Eagle Feather Causes Trouble At Graduation Again

By Paul G on June 26, 2013
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According to Indian Country Today, another student has been asked to remove an eagle feather during graduation.  Sky Walkingstick of the Eastern Band of Cherokee was told to remove the feather before graduation.  The Assistant Principal of JB Pennington High School Steven Bryson told Sky to remove feather from his cap minute before the ceremony began.

This is the second time this year that a feather has been an issue during graduation.  Chelsey Ramer was also asked to remove her feather.  She did not remove the feather and was fined $1,000.

Sky Walkingstick choose to remove his feather before the ceremony.

What are your thoughts on these incidents?

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Photo by Medicinehorse.


TOPICS: Blog, Featured, Native American Culture, News

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39 Responses to “Eagle Feather Causes Trouble At Graduation Again”

  1. Liesa L Dunifer says:

    Wearing the Eagle feather is no different than someone wearing a cross necklace or the Star of David necklace. It is called “Freedom of Religion” and asking them to remove them is WRONG!!!! If they are going to ask them to remove their Eagle feather then they need to ask the others to remove their religious jewelry as well!!!! This country is going down the toilet real fast……..Unreal!!!!

    • Little Brave says:

      I would Check with the school first to be sure it would be okay for him to wear his feather. or to have any Native customs. Unless you were in a native School. It is respect for the school, your native culture belongs to you and that if other do not like it, many will suffer at the cause. I know it means respect because your belief is not shameful, but other are lost in who they are.

      • PollyLive says:

        Natives in North America have unique rights often guaranteed through various laws. They are not immigrants coming in that have to respect the existing culture and its norms. To ask them to remove their Eagle feather not only disrespected that fact but assumes they’ve been assimilated when its more the case that their culture has evolved due to influence but it has not been eradicated.

        Most people are ignorant to the uniqueness of Aboriginal rights, the laws and the history as to why those laws exist which adds to nonacceptance. Because they are in the majority, they assume their rights trump those of the minority without realizing that the Aboriginals took certain precautions to ensure that did not happen from a legal perspective.

  2. Karen Sharpe says:

    This is unconstitutional. This government disgusts me. The right to”Freedom Of Religion” has never truly been challenged yet. It is like when the U.S. government took this land from the Natives they never meant to enforce the Constitution. If they did, African Americans would never have had to FIGHT for EQUAL RIGHTS. The same goes for women and gay people. The Native Americans were shoved onto reservations, lied to and received less food or spoiled food for NOT attending church. If a american dollar bill had “ALL” the religious symbols of the world printed on it, who would bitch??? My theory is “ALL” belief systems would feel honored to be recognized, except ONE. My belief is the U.S. government needed the Natives to be CHRISTIANS so they would be “obedient, tax paying ,voting, slaves. Belief systems create the laws. Natives should not be subject to christian law in any way, shape or form. We should honor the beliefs of the Natives and STOP killing the Earth for money and STOP disrespecting their CULTURE AND BELIEFS. We’ve already taken so much from them….America says it is unique because its diversity so why then do they try to corrupt belief systems with their arrogant materialism?

  3. Ed Webber says:

    As has been noted above and forever, it seems…We confront, once again the “freedom of religion”. These young ones had every right to walk on that stage, take their diplomas in hand, and proudly walked off the stage all the while declaring their faith quietly and observant of social moor’s.

    Shame on a person representing my community for interfering in that sacred RIGHT! You small person before the honor and might of an individuals right to honor their forefathers and Nature.

  4. Doug Pollitt says:

    It is absurd!! His rights are more important than this!

  5. wildcat says:

    I totally agree with all three comments you took their land you took their freedom and put them on these reservations, what else do you want that is their heritage. do you want to take that to? what a shame

  6. Maryann Klaus says:

    I am so tired of people hqaving to fight what should be afforded them by the laws of this country. When are we going to admit that we wronged many ethnic groups globally not just here on the land we call our country. It’s a feather to most of us to the children who wanted to wear them it was much more it truly is a part of their beliefs. Too bad we don’t belive put as much effort into the wordsa of our forefathers.

  7. Tracey Lin Miller says:

    They still don’t get it do they? Why can’t people be allowed to follow the customs of their cultures when it is harming no one!

  8. Karen Sharpe says:

    You say ” Declaring their faith quietly” …..Why is it then Barrack Obama had to speak of his religious beliefs openly during the election???? What if he was Muslim???? Would he be president if he was Muslim???

  9. Gloria Hammond says:

    I have been to many graduations, for many levels of degrees. I am amazed at the idea that a eagle feather adornment could offend anyone. I have seen twinkle lights, Monograms, sequins and tassel twirlers. I was not disturbed ! Any and all ,Graduates are a huge plus in the growth of self resolve .

  10. Hattepaa says:

    When I was graduating, my cousins and I had to fight with the school to let us wear our feather. This is a school that my tribe donates a lot of money too and they treat the students of our tribe like dirt. Anyway, their reasoning of it was because they didn’t want to “draw” attention away from the graduation. However; they will let students from clubs wear brightly colored sashes and people from other religions to wear anything they wanted. I still wore my feather, I had to sneak it in and as soon as I sat down, I put my feather on. The school was angry with me, but I wasn’t fined for it. Me sneaking my heritage should not even happen at all. I agree with everyone here, all cultures and religions should be honored and not singled out, no one is being hurt by it. And if they do have a problem with it, then turn the other way, it doesn’t affect them.

  11. Tammy Scism says:

    Historically, eagle feathers signified an accomplishment which the wearer displayed proudly. In the present day Native American community, attaining an education is a great accomplishment which should be recognized.

  12. levi randoll says:

    Are kids not taught resolve anymore? You wear that feather knowing full well that you’ll have resistance to it, people will gripe, complain and threaten you over it. Youre making a statement by making the choice to stand up and keep it on. Dont let people convince you to take it off. To attempt it and fail should not be news worthy. Lets hear about those indian kids that wear it and keep it on instead!

  13. Patti Wetterman says:

    Do these school “authorities” seem to forget that the Bald Eagle is the “official bird” of this country? Honored and recognized by the law makers of the white man and followers of all faiths in this country….This is taught in the schools when one studies the history and customs of this country. It seems like the educated people who made this decision better review the honor that they have given to brother Eagle….

  14. auj says:

    Racist school.

  15. dzintra windle says:

    This makes me so sad..the school wouldn’t tell a student they cant wear a cross on a chain so what right to they have to tell another student to remove their feather!! Its a disgrace and they should be ashamed..wear your feather with pride i say.

  16. April says:

    Freedom of religion, only applies to Christianity, these days.

  17. Dave says:

    wear it under the robe, as soon as the person receives the diploma, pull it out and proudly display the feather.

  18. Katelyn says:

    There are schools in upstate New York that allow their Iroquois students to wear full regalia to graduation. Why can’t these schools allow an eagle feather? They just want to be racist.

  19. DaWolf says:

    Absolutely despicable!

  20. Jennfier says:

    I’m confused as to why so many high school kids HAVE eagle feathers. I was raised with the tradition that taught that eagle feathers were reserved for warriors or others who had been awarded one as an award for some extraordinary service to their community. It is a difficult honor to earn and nothing is more sacred to the owner nor can a bigger honor be awarded to someone. Membership to a group isn’t enough, but through that particular individual’s actual accomplishments. Are northern tribes just stricter than southern tribes in this regard? Have requirements become more lenient? I agree in all of these cases that the students in question should be able to wear a feather they have earned, but not a single article I have read addresses what they have done to earn a feather in the first place.

  21. Taylor says:

    At many institutions of higher education, nothing is allowed to be placed on the cap but the official tassel. If no one is allowed to put anything on their cap, nothing, not even an eagle feather, should be made an exception. Now if other students have items placed on their caps then the eagle feather should be allowed.

  22. micheal Guess says:

    the act of wearing eagle feathers as a native American is supposed to be protected by law. They have no authority to ask for the removal.

  23. Barbara says:

    Freedom of Religion is only a freedom if our PC government deems it to be. Giving special consideration to only those religions they think are worthy.

    What was done to this young man was unconscionable….

  24. Millie says:

    The school reacted in a shameful (and illegal) way (imo). If feathers cannot be worn, then ALL religious items of ALL religions should be banned. Religious discrimination, period.

  25. David says:

    Missing the point. Its either a policy to not deface the mortarboard (“hat”)or at minimum an attempt to maintain what they consider proper decorum in representing the school.

    No one can wear a cross or star of David, Tape, happy faces or anything else on the hats. Have a feather extended from his hair as a religious / faith expression (and pride), then I’d have an issue if the school asked it to be removed. But get over the symbolism of it all and chants of racism if you have nothing else to go on.

    You don’t have freedom of religious expression extend to expressing your faith in a means of defacing school property no more than you can burn a cross on someone else’s lawn to “express” your faith.

    Yes, they may swerved down a racist path by acting indignantly towards a teenager’s act of individualism, as is often the case in graduations. It’s very likely the school officials are on high alert every year for someone to try to push past comformity. But as always, they should have taken a better path to set policy and resolve the problem before it occurred, or at least look for a way to compromise with a teen who is leaving their school.

  26. Dan says:

    This is an outrage! Native students have the RIGHT to wear ceremonial regalia! It is a part of our culture! I hope they sue the school for violating their rights!

  27. Patricia says:

    Just first a question, does anyone know if the school was aware that it is a religious symbol to him/her? The reason I ask is that I did not know this, of course I am not native American and have no real understanding of the religious practices in you communities. If the school had this knowledge then they were 100% wrong to ask them to remove it, if they did not then maybe this is something that the leaders of your communities need to address with the school districts and principals. I for one would like to understand and know more so as to show respect for your heritage.

  28. Neil says:

    If others are allowed to wear religious, club or organizational affiliated add- ons to their cap and gown which represent significant achievements, then Native Americans should have the right to wear an Eagle feather. I also understand that the school sets forth certain rules for graduation ceremonies, and part of that is a dress code. Regardless of religious, tribal, ethnic, or community affiliation the rules should apply to everyone and the rights should be afforded to all.

  29. Robert jim says:

    Screw the white man world this is our land and if we wanna wear our feathers at any time then we should so don’t ever listen to what the white man or any other race says NATIVE PRIDE

  30. elizabeth jacques says:

    being that i am a custom to pow wows and native american ways, rip. ricky jacques ” white wolf” i have seen both sides of this sickening display of control, thats all it is, they know how important an eagle feather is to this culture and how strongly we believe in the medicine in which it carries and signifies this and only this is the reason in which they feel the need to abuse theyre position. seems thats the way of the world now huh??? people ;arent happy unless they are causing another sorrow and difficulties… never remove your feathers children

  31. David says:

    Apparently no one at the school has yet said you can’t wear religious symbols as part of your own clothing. That wasn’t determined, but certainly it’s assumed Islamic girls are allowed to wear a hijab. So others may follow suit.

    So a student can wear a feather in their hair under the cap, as an earring, or a piece of regalia (headpiece, neckpiece, etc) if they prefer. No one knows as the article doesn’t say more.

    Given everyone says to display your feather with pride and screw the school, then following that, wouldn’t you advise students to equally NOT wear the mortarboard at all and just wear the feather instead? Of course not, the student is proud to have both, an education AND a tribe.

    IF wearing the cap is required, then so is NOT attaching symbolic symbols or other regalia as (religious) décor to the hat. If it’s regalia then wear it as regalia. If it’s religious symbol then wear it appropriately, not attached to a cap.

    To be specific, you might attach religious items to clothing, such as a beaded headband to a hat, but you don’t attach “regalia”, you wear it. If a hat becomes part of your regalia, then so be it. But the graduation cap is not regalia. In my opinion, that’s demeaning the idea of what regalia is, to include a public school uniform into the definition of regalia. It’s a double-standard to say that regalia is sacred, yet sticking a feather in a school’s mortarboard now makes the uniform cap “regalia”. Wear the feather with pride AWAY from it’s attachment to the white man’s uniform/costume.

  32. Francisco Perez says:

    This happens every year in Mesa Arizona at a school called Westwood high school where the mascot is the Warriors Westwood Warriors every year the native students try to wear feathers on their caps They are told not to if they do their name will not be called on the football with their classmates and will get their diploma behind closed doors this is not right

  33. STEPHEN CAMPBELL says:

    THE RACIST OPPRESSION NEVER ENDS!
    GERONIMO

  34. Christine says:

    I agree that he should be permitted to wear the eagle feather ONLY if other cultures are permitted to demonstrate their traditional celebratory customs as well. However, the argument that other students are wearing religious symbols under their cap and gown does not hold water. “Native American” is not a religion. The eagle feather is not a display of religious belief; it is a symbol of achievement. According to http://www.indians.org/articles/feathers.html

    “The only way an Indian can actually get one of these feathers is by doing a brave deed, like fighting off a bear or going up against the enemy. They were never allowed to wear the feather until they went in front of their tribal court and retold the story of their victory. It was at this time that they were allowed to put it in their headpiece. Only chieftains, warriors, and braves have ever been awarded this special gift.”

  35. David says:

    Christine – though I’d agree with you in practical terms, most are ready to throw up the American Indian Religious Freedom Act as a reason or “religious” right to display feathers and the like in ANY format one chooses. And indeed it is a reason, just not in all cases. Like yelling “fire” in a theatre is not reasonable as “freedom os speech”.

    Others simply feel it’s a natural right, i.e. “We were here first – all other rules don’t apply” rationale.

    I’d say many kids are often pulled between the pride of learning conformity and discipline to complete 12 years of schooling alongside their peers and the pride of accomplishing something as a tribal member. Though it’s a US law to attend school until a certain age, it would be a shame for parents to encourage their kids to quit school ONLY to avoid assimilation into a US education (as poor as it is). So part of completing these levels (of education) is the privilege to participate and follow the protocol of a ceremony of accomplishment. Sound familiar?

    So the debate seems focused on whether it’s a “right” in ALL circumstances for ANYONE to display ceremonial or religious items as they see fit. That simple answer is: “no”.

    It’s a “Cap and Gown” ceremony for those who wish to participate and follow the formalities. Any student in most venues and educational systems may have their diploma mailed to them or they go pick it up if they wish, if they don’t wish to participate in the ceremony. Regardless if the staff are racists (and it most definitely seems they are insensitive at the least) if the policy is the same for all students, then relaxing the policy for one comes under the heading of “if done for one, we have to do for all, then where does it end?”

    He hung the feather from his tassel, and not his hair or by other attachments to his head. Honor students had adornments as part of their level of honor, but those were part of the accepted dress of “cap and gown”. Consider it that he participated in a “white man’s” ceremony, as most comments are purporting an “us against them” theory. So he should follow the culturally set policy of that school. So in that manner, I’d suggest that if some dude got out on the floor at a Pow Wow and started dancing around for no reason with no regalia during a dance, that he’d be respectfully told to move aside/outside of the floor, as it’s not part of the ceremonial customs, though there is probably no written policies to that affect.

    If a student showed “religious” tendencies by wearing a feather(s) daily as part of a headress, similar to a turban or hijab, then that student might have a case at cap and gown time. Sky is a dancer, but didn’t wear dress daily at school. Using that reasoning doesn’t fly legally in these instances.

  36. BeDeaux R Wesaw says:

    I just want to say that Alabama is not the place to be as a Native American person. I know this from my own experience. I moved here in 2009 and ever since I came here it has not been a good experience. I know that we as Natives have a hard time with this State. I live here with my wife and two children. My daughter had problems at her school because she stated in class the the books were wrong about Souix people and “they do not like to be called Souix they want to be called Lakota, Dakota and Nakota” she was failed for this and she is part Lakota. Alabama is just not the place to be if you are Indian.

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