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Drums of Community Beat for Native-American Grads

Drums of Community Beat for Native-American Grads
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Deondra Jackson worried she would cry while delivering the farewell address to the Class of 2018 on the White Earth Native American reservation in Minnesota.

“I’m kinda nervous,” she said before she took the stage in front of 28 other graduates and two dozen teachers and administrators. “Hopefully I don’t break down on stage.”

“It’s really bittersweet,” she added after a brief pause.

Jackson did fine, delivering a brief farewell to the mostly Native American students who have been her classmates at Waubun-Ogema school, many of them since kindergarten

Jackson will move to a dorm at Minnesota State University in Moorhead this fall to study social work -- the same field her mom has practiced on the reservation.

“On the reservation, there’s a lot of families that are struggling,” Jackson says. “Some of my family members have lost a parent to drugs.”

Jackson says she wants to help break the cycle.

“Some of the stories she tells me it’s like … wow, how does a parent do that to their children? How does a parent just abandon their child? That’s one of the things I really want to help. I want to come back and deal with the children,” she says, “maybe a little with the parents just to help them get on the right track.”

Jackson’s life has been reservation-focused, like for many Americans who grow up in small towns, traveling only outside to nearby cities in Minnesota and North Dakota. She’s “never experienced anything other than life around the reservation,” she says.

Deondra Jackson speaks at her graduation at Waubun-Ogema school in Waubun, Minnesota.
Deondra Jackson speaks at her graduation at Waubun-Ogema school in Waubun, Minnesota.

Breaking stereotypes

But she isn’t nervous, she says, about leaving home and meeting new people of different backgrounds this fall in college.

“There’s a stereotype that, like, Native Americans are bad, that they don’t expect us to get a lot, like, far in life, and I’m just excited to go there and prove people wrong,” she says.

“I’m not going to be a statistic of Native Americans not going to school.”

Jackson lined up with her fellow classmates for a class photo before the ceremony. The students’ smiles flit between laughter, when someone cracked a joke, and nervousness when the room fell quiet.

As their families and friends filed into the school gymnasium, the commencement ceremony looked like so many others across the United States, although a bit smaller and less generic.

Because they are on the White Earth reservation, Native American traditions and customs are part of the ceremony. A procession that includes a tribal flag with the American one entered ahead of the graduates as they walked into the gymnasium.

After the requisite performance of the national anthem by the high school band, a local Native-American drum group performed as attendees remained standing.

A few speeches and the handing out of 29 diplomas later, Jackson took the stage to deliver her class’s farewell address.

“We should never forget where we came from, and who was by our side for it all,” Jackson says from behind the podium, addressing her classmates with a steady voice.

“So Class of 2018, now it’s time to say goodbye. So shed a tear, share a smile, and be sure to remember all the while, although it may be time to move on, today’s memories will last your whole life long.”