Superintendent Barry Simpson, of the Bishop Unified School District, in California has had a change of heart about beaded graduation caps after a meeting with local tribal leaders. Simpson had originally told graduating senior Leticia Gonzalez, of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, that she would not be able to wear the cap her grandmother hand-beaded for her ceremony.
Simpson said he was willing to make an exception because the cap was tasteful and a reflection of Gonzales’ Native American culture, and was hand beaded by her grandmother in a gesture of goodwill and support.
In addition to allowing Gonzales to wear her beaded cap, Simpson told ICTMN that his school, which has a large Native student population, has been supporting Native students for over 25 years by allowing them to wear eagle feathers in their tassels when during graduation.
He said other superintendents should consider the benefits to Native students where eagle feathers are concerned.
Mr. Simpson, your school district at first said they would not allow Miss Gonzales to wear her decorated cap, why did you decide to make a change?
I really saw it as an opportunity for us to work together and come to a good resolution—it is so often easy to become entrenched and have the old way of doing things or to take one side or the other. It is important for us to continue our dialogue and I am glad that we were able to do that.
There are a number of things that we do that I think highlight our respect and value for the Paiute Shoshone culture. We have a Native American Prince and Princess at our homecoming ceremony, we recognize California Indian Day and we have an active Native American Student Association.
There are a number of things we do that we are proud of here at the Bishop Unified School District.
At the time of this interview, there are two other school districts that are currently not allowing their students to wear an eagle feather to the graduation ceremony. Is there anything these superintendents should be doing?
Well, there needs to be some discussion between school district leaders and tribal leaders to gain some understanding as to why these things are important and how it does not detract from anything the school is doing. It only adds to the culture at your school and to a climate of tolerance.
These superintendents say they can’t break policy and allow students to wear the feathers. Don’t you make the rules?
Yes. And I think that response is just the easy way to go. I think there are a number of folks who really want to take the subjectivity or objectivity out of this decision, and we are a people business. Yes, there are things that reflect a strict and fast policy, and those can be helpful, but it’s not always just black and white. There is a gray area.
We do have some concerns, but I think this can serve as a good example of what we can do if we communicate.
Do you think these superintendents and school districts need to allow their students to wear eagle feathers in their tassels?
Yes. I feel that is something they should consider for sure.