DULUTH - Native American Hinckley High School seniors, who had planned to protest their graduation, planned to celebrate all students with an inclusive powwow following Friday night's graduation ceremony.

"We are still here, and we are still going to do our thing no matter what," said graduating senior Kaiya Wilson, "because it's who we are as Native Americans."

The students, who make up a third of the school's graduating class, learned last week that a tribal drum group wouldn't be allowed to perform a traveling song during the ceremony, as it has in the past. The decision drew criticism from students, leaders of the nearby Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and a statewide labor union representing state, county and municipal workers.

Students have protested the decision daily at the central Minnesota school.

The Hinckley-Finlayson school board said no extracurricular groups could perform, but based its unanimous decision partly on advice from legal counsel, which cited the establishment clause of the First Amendment that says government should remain neutral on religion. The Mille Lacs Band argued drumming is a cultural activity.

Wilson said district leaders working with the Mille Lacs Band and city officials closed a parking lot to allow room for protesters Friday night, and students took that opportunity to instead showcase their culture.

Niiyo Gonzalez is a parent of children in the district and she said its decision to ban the drum group has been costly for the community, not only for the extra planning that went into initial protest arrangements, but to relationships.

And the kids, she said, "are showing us how we should be acting."

Bart Andersen, executive director of labor union AFSCME Council 5, said in a news release last week that he condemned the school board's "heartless decision."

"The district's claim that the drum group is merely an 'extracurricular group' is a blatant dismissal of the rich cultural heritage and the vital presence of American Indian communities," he said.