Thu June 6, 2013
Valedictorian Calls High School Out On Native American Discrimination
Bayfield High School’s commencement speaker caused a stir when she said the school hurts Native American students during her speech.
Two days after that speech, 15 students walked out demanding change.
Bayfield High School valedictorian Victoria Gokee-Rindal dropped more than a few jaws last Saturday during her commencement speech. She said Native American students are made to feel inferior because of their culture, even though they make up the vast majority of the student body: “Even though we're 80 percent Native American, we have to almost check our 'Indian-ness' at the door.”
A member of the nearby Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe, Gokee-Rindal says a tipping point was when students who practiced smudging — cleansing themselves with the smoke of burning sage — were told they couldn’t come to class. On Monday, 15 students walked out of school in protest.
Bayfield School Administrator David Aslyn says the smell upset people with allergies, but they’re working on putting together the first-ever “smudging” policy in the state.
“I do view Victoria's speech and what happened with the school walk-out on Monday as examples of the fact that, while we've got some good work going, we still have some work to do.”
Aslyn says 14 percent of their teachers are Native American, and they’re working to recruit more. And this week, they held their first meeting with Red Cliff elders. He says he got some good advice.
Meanwhile, Gokee-Rindal says it’s been difficult since her commencement speech.
“I've taken a lot of heat for it, but I am proud of what I did. Even though I've lost friends and people in my community are coming against me, overall the support I have is so much more. I'm taking a step toward the right thing.“
Gokee-Rindal will study at Marquette University after earning a Gates Millenium Scholarship. She wants to be an orthodontist, and return to Red Cliff to practice.