A Sapulpa Oklahoma High School is refusing to allow Native American graduating senior Liseanne Yazzie to wear traditional moccasins to her graduation ceremony. Ironically, the school mascot is a Native American chief wearing a headdress.
Yazzie says that instead of wearing heels or tennis shoes to her Sapulpa High School graduation, she asked her principal if she could wear traditional Navajo moccasins in the graduation ceremony. The principal and administrators decided it would be against the school district's policy.
KJRH TV news reports that the Sapulpa public school system is standing firm in their graduation dress code that bans boots of any kind, and Yazzie’s moccasins, though traditional, are viewed as boots by the school system.
Yazzie noted that the decision was ironic because her school’s mascot is a Chieftain and students often wear t-shirts with the logo of a Chief in a headdress.
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“I think that since our mascot is a chieftain, I would think they would allow Native American students to represent their culture and where they come from,” Yazzie told ICTMN.
“My school has other Native American kids and many tribes are represented. I don't see why they won't support this. I don't see why they won't allow me to represent my culture by wearing my traditional clothing.”
Yazzie’s mother, Michelle Bear Robe, agreed with her daughter.
“How is it is it that this school can have an Indian chief mascot, but you won't let us wear our traditional clothes? It's frustrating in this day and age that the school would be this way with this, I could even understand if we were wearing something that might draw a massive amount of attention, or something that was big and flamboyant,” says Bear Robe, “but 90% of the people wouldn't even notice my daughter would be wearing her moccasins. until she even went on stage. I don't know what the big deal is.”
Bear Robe says she has been in touch with Native rights organizations, including the Native American Rights Fund.
“I am going to continue this fight, she has three little brothers who might have to face the same thing,” said Bear Robe.
Bear Robe also said the school took things to another level on a previous occasion during a Homecoming game, when non-native students were running around the sports field wearing fake Native American headdresses.
Sapulpa School District
The Sapulpa Chieftains logo
ICTMN’s Amanda Blackhorse, who is related to Yazzie, also gave a comment about Sapulpa, “like other colonial institutions that misappropriate indigenous people/culture, position themselves to dictate what's Indigenous and what isn't. They should never govern our traditions and they should never decide how we should be represented. Looks like they need a makeover and now is the time to have that discussion.“
Yazzie says she will not stop fighting for her right to show her traditional Native regalia.
“My school has other Native American kids and many tribes are represented, I am not the only one that goes to the school, I don't see why they won't support this. I don't see why they won't allow me to represent my culture by wearing my traditional clothing”
“I am going to continue to stand my ground and try to make them reconsider their decision,” she says. “I want to do this not just for my sake but for other Native American kids. They should be able to wear their traditional clothing on a special day that means so much.
“Graduating high school is a big step for me and my family.”
ICTMN has reached out to the Sapulpa Public School district, but no one responded to requests for comment except for Superintendent Kevin Burr, who told ICTMN in an email:
Thank you for your email inquiry. I appreciate your questions, however I'm still gathering information regarding this situation and am not yet prepared to make comment on any aspect of it until I feel fully informed.
I have yet to meet or speak with the young lady (other family) involved but am hopeful a meeting will be scheduled early next week.
Follow ICTMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wow’s and Sports Editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling