High School Prevents Senior from Wearing Native American Regalia During Graduation

A high school senior from Oklahoma was told he could not wear Native American regalia during his graduation ceremony in May. Senior Tvli Birdshead, who attends Latta High School in Ada, Oklahoma, told KFOR that he hoped to wear his Chickasaw Nation honor cord, a beaded cap, and a feather during the graduation ceremony. Two tribes in Oklahoma have given students honor codes to wear when they walk across the stage as a rite of passage, but it is against Latta High’s dress code policy, according to the news station.

Wearing eagle feathers and plumes are symbolic in Native American culture and are given when someone reaches a milestone in their lives, according to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). “Wearing these things is acknowledging that this is the step to a higher education,” Birdshead told the news station. Taloa Birdshead, the student’s mother, told Yahoo Lifestyle that her son should be able to wear the regalia during graduation because it is a part of his culture.

“He should be allowed to wear his eagle feather, his beaded cap, and his honor cord from Chickasaw Nation and any other Nation he represents, not only to honor him, but to show respect for the people who have supported his efforts and paved his way,” Taloa told the publication. “These ‘items’ in the past were things that were stripped from his ancestors in an attempt to assimilate Native people. These ‘items’ are an interweaving of his spirituality and his culture. These ‘items’ are who he is.”

Taloa said she has reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and NARF for help, according to Yahoo Lifestyle. NARF Staff Attorney Matthew L. Campbell told The North Star that this is an issue the organization has seen before and noted that most school districts allow students to wear Native American regalia during graduation.

“We’re going to work with Birdshead and work with the school district to come to a solution before graduation,” Campbell said. “We hope that the school district will come around and see how important this is for the Birdsheads.”

In a statement to The North Star, Latta Public School District Superintendent Cliff Johnson said the regalia request was denied because “the student handbook only allows school issued items to be worn at graduation ceremonies.” He noted that Taloa has asked to have a meeting with the school board about the district’s policy and “arrangements are being made for that to take place.” The school district wrote on its Facebook last week that a public hearing would take place on April 17 for parents of Indian children and tribes to discuss the school’s graduation dress policy. “The Latta Indian Parent Committee Meeting will be held in conjunction with the public hearing,” the Facebook post read.

In a statement to KFOR, the Chickasaw Nation said the cords given to the students “serve as a symbol of that pride and [a] source of encouragement for years to come” and hoped “that all institutions recognize our intent.” In March, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum signed a bill that would allow Native American Students to wear eagle feathers or plums during their high school graduation ceremonies, The Bismarck Tribune previously reported. The bill titled House Bill 1335 forbids school districts in the state from prohibiting Native American students from wearing eagle feathers or plumes during their graduation.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.