NARF represents Native American student in challenge to ban on ceremonial eagle feathers during graduation

A Native American student will be allowed to wear an eagle feather on his cap during his high school graduation ceremony after reaching a settlement agreement with the Clovis Unified School District late Tuesday evening. Christian Titman, a member of the Pit River Tribe, filed a lawsuit and sought an injunction in state court after repeated requests to wear the eagle feather on his cap at graduation were denied by the school district.

Eagle feathers are considered sacred objects in many Native American religious traditions. They represent honesty, truth, majesty, strength, courage, wisdom, power, and freedom. Many Native Americans believe that as eagles roam the sky, they have a special connection with God. Often, Native American graduates receive an eagle feather from an elder or their community in recognition of educational achievements and wish to wear it during their graduation ceremony in order to honor their tribal religion, community, achievement, and traditions.

In an affidavit submitted to the court, Isidro Gali, Vice Chairperson of the Pit River Tribes said, “[t]he gift of an eagle feather to wear at a ceremony is a great honor given in recognition of an important transition and has great spiritual meaning. When given in honor of a graduation ceremony, the eagle feather is also recognition of academic achievement and school-related success. Eagle feathers are worn with pride and respect.”

“Although school districts across the country recognize the importance of wearing eagle feathers to Native graduates, there remains a minority that persists in erecting undue barriers. However, once the religious and cultural significance of wearing eagle feathers is understood by school districts, it is easy for schools to accommodate the practice at graduation ceremonies,” said Joel West Williams, Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, who represented Titman along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and California Indian Legal Services.

Matthew Campbell, another Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney representing Mr. Titman said, “Importantly, this settlement requires the school district to remain engaged after graduation and discuss with Christian ways that it can improve communications regarding religious accommodations for future graduates. We are hopeful that future Native American graduates will not face the same obstacles.”

NARF has a long history of assisting students who are prohibited from wearing eagle feathers at graduation ceremonies due to narrow graduation dress codes. For more information, please contact Staff Attorney Joel West Williams at (202) 785-4166 or Staff Attorney Matthew Campbell at (303) 447-8760.

Via TurtleTalk: Magistrate Decision in Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools

In which the student is denied the right to wear an eagle feather on her graduation cap. Her graduation from Caney Valley Public Schools, which is just north of Tulsa, is Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Recommendation

The School demonstrated that the graduation ceremony is a formal ceremony and that the unity of the graduating class as a whole is fostered by the uniformity of the caps which are the most prominently visible part of the graduation regalia viewed by the audience to the graduation. Prohibiting decoration of any graduation cap by any student for any purpose serves these legitimate interests. Based on the application of these established principles the undersigned finds that Plaintiff has not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on her First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion claim.

Plaintiff’s Motion and Brief

Defendant’s Motion and Brief

20. Objection to Report and Rec (5-20-15)

21. Defs Resp to Obj to RR (5-20-15)

Grand Forks American Indian students, administration debate allowing eagle feathers as graduation attire

Here, from InForum.com.  An excerpt:

For years, American Indian students have been denied the request because of school policy. But within a few weeks, school administrators may reverse that decision.

If they favor student requests like LaRoque’s, it would be a first for the district and end a year of discussion between students and administrators on whether it’s a right.

A local petition favoring students has been circulating online, with 367 supporters so far.

Districts across the nation have also been addressing the subject.

LaRoque said students should have a right to celebrate their culture in this way, regardless if they’re Native Americans.

“In my opinion, education is about preparing people to go into the world and be receptive of other cultures and backgrounds,” she said.