PORTLAND, Ore. - Walking in two worlds takes finesse, but parents Craig and
Rene'e Wellman, Portlanders who hail from the Blackfeet and Sioux tribes,
have seen to it that their five children grew up taking pride in who they
Rene'e beaded the rim of her daughter Kelsey's mortar board in red, black
and white, just as she had for her son who graduated from David Douglas
High School last year. And using four eagle plumes that Kelsey's uncle gave
her when she was five, the young woman's brother-in-law secured them into a
Kelsey, Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux, noted that during the June 8 graduation
ceremonies several teachers told her how "cool" she looked and she even
shook hands with an administrator who hadn't commented on the plumes. Thus
she was stunned when, with several teachers looking on, a David Douglas
secretary, Pat Alderton, first challenged her and then allegedly forcibly
ripped the feathers from her cap.
"Could I just keep it?" Kelsey asked when Alderton told her she had to take
off the plumes hanging from her mortar board.
"She was just - really angry - like mean," said Kelsey. "I was going to
take it off and was just going to reach up and unhook it, but before I
could, she reached out and grabbed it.
"'Oh my God, you broke it,' I said, and I just started crying. Then when
she wouldn't even give them back to me, my friends said, 'Come on, you just
need to get across the street and your dad will take care of it.'"
There was a plaintive note of anguish in the young woman's voice while
recalling her big day. Her eyes watered even as her jaw trembled.
Kelsey said she was further dismayed that the teachers who witnessed the
event made no move to stop the secretary.
Said Craig Wellman: "Our children have been raised to be very proud of who
they are. This particular girl we're talking about has cooked for the Horn
Society during our Sun Dance. She's participated in a lot of activities
that most young girls haven't done. My wife and I practice our culture, and
I don't mean pow wows. It's the ceremonies that we attend and participate
Wellman explained how it was to have to abandon the extended family that
had come from Montana to celebrate Kelsey's graduation to retrieve his
daughter's eagle plumes.
"I went down there and asked what happened and was led by some lady who had
heard about it. She led me to this lady who had torn them off my daughter's
head, all the while saying things like 'what can we do to make this right?'
"When I got to the secretary and got the eagle plumes I couldn't believe it
- she literally broke them off. I was in disbelief and could not for the
life of me believe - I don't know what compelled her. What sort of perverse
gratification did she get from doing that? I'm still at a loss. Three or
four other ladies came up and said she shouldn't have done it. Several
teachers were angry and gave me the woman's name. My daughter is well-liked
in the school. She's an honor student. This lady that did that is just an
Kelsey said that the school has a policy in place about students decorating
graduation caps. "It's true that they did tell us that there's a code about
not decorating our caps, but the examples they gave were not writing things
like 'Hi mom' or 'I made it' or putting stickers on them," she explained.
"That was the only restriction. And my brother graduated last year and had
his cap fixed the same way with beads and eagle feathers, so we didn't
think we were doing anything wrong."
David Douglas Principal Randy Hutchinson was unavailable for comment by
press time. Vice Principal Mark Haner said: "I know nothing. I heard
nothing [about the alleged incident], which seems unusual if it happened."
Kelsey's parents have decided to try to move forward.
"Let's don't even talk about," said Craig Wellman. "Let's try to make this
a happy event." So the family - including Kelsey's 65-year-old grandmother
who despite a recent stroke took a train from Montana and all four of
Kelsey's siblings, including three older sisters who live in Montana, one
of whom had two young sons in tow - went through the motions the best they
could and celebrated Kelsey's achievement.
Weeks after the incident, the family is just beginning to recover from the
"I haven't had time to really think it out," Craig Wellman said. "I was
thinking of a letter to the school, but it's really hard. I sat down
several times and started letters, but I'm not sure what I want to tell
them. Like: what is my goal? And what do I want to achieve with this
letter? I don't want anything from them - I just want to teach them."