Eagle Feather Causes Trouble At Graduation Again

Posted By Paul G June 26th, 2013 Last Updated on: June 26th, 2013

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.

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BeDeaux R Wesaw

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.


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.


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.”



Francisco Perez

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


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.

elizabeth jacques

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

Robert jim

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


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.


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.

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