To view previous TEDNA articles and links about eagle feathers and graduation this year, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

NARF, California Indian Legal Services and the ACLU of CA wrote a letter together for the Superintendent of Clovis Unified School District on behalf of Christian Titman.

An excerpt:

One of the proudest moments in my life was graduating with my master’s in education administration from Oglala Lakota College and receiving an eagle feather for achieving a lifelong dream. That was until 2012, when our oldest son graduated from high school, and my wife and I had the honor of tying his eagle feather on him. And we are looking forward to proudly supporting our youngest son when he graduates from high school in 2017.

Eagles are known by many tribes to be a messenger to the Creator, symbolizing bravery, respect, personal achievement and honor. Eagles are protected under two federal laws: the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These prohibit the possession, use and sale of eagle feathers and parts, with an explicit exception for American Indians who are enrolled members of federally recognized tribes. American Indian tribal members may wear feathers legally in their possession or utilized to create religious or ceremonial items for personal or tribal use.

This month, thousands of American Indian students across the country are graduating from high school and college, fulfilling a dream for themselves and an honor for their families. And with only 49 percent of Native students graduating from high school nationwide, this is a moment to be celebrated and cherished. Honoring our graduating Native students who attend the 187 tribal schools across 23 states has been a longstanding cultural tradition. Native graduates receive their eagle feathers and plumes and proudly wear them on their graduation caps or tied in their hair. This is a part of who we are and continues to affirm our identity and connection to our ancestry and culture.

To read the entire article, click here.

 

FRESNO—Today a Native American graduating senior at Clovis High School filed a notice of intent to file an emergency lawsuit to challenge the school district’s refusal to allow him to wear and display a small eagle feather during the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 4. The student will only be able to wear the eagle feather, an item with religious and cultural significance, on his graduation cap during the ceremony if a court intervenes. The notice asks for an emergency court hearing on Tuesday, June 2, to decide the issue.

The student, Christian Titman, and his parents have repeatedly asked the school for permission for him to display the eagle feather, presented to him by his father as a mark of his academic achievements, during the upcoming graduation ceremony. However, district officials repeatedly denied their request. Christian, a member of the Pit River Tribe, would like to wear the eagle feather in his graduation cap as an expression of his religious and cultural heritage.

Eagle feathers are sacred to many Native Americans and are a symbol of significant accomplishment. State and federal law protect freedom of expression and recognize the religious significance of eagle feathers for Native Americans. California students also have broad free speech rights under the Education Code.

Other school districts, including in Lemoore and Bishop, have allowed Native American students to wear eagle feathers in their graduation caps as religious expression.

The student is represented by the ACLU of Northern California, California Indian Legal Services, and the Native American Rights Fund. The groups seek an injunction, which would allow Christian to wear and display his eagle feather in his graduation cap.

“Clovis already allows California Scholarship Federation and National Honor Society accessories during the graduation ceremony. It should be no different for Christian to wear a feather as a symbol of his academic accomplishment,” said Novella Coleman, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

The emergency lawsuit notice comes after the groups sent a letter on May 19 asking the district to reconsider. In a May 22 response, the district lists “acceptable” accessories allowed at graduation and outlines that “students are expected to behave in a manner that respects the formality of the ceremony” and that the ban on accessories is designed to avoid “disruption of the graduation ceremonies.” The district’s formal refusal letter lists other items it bans, such as balloons and noisemakers.

“The district’s refusal to allow a small symbol of religious expression during the graduation ceremony is a misunderstanding of both the spirit and the letter of the law,” said Coleman. “The implication that an eagle feather with religious significance is unacceptable or disruptive signals a deep disrespect from the district.”

The lawsuit will outline protections in the California Constitution for freedom of religious expression and student free speech. A school’s refusal to allow Native American students to wear and display an eagle feather during graduation violates these provisions of the state constitution and the Education Code.

To view the article on the ACLU’s website or further information, click here.

One day in 2014, in Utah’s San Juan School District, two middle school boys went looking for their teacher. The district serves the largest number of Native American students in the state and both boys identified as such. In pursuit of their teacher, they checked out the teachers’ lounge, and, in that room full of adult secrets, they began to poke around. In the fridge they found a couple bottles of Dr. Pepper. They grabbed them and drank them.

Unsurprisingly, they were caught.

But what might have been dismissed as a youthful infraction instead took a serious turn: both boys were referred to law enforcement for theft.

Their story, which comes from a report released by the University of Utah Friday, is not unusual. The study, conducted by researchers at the university’s S.J. Quinney College of Law Public Policy Clinic, found that Native American students in Utah are disciplined far more harshly than their peers. They’re almost eight times more likely to be referred to law enforcement and six times more likely to be arrested than white students, far out of proportion to the size of the population.

The result is a phenomenon known in education circles as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” whereby zero tolerance disciplinary policies that disproportionately target minority students funnel them out of school and into juvenile justice programs.

“A lot of these policies have the best intentions,” Vanessa Walsh, the report’s primary author, said. “We have to keep our schools safe. But it’s having consequences that I don’t think anyone anticipated.”

The next stop for many students is often the adult prison system, which can have devastating impacts on already-vulnerable youth and their communities, she said. (In the case of the soda-drinking boys, the school district doesn’t track what happens once students are handed to police, but they could have been charged with a crime, arrested, fined or forced to appear in court.)

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Today’s throwback is about a discrimination lawsuit against a South Dakota School District that was settled in 2007.  The case was Antoine v. Winner School District, which the ACLU and Rosebud Sioux Tribe prosecuted.  A snippet from the ACLU website:

In March of 2006, the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, ACLU of the Dakotas and Attorney General of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe filed a complaint in federal district court on behalf of Native American families with children in South Dakota’s majority-white Winner School District. The class action lawsuit claimed that the schools discriminated against Native American students in disciplining them, were hostile toward Native American families, and took statements from students involved in disciplinary matters that were later used to prosecute them in juvenile and criminal courts.

The complaint, which was filed in federal district court, can be seen here. The complaint to the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education can be seen here.  Details on the Settlement can be seen here. Unfortunately, it seems as if this type of conduct from School Districts is far from uncommon. See, e.g., here and here.