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Ignacio School District to take down Southern Ute flag Friday

Decision has sparked backlash from some students
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe flag flies in front of the Ignacio High School on Wednesday along with the American flag. The flag will be taken down on Friday, two weeks after being raised. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Ignacio School District said it plans to take down a Southern Ute Indian tribal flag on Friday that was raised two weeks ago in front of Ignacio High School.

The decision to take down the flag has sparked backlash from some students who say the school district is acting discriminantly. But the school district said the plan has always been to remove the flag after a May 9 ceremony.

The clash comes amid another regional controversy in which a high school is being accused of smothering Native American expression. Specifically, Farmington High School staff members forced a Lakota student to surrender her graduation mortarboard that had been decorated with tribal beads, saying the decorations were in violation of a school policy.

The Southern Ute flag was raised May 9 at Ignacio High School during a Native American Heritage celebration held by the Native American Youth Organization. The high school agreed to allow the flag to be flown only on May 9 in honor of the celebration, said Superintendent Chris deKay, in an interview Thursday with The Durango Herald.

The flag was intended to represent the school district’s history with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Native American culture.

Baring special occasions, the school district follows its policy and state law (Colorado Revised Statute 27-91-108) to fly the U.S. flag and Colorado state flag in front of schools. The Colorado state flag was removed in order to make way for the tribal flag.

“When we have a ceremony (as was the case with the Native American Heritage celebration), we can put another flag up,” deKay said.

deKay said the district consulted with the Southern Ute Tribal Council and the Southern Ute Veterans Association regarding the one-day ceremonial agreement.

deKay said he is not opposed to the tribal flag being flown permanently, but that decision should go through a public process, in which the district changes its policy, he said.

“We are very committed to working with the Southern Ute Tribe, and having a good relationship with them is very important to us, and to our students,” he said.

The decision to take down the flag has been met with scrutiny. A Facebook post made by social justice group Four Borderless Corners accuses the school district of discrimination.

“Structural discrimination in public schools refers to the systemic inequalities and policies that disadvantage certain racial or ethnic groups,” the post says. “These disparities are often embedded in the educational system and can affect students' academic outcomes, access to resources, and overall school experience.”

In the face of accusations of discrimination, deKay said the removal of the flag has been blown out of proportion and has nothing to do with feelings toward tribal members but about the district following a policy.

The post also accuses the district of denying a request from faculty, students and parents to keep it on the flagpole.

Again, deKay said the district is following its policy.

Native American Youth Organization sponsor Kristean Velasquez, who led the flag-raising ceremony, said she was under the impression the flag would stay up permanently, possibly being flown with the U.S. flag and the state flag.

She said she was confused when she returned to work on May 13 to find the flag taken down. But after backlash from students, the flag was raised again.

Velasquez said the issue involving the flag is just the “tip of the ice berg” for the type of discrimination Native American students face within Ignacio School District.

She said her students were deeply hurt by the flag being taken down and there were multiple conversations with Fjerstad and deKay to get the flag raised again later that week.

deKay said the flagpole at Ignacio High School has only two clips to hold the flags and that is why the school can’t fly three flags at the same time.

“He did give me the approval to hang three flags within all three Ignacio schools with the proper etiquette,” Velasquez said.

As questions loom over allowing Native American students to express their culture during graduation ceremonies, Velasquez said it seems suspicious that the district is taking down the flag ahead of graduation Saturday.

“Why would you do it before graduation? Our (Native American) students are graduating as well. That would be probably the last time you should show it and then take it down,” Velasquez said.

deKay said the district chose Friday because it was the best time for a Southern Ute veteran to lower the flag in order to follow etiquette.

Velasquez said she intends to bring the issue up in front of the school board this summer in hopes of changing the district’s policy.


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