BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — A Native American student was forced to remove an eagle feather prior to her high school graduation ceremony in northeastern Oklahoma.
Broken Arrow student Lena’ Black, who is Otoe-Missouria and Osage, told the Tulsa World the feather was attached to her mortarboard and that she had been told previously that the feather would be allowed because of its cultural significance.
Black said she passed several checkpoints before being approached by a school counselor and a security guard, who tried to forcibly remove the feather.
“I had to take off my cap,” Black said. “They kept trying to take it off of me.”
The district’s website states that mortarboards are to be without decorations and the confrontation was due to a miscommunication about the required protocols for approval of adding culturally significant items, according to School Indian Education Coordinator Rich Pawpa said.
Other Indigenous students wore regalia during the ceremony, Pawpa said.
Black’s mother, Marci Black, said they were not told of any protocols and have received an apology from the district.
“I want this to never happen to another Native student ... they ruined something she has worked her whole life to achieve,” Marci Black said.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister issued a letter in January to state schools asking them to review policies on Indigenous students wearing tribal regalia, feathers and other culturally significant items.
The letter included a 2019 letter from then-Attorney General Mike Hunter that an Indigenous student’s right to wear eagle feathers on their mortarboard is protected under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act.