AP

Native students exercise right to wear regalia at graduation

May 26, 2022, 2:25 AM | Updated: 5:56 pm

Amryn Tom graduates from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. To...

Amryn Tom graduates from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Tom is wearing an eagle feather given to her by her mother and a cap that a family friend beaded. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)


              Amryn Tom holds her beaded graduation cap and eagle feather during her graduation from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Tom is wearing an eagle feather given to her by her mother and a cap that a family friend beaded. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Elijah Wiggins wears an eagle feather at his graduation from Cedar City High School Wednesday from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Wiggins crossed the stage to accept his diploma wearing an eagle feather that his uncle, Hoksila Lakota, had gifted him ahead of the ceremony to celebrate his graduation. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Dayne Hudson, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, walks with his eagle feather fan during the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Hudson said it was important to wear eagle feathers and a beaded cap to represent his family and honor those who were stopped from doing so under the old rule. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Dayne Hudson, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, holds his eagle feather fan during the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Hudson said it was important to wear eagle feathers and a beaded cap to represent his family and honor those who were stopped from doing so under the old rule. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Dayne Hudson, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, holds his eagle feather fan before the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Hudson said it was important to wear eagle feathers and a beaded cap to represent his family and honor those who were stopped from doing so under the old rule. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Dayne Hudson, a member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, carries an eagle feather fan during the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Hudson said it was important to wear eagle feathers and a beaded cap to represent his family and honor those who were stopped from doing so under the old rule. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Elijah Wiggins crosses the stage to accept his diploma wearing an eagle feather during the graduation from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Amryn Tom reacts after graduating from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Tom is wearing an eagle feather given to her by her mother and a cap that a family friend beaded. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Graduates celebrate as they throw their caps in the air after the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              **HOLD AND MOVE WITH STORY**The Canyon View High School graduation is shown Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Last year, two school principals in southern Utah's Iron County School District attempted to bar two Native American students from wearing forms of tribal regalia at their graduation ceremonies. One wore it anyway, daring school officials to follow through on the prohibition, while the other reported the incident to the chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, who then worked to ensure Native American students had the right to wear tribal regalia at their graduations under state law. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Brailyn Jake wears an eagle feather at her graduation from Cedar City High School Wednesday from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Last year, two school principals in southern Utah's Iron County School District attempted to bar two Native American students from wearing forms of tribal regalia at their graduation ceremonies. One wore it anyway, daring school officials to follow through on the prohibition, while the other reported the incident to the chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, who then worked to ensure Native American students had the right to wear tribal regalia at their graduations under state law. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Hoksila Lakota, right, ties an eagle feather to Elijah Wiggins before his graduation from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Wiggins crossed the stage to accept his diploma wearing the eagle feather that his uncle, Lakota, had gifted him ahead of the ceremony to celebrate his graduation. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Emalyce Kee, a Navajo and Rosebud Sioux, holds her 2021 beaded graduation cap Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Kee was told last year at Cedar City High School that she couldn't wear regalia. So she wore a normal cap up until moments before walking across stage to accept her diploma, when she exchanged it for one that her uncle had beaded with a plume. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Dayne Hudson, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, walks with his eagle feather fan during the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Hudson said it was important to wear eagle feathers and a beaded cap to represent his family and honor those who were stopped from doing so under the old rule. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Dayne Hudson, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, holds his eagle feather fan before the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Hudson said it was important to wear eagle feathers and a beaded cap to represent his family and honor those who were stopped from doing so under the old rule. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Amryn Tom graduates from Cedar City High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. Tom is wearing an eagle feather given to her by her mother and a cap that a family friend beaded. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

CEDAR CITY, Utah (AP) — She walked up a red carpet and crossed a stage to accept her diploma wearing an eagle feather beaded onto her cap that her mother had gifted her.

Amryn Tom graduated this week from southern Utah’s Cedar City High School. Her family cheered.

For the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and other Native Americans, eagle feathers of the variety Tom wore are sacred items passed down through generations, used at ceremonies to signify achievement and connection with the community.

“This is from your ancestors,” Tom said her mother, Charie, told her.

One year ago, students in Tom’s school district would have been barred from wearing any form of tribal regalia along with their traditional cardinal-colored caps and gowns.

Not this year.

In March, Utah joined a growing list of states in enshrining Native American students’ rights to wear tribal regalia at their graduation ceremonies.

In Iron County, where the school district tried to bar two graduates from wearing regalia at last year’s ceremonies, Tom and other Native American students savored the hard-won right.

“It’s kind of huge,” said Paiute tribal member Brailyn Jake, an eagle feather and beads dangling from her turquoise cap. Her cousin was one of the students stopped from donning beads last year.

“People don’t understand our culture, the meaning behind it and how, when you’re turned down for something this big, it’s kind of like, wow,” Jake said.

Students across the U.S. often sport flower leis or flashy sashes at graduation with little controversy. But the rules governing tribal regalia at high school graduations have emerged as a legislative issue in several red and blue states after reports of students being prevented from wearing attire like Jake and Tom’s.

Arizona, California, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington all recently enacted laws that either enshrine students’ rights or bar schools from enforcing dress codes banning tribal regalia. After passing through the legislature, a bill with similar provisions is being sent to Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

In Utah, Paiute Chairwoman Corrina Bow brought the issue to state lawmakers after last year’s two Iron County incidents. The district had no formal rules prohibiting Native American students from donning regalia.

Bow noted the graduation rate for Native American and Alaskan Native students was 74% in 2019, the lowest of any demographic group, and told lawmakers that guaranteeing students statewide the right to wear regalia would allow them to “honor their culture, religion and heritage.”

Similar controversies have occurred at schools in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, suburban Chicago and elsewhere, with graduates being barred from wearing everything from beadwork and moccasins to sealskin caps. The incidents pit Native American students and their parents against administrators who say they want to maintain uniformity at graduation ceremonies.

Emalyce Kee, who is Navajo and Rosebud Sioux, was one of the two students told not to wear a beaded cap or plumes to her Cedar City High School graduation ceremony last year. She did it anyway.

Before walking across the stage to accept her diploma, Kee switched out her plain cap for one with a plume and beadwork by her uncle. Half a dozen family members in the front row applauded.

“I hadn’t felt that powerful before that moment, standing up with my diploma, with my Native cap on and then shaking my principal’s hand,” Kee said.

At a high school that used “Redmen” as its mascot until 2019, Kee and her mother, Valerie Glass, said it stuck with them how the principal had argued beaded caps would set a precedent to allow all students to decorate their graduation attire.

“It’s not ‘decorative’ regalia. It’s traditional beaded regalia. How can you have the Cedar Redmen for so long and not honor your Native American students?” Glass said.

Iron County Superintendent Lance Hatch was not available for comment.

Hoksila Lakota gifted his nephew Elijah James Wiggins, who is of Lakota ancestry, an eagle feather in honor of his graduation from Cedar City High School on Wednesday. He said eagle feathers — called wamblii wakan in Lakota — are fundamental to celebrating once-in-a-lifetime achievements, with many believing they hold a connection to God.

“These aren’t something you find on the floor and do whatever with,” he said. “These are sacred items given from grandfather to son or uncle to nephew.”

___

Metz reported from Salt Lake City.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Image: An Alaska Airlines passenger jet approaches to land at the Los Angeles International Airport...

Associated Press

Man accused of stabbing another passenger on a flight from Seattle to Las Vegas charged

A man who witnesses say stabbed another passenger on an airline flight in January told authorities he intended to kill the victim.

15 hours ago

Image: Dr. Candice Matthews, left, listens as Texas state Rep. Ron Reynolds, right, with Darryl Geo...

Associated Press

Judge: Texas school legally punished Black student over hairstyle

A Black high school student's punishment by his Texas district for refusing to change his hairstyle doesn't violate state law, a judge said.

15 hours ago

The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exc...

Associated Press

Boeing ousts head of 737 jetliner program weeks after panel blowout on flight

Boeing said the head of its 737 program is leaving the company in an executive shake-up weeks after a door panel blew out on a flight over Oregon.

2 days ago

Image: The Alabama State Capitol is seen on May 15, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama....

Associated Press

Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are ‘children’ under state law

Critics say the Alabama embryo ruling may have sweeping implications for fertility treatments.

3 days ago

Image: People take cover during a shooting at Union Station during the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bow...

Associated Press

Two men charged with murder at Kansas City Chiefs parade

Minutes after Kansas City Chiefs players spoke at a victory celebration Wednesday, multiple people near the parade route were carried away on stretchers.

3 days ago

Image: A sign is on display above an ATM at a Capital One Café in Miami on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. ...

Associated Press

Capital One to buy Discover for $35B in deal combining major US credit card companies

The deal would bring together two of the nation's credit card companies as well as potentially shake up the payments industry.

3 days ago

Native students exercise right to wear regalia at graduation