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Stereotype of the Month Entry

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Watertown keeps Ki Yi ceremony

Argus Leader

WATERTOWN -- The Watertown School Board decided Tuesday to keep its controversial Ki Yi Legend but to remove some Native American aspects such as the wearing of feathers and headdresses.

The decision doesn't go far enough for Betty Ann Gross, who has led the charge to remove Indian mascots and imagery from South Dakota schools.

"Plucking a feather and a fringe is not going to get it," said Gross, the volunteer director of the Minority Resource Center in Watertown. "I'll be quite honored to hand the Watertown Public School its first complaint in two weeks."

Her center and three civil rights groups outside the state are planning to file a lawsuit against several South Dakota school districts with American Indian nicknames or rituals, unless they abandon by Aug. 18 what some call offensive traditions.

In Watertown, a nine-member task force, which included five alumni and two students, examined the legend. There were no Indians on the panel.

"The task force met twice and had good discussions," said Rick Melmer, Watertown's superintendent. "This whole issue has become somewhat controversial. And a lot of emotion has been tossed into the mix.

"We tried to decide what the right thing is to do," he said.

The decision didn't please other Lakotas in the state.

"That's not enough," said Steve Emery, director of the Sicangu Policy Institute at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation. "It's like holding a Holy Communion with pizza and priests dressed in sweaters."

Florence Bruhn, a former art teacher in the Watertown School District, wrote the script about two fictitious Indian tribes, the Kione and the Yiwawa. The ceremony, which tells of the two tribes coming together to fight, then joining in peace to form a stronger, united tribe is performed by high school students.

The ceremony has been celebrated for more than half a century.

The task force recommended that the school board endorse the following changes: eliminate all headdresses featuring feathers that are worn by the Chieftain and Princess; eliminate the use of feathers in any part of the Ki Yi ceremony; modify the script of the Ki Yi Legend to reflect an "Arrow" theme rather than a Ki Yi theme, references to tribes would be eliminated and more culturally appropriate terms would be used in their place; and eliminate American Indian regalia from the ceremony beginning in the fall of 2002.

School board member Brad Fishman, who also served on the task force, said he supported all of the recommendations except for changing the wording.

"I have a problem with modifying the wording of the legend," he said. "People have called me to say don't change anything."

Board president Dave Linngren and members Kathy Crank and Mark Johnson also expressed concerns about changing the wording.

"This is fairly sensitive to me," Linngren said.

He said removal of the Ki Yi's from the script would be one step away from making it Purple and Gold Days.

"I have a serious problem with watering down the legend. I'm not in favor of a script change," Linngren said.

Johnson has two daughters that served as Ki Yi royalty.

"I never found anything offensive with the Ki Yi," he said.

Melmer said he was looking for direction from the board and will proceed with eliminating feathers from the ceremony. Local businesses have been approached to come up with alternative headgear. And costume changes will be made after the task force has had ample time to look for new ones.

It was too close to the Sept. 10 homecoming to make to many changes, Melmer said.

Twenty-one South Dakota high schools, including nine reservation and Indian schools, have nicknames or traditions derived from Indian culture. Schools that have been targeted by a lawsuit include Sioux Falls Washington Warriors, Wakpala Sioux, Woonsocket Redmen, Estelline Redmen, Wessington Warriors, Castlewood Warriors, Winner Warriors, Wakonda Warriors, Britton Braves, Tulare Chiefs and Iroquois Chiefs.

Watertown's Arrows nickname is not considered offensive by Gross.

Shanon Brinkman, a Watertown teacher and co-director of the Ki Yi Legend, said she was not surprised by the school board's decision.

"If you're from the Watertown area, the legend is important. It's a 62-year-old longstanding tradition," she said. "I think people are very set in their ways and want things to stay the same."

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