CEDAR CITY, Utah (AP) — She walked up a purple carpet and crossed a stage to simply accept her diploma sporting an eagle feather beaded onto her cap that her mom had gifted her.
Amryn Tom graduated this week from southern Utah’s Cedar City High School. Her household cheered.
For the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and different Native Americans, eagle feathers of the variability Tom wore are sacred gadgets handed down by generations, used at ceremonies to suggest achievement and reference to the group.
“This is from your ancestors,” Tom stated her mom, Charie, instructed her.
One yr in the past, college students in Tom’s faculty district would have been barred from sporting any type of tribal regalia together with their conventional cardinal-colored caps and robes.
In March, Utah joined a rising listing of states in enshrining Native American college students’ rights to put on tribal regalia at their commencement ceremonies.
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In Iron County, the place the college district tried to bar two graduates from sporting regalia on the ceremonies final yr, Tom and different Native American college students savored the hard-won proper.
“It’s kind of huge,” stated Paiute tribal member Brailyn Jake, an eagle feather and beads dangling from her turquoise cap. Her cousin was one of many college students stopped from donning beads final yr.
“People don’t understand our culture, the meaning behind it and how, when you’re turned down for something this big, it’s kind of like, wow,” Jake said.
Students across the U.S. often sport flower leis or flashy sashes at graduation with little controversy. But the rules governing tribal regalia at high school graduations have emerged as a legislative issue in several red and blue states after reports of students being barred from wearing attire like Jake and Tom’s.
Arizona, California, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington all recently enacted laws that either enshrine students’ rights or bar schools from enforcing dress codes banning tribal regalia. After passing through the legislature, a bill with similar provisions has been sent to Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
In Utah, Paiute Chairwoman Corrina Bow brought the issue to state lawmakers after last year’s two Iron County incidents. The district had no formal rules prohibiting Native American students from donning regalia.
Bow noted the graduation rate for Native American and Alaskan Native students was 74% in 2019, the lowest of any demographic group, and told lawmakers that guaranteeing students statewide the right to wear regalia would allow them to “honor their culture, religion and heritage.”
Similar controversies have occurred at schools in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, suburban Chicago and elsewhere, with graduates being barred from wearing everything from beadwork and moccasins to sealskin caps. The incidents pit Native American students and their parents against administrators who say they want to maintain uniformity at graduation ceremonies.
Emalyce Kee, who is Navajo and Rosebud Sioux, was one of the two southern Utah students told not to wear a beaded cap or plumes to her Cedar City High School graduation ceremony last year. She did it anyway.
Before walking across the stage to accept her diploma, Kee switched out her plain cap for one with a plume and beadwork by her uncle. Half a dozen family members in the front row applauded.
“I hadn’t felt that highly effective earlier than that second, standing up with my diploma, with my Native cap on after which shaking my principal’s hand,” Kee said.
At a high school that used “Redmen” as its mascot until 2019, Kee and her mother, Valerie Glass, said it stuck with them how the principal had argued beaded caps would set a precedent to allow all students to decorate their graduation attire.
“It’s not ‘decorative’ regalia. It’s traditional beaded regalia. How can you have the Cedar Redmen for so long and not honor your Native American students?” Glass said.
Iron County Superintendent Lance Hatch was not available for comment.
Hoksila Lakota gifted his nephew Elijah James Wiggins, who is of Lakota ancestry, an eagle feather in honor of his graduation from Cedar City High School on Wednesday. He said eagle feathers — called wamblii wakan in Lakota — are fundamental to celebrating once-in-a-lifetime achievements, with many believing they hold a connection to God.
“These aren’t something you find on the floor and do whatever with. These are sacred items given from grandfather to son or uncle to nephew,” he stated.
Metz reported from Salt Lake City.
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