Law Article: Let the eagle feathers fly at school graduations

Hayden Griffith has been told she can't wear an eagle feather during graduation ceremonies despite support from the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma. Photo from Facebook

Attorneys Courtney R. Jordan and D. Michael McBride III urge school boards and school districts to respect tribal culture during graduation ceremonies:
Recently, the Caney Valley Public Schools superintendent denied a graduating Native American student’s request to wear her sacred eagle feather on her graduation cap during the upcoming commencement ceremony. Unfortunately, this is not the first time an Oklahoma school district has prohibited a Native American student from demonstrating this very sincere form of cultural and religious expression during one of life’s most significant occasions.

In many Native American cultures, the eagle feather symbolizes strength, nobility, courage, perseverance, respect and wisdom. Leaders and elders only gift eagle feathers in times of great achievement. For Native American students, receiving an eagle feather or plume in honor of graduation is as important as the diploma. Native American students incorporate the eagle feather or plume into their graduation regalia by attaching it to their graduation cap or tassel. By adorning the eagle feather or plume during the commencement ceremony, Native American students express both their religious and cultural beliefs, while honoring their Native American heritage. Wearing the eagle feather or plume is a great badge of honor and pride. Banning this dress demeans and hurts students.

School administrators generally cite commencement ceremony policies in student handbooks as the basis for denying a Native American student’s request to wear eagle feathers. In the past, school administrators have denied requests based on policies establishing a strict no adornment dress code during commencement; policies prohibiting disruptive activity; and even school tradition. Despite these seemingly reasonable explanations, requiring Native American students to strip away all outward signs of their association with tribal life is a direct assault on the students’ identities and brings to mind the infamous maxim,“Kill the Indian, save the man.”

Get the Story:
Courtney R. Jordan and D. Michael McBride II: Let the Feathers Fly at High School Graduation (The Native American Times 5/8)

Also Today:
Oklahoma High School Tribal Member Cannot Wear Eagle Feather on Graduation Cap (Native News Online 4/29)
Eagle Feather Creating Controversy For Graduating Oklahoma Senior (News on 6 4/28)

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