School Bars Indian Student’s Eagle Feather

     MOORE, Okla. (CN) – A Muscogee Indian sued her Oklahoma school district for refusing to let her graduate from high school with a sacred eagle feather with her cap and gown.
     The student’s mother, Susan Alexander, sued Moore Public Schools, Superintendent Robert Romines and the school board on Tuesday in Federal Court, on behalf of her daughter, K.R.
     Eagle feathers are sacred to many Plains Indian tribes, and the federal government has passed laws allowing Native Americans to possess feathers from the protected species.
     Alexander says her daughter’s uncle gave K.R. the feather during a traditional ceremony.
     “George Alexander is enrolled in the Otoe Missouri Tribe, and a descendant of the Ponca, Seminole, and Creek Nations,” the complaint states.
     “The feather was gifted to K.R. in honor of her academic achievement of high school graduation, her passage into adulthood, and as a reminder that the Creator is always with her.”
     Alexander claims Creekmore High School’s prohibition violates the state and federal constitutions, and the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act.
     “Eagles, as they roam the sky, have a special connection with God,” for their family, the mother says.
     “In her Native American tradition, when an eagle feather is gifted by a tribal elder, it is among the highest forms of recognition that may be bestowed upon a young person,” the complaint states.
     “K.R.’s mother and uncle have indicated there is an important way to spiritually and religiously take care of the feather, and they are going to show her the proper protocol to handle the feather when they give it to her.”
     Alexander says she asked the school district if her daughter could wear the feather at graduation, and that Superintendent Romines refused, calling the feather a prohibited “decoration” or “adornment.”
     But Alexander says: “In order to wear the eagle feather in a manner consistent with her religious beliefs and also wear the required graduation attire, K.R. must attach the eagle feather to her graduation cap or gown, or in her hair, so that the eagle feather will be visible and prominently displayed.”
     Romines told Courthouse News the school district “is proud of the diverse heritage” of its students, but administrators denied an exception to graduation rules after considering Alexander’s request.
     The superintendent said the graduation ceremony is “voluntary” and sponsored by the school.
     “It is a solemn, serious, and respectful ceremony that recognizes the senior class as a whole and their achievements while at school and in connection with district sponsored activities. For this reason, graduation is strictly monitored as to dress and decorum,” Romines said in a statement.
     “This decision not to grant an exception to the student means no disrespect to the student or to her Native American heritage. The district believes strongly that graduation caps should not be used for billboards for religious speech. Allowing an exception for the student would require the district to permit students to place any type or kind of religious symbol on their cap during graduation, thereby detracting from the formality of the event and focusing attention on individual students as opposed to the graduating class at large.”
     Romines said he hopes the court will the deny Alexanders’ request and allow the ceremony to proceed with its years-long strict dress code.
     Alexander seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction.
     She is represented by Daniel Gomez with Connor Winters in Tulsa and Matthew Campbell with the Native America Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo.

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