A Lakota student’s feather plume was cut off her cap during commencement at a New Mexico high school

May 17, 2024, 12:37 PM

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — A Lakota student’s traditional feather plume was cut off her graduation cap during her high school commencement ceremony this week in northwestern New Mexico.

It was during the national anthem Monday night when Farmington High School faculty members approached the student, Genesis White Bull, and confiscated her cap, the Tri-City Record reported. The top of it had been decorated with traditional beadwork and an aópazan — Lakota for plume.

White Bull is Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

Farmington’s school district said in a statement Wednesday that it prohibits any modifications to graduation caps and gowns, but students can wear traditional regalia beneath their graduation attire.

“While the staff involved were following district guidelines, we acknowledge this could have been handled differently and better,” the statement said.

About 34% of the school district’s roughly 11,200 students are Native American or Alaska Natives. The community of Farmington sits on the border of the vast Navajo Nation.

Brenda White Bull, the student’s mother, approached the faculty members after they removed her daughter’s cap, asking if she could remove the plume herself. The faculty members used scissors to cut it off, she said.

Navajo Nation First Lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, who attended the commencement Monday night, said on Facebook that she was disappointed and called on school officials to allow Native American students the choice to wear traditional regalia at graduation.

“Deciding what to wear goes far beyond a simple decision of what color dress or shoes to wear,” Blackwater-Nygren said. “For Native students, this is a day to proudly wear our traditional regalia. Our regalia reminds us of how far we’ve come as a people, it shows our pride in our culture, and how we chose to identify ourselves as Native people.”

Robert Taboada, a school district spokesperson, told The Associated Press on Friday that district officials were working with the Navajo Nation’s Department of Diné Education to review and update its policies on graduation attire. Taboada declined to comment further.

Brenda White Bull told the Farmington newspaper that the family had prayed together before placing the plume on the cap.

“That’s part of our culture,” she said. “When we reach a milestone in our life, we as Lakotas decorate, do our beadwork and place our plume on them.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the school owes Genesis White Bull an apology.

“To be humiliated during one of her young life’s most celebrated moments is unacceptable,” Chairwoman Janet Alkire said.

Brenda White Bull said Wednesday that school officials haven’t reached out. Efforts to reach her Friday for comment weren’t immediately successful.

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A Lakota student’s feather plume was cut off her cap during commencement at a New Mexico high school