms this morning in protest of what they say has been racial and religious discrimination.
The idea began when Victoria Gokee–Rindal, the 2013 valedictorian of Bayfield High, gave a graduation speech no one was expecting.
"I was already giving a speech so it was the perfect opportunity to get my point across," says Gokee-Rindal.
Gokee–Rindal's speech addressed the discrimination that she and many other native students say is present inside the halls of their school.
"Native students are made to almost check their 'indian–ness' at the door. And it just seems like it's getting so much worse."
Smudging, the practice in which sage or tobacco, is burned as a type of therapy or spiritual cleansing has been banned in school.
The students say the inability to practice this, is a violation of their rights.
"There are signs in the school that say no smudging, and it's something that helps us feel better as native people, it's almost like a cleansing for the body," Gokee-Rindal adds.
Her speech served as the catalyst for the walk–out that took place Monday morning. Afterwards, the students were joined by tribal members at the Red Cliff Tribal Center.
"Our culture is being pushed under the rug. We're being told we can't smudge when people in federal prisons can smudge," says Breanna Deregon, a student involved in the walk-out.
Nick Vanderpuy, a former substitute teacher says during his time working for Bayfield he witnessed several acts of discrimination toward Native American students.
"Frankly i don't think I'd go back to work there even if they paid me triple, I'm disgusted by the way that school operates."
The students and community members hope the walk–out will bring about what they feel are much needed changes.
"I would like to see a change where we can be ourselves and our culture can be integrated into the school. We're almost 80–percent of the school it should reflect in our teachers and in the teachings that happen around the school," Gokee-Rindal says.
In a statement today, officials with the Bayfield School District said they were unclear about the purpose for the walk but were working with leaders in Red Cliff and Bayfield communities to address the walkout.
They added the district's goal is the same today as it is every day: to provide a safe, respectful and positive school climate for all.
Posted to the web by Gabrielle Ware