Native American student plans to wear cap adorned with sacred eagle feather despite district's threat to confiscate

  
Via:  1stwarrior  •  2 months ago  •  37 comments

Native American student plans to wear cap adorned with sacred eagle feather despite district's threat to confiscate
Valley Vista High School senior LaRissa Waln plans to wear her cap decorated with sacred beads and a federally protected eagle feather, even if it means not walking in her graduation ceremony.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


PHOENIX — For LaRissa Waln, Thursday afternoon’s graduation ceremony at State Farm Stadium is a source of much anticipation. 

The 17-year-old senior at Valley Vista High School—who is Native American—is fighting for her right to wear Native beads and a sacred eagle feather on her cap. It’s something the Dysart Unified School District says won’t be allowed.

“I wouldn’t say I’m anxious, but I do want to walk still—and I do want to be a part of my high school ceremony—while being a part of my culture and representing my heritage and being proud of it. But if they say I can’t walk, then I won’t. We’ll have to proceed forward from there,” said Waln.

The school district says if Waln tries to wear her decorated cap with the sacred Native American beads and eagle feather, they will confiscate it and offer her cap with nothing on it. LaRissa says she will not allow district officials to take it.

“Anyway, I can be a part of it. I will and stand up for it, I will. I’m not letting them take it,” said Waln.

"I contacted the school and asked them if they have a written policy. They couldn't present me with a written policy. It's not in the student handbook or the district's handbook, so I don't understand why it can't be allowed,' said Larissa’s father, Bryan Waln.

Phoenix attorney Marc Lamber says there are legal protections for Native Americans who want to express their religious and cultural freedom.

“In terms of Arizona law, there’s something called Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act. It goes back to 1999. It prohibits the government from substantially burdening an individual’s exercise of religion. The only way the government can do that is to demonstrate the government has a compelling governmental interest in doing so, and it’s applying it in the least restrictive way. There’s lots of states and cities that have allowed Native American students dawn an eagle feather during graduation. So oftentimes, it’s about where do you draw the line,” said Lamber.

Lamber says a quick resolution legally is unlikely because cases like these take time to litigate. The more likely scenario is the school district makes an exception before the ceremony or they will let the courts decide.

“What’s more likely to happen is like what happened in Tucson. After graduation, there were students who tried to change the laws of the schools there," said Lamber.

The Dysart Unified School District sent this email to 12 News saying:

 "The Dysart Unified School District respects the formality of our high school graduation ceremonies and expects that all students wear a cap and gown. Only school-approved regalia, which is typically academic in nature, is allowed to adorn the gown. Caps or gowns are not decorated in any way."

Now ACLU Arizona is involved. The ACLU is also citing the federal protections for Native Americans as legal precedent. The group sent a letter to the Dysart Unified School District saying in part:

“No student should have to choose between exercising her faith and attending her graduation ceremony. We respectfully request that you immediately allow Ms. Waln to participate in graduation while wearing her eagle feather and beadwork on her graduation cap, as required under Arizona’s religious-freedom law. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions."

LaRissa Waln says her classmates have been showing their support for her fight. She says many plan to decorate their caps in a show of solidarity to her cultural and religious beliefs—something she says makes her feel like the fight is worth it.

“I’m really appreciative of everyone and I’ve gotten a lot of support from people who say I should keep fighting and pushing forward because it’s not right for the school to deny my right to celebrate my culture.

As for Bryan Waln, he’s still in shock the district continues to stand by their policy, even though other districts across the state are recognizing Native American religious rights during graduation ceremonies.

“It does surprise me. We reached out and met with the high school principal and district superintendent to come up with a compromise. It comes to—it’s about their rules and ways. 'If we make just one exception to let her wear her eagle feather and cap that we created then we have to let everyone.' I said, 'I would be willing to help make positive changes and move forward as far as diversity goes. If you’re a school that accepts diversity and different cultures you have to accept everything that comes with those,'" said Bryan Waln.

Waln plans to protest outside State Farm Stadium in Glendale near Lot E/F along 95th Avenue starting around 1:45 p.m. Thursday.

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1stwarrior
1  seeder  1stwarrior    2 months ago

Native Americans were not allowed to vote in Arizona until 1948, when the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a long standing ban on Indian voting. Arizona’s Native Americans continued to be excluded from the ballot until 1970 when English literacy tests were outlawed. Unfortunately, many Native peoples in Arizona continue to experience voting difficulties. The Native Vote Election Protection Project was designed to provide a resource to Arizona’s tribal communities and tribal members in order to ensure access to the polls and to prevent voter disenfranchisement.

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) (42 U.S.C. § 1996.) protects the rights of Native Americans to exercise their traditional religions by ensuring access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.

Arizona has a problem with this?????

 
 
 
Enoch
1.1  Enoch  replied to  1stwarrior @1    2 months ago

Dear Friend 1st Warrior: They tried the same crapola about men and women students at our local public High School covering their heads as part of our Jewish heritage, in class as well as graduation.

Before the issue even got to Court the attorney we got motivated the school distract to extract their collective cranium from their group rectum and let each be moved by the Spirit as the Source of all sees fit.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

P&AB.

Enoch.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
1.2  Greg Jones  replied to  1stwarrior @1    2 months ago

 'If we make just one exception to let her wear her eagle feather and cap that we created then we have to let everyone.

The school is absolutely right...where would it stop?  How far and to what extent would the recognition of religion and culture go?

If you’re a school that accepts diversity and different cultures you have to accept everything that comes with those,'" said Bryan Waln.

Where in the world does it say that? Are Native Americans somehow special and exempt from following the rules?

 
 
 
1stwarrior
1.2.1  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  Greg Jones @1.2    2 months ago

Wearing crucifix?  Hijabs?  Jewish coverings?  Ash during Ash Wednesday?  Symbolic earrings?  Wedding bands??  Etc.???

Funny how the dominant society will allow all types of "outlandish" garb/jewelry/symbolism, just to "satisfy" so many, but, continually, FOR OVER 400 YEARS, have done their best to totally wipe out the Native Americans, their culture, religion, heritage, traditions, families, populations.  When will that end Greg?

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
1.2.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  1stwarrior @1.2.1    2 months ago

Shades of the Boarding Schools.  Wipe out any trace of traditional culture, assimilate and conform or else!!!

 
 
 
SteevieGee
1.2.3  SteevieGee  replied to  Greg Jones @1.2    2 months ago

Oh my god Greg, you're right!  Everybody would be able to wear feathers on their hats!  OH THE HUMANITY!!!!!

 
 
 
SteevieGee
1.3  SteevieGee  replied to  1stwarrior @1    2 months ago

What's wrong with these people?  Is this really the hill they want to die on?  They want to make a federal issue over how a high school kid decorates her hat?  This is definitely a free speech issue.

 
 
 
1stwarrior
1.3.1  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  SteevieGee @1.3    2 months ago

And a religious/cultural violation issue.

 
 
 
Jack_TX
1.3.2  Jack_TX  replied to  SteevieGee @1.3    2 months ago
Is this really the hill they want to die on?

Best point of the seed so far.

 
 
 
squiggy
1.4  squiggy  replied to  1stwarrior @1    2 months ago

There's nothing religious about it - high school graduation is a civic event with a specific uniform to demonstrate equality. Where dies it end when the next kid wants to wear a marmaduke, and the next one needs to drag an eight-foot oak cross? Confiscating the feather is a bad threat and it's own crime but excluding a student for not playing the game would be appropriate. It may sound cruel but who wants to see a judge in a a speedo?

 
 
 
katrix
2  katrix    2 months ago

To be honest, I don't understand what a high school graduation has to do with a person's culture or religion in the first place. 

That said, the issue here is that it's illegal to wear bald eagle feathers.  If it were a Christian cross or a hijab, there would presumably be no problem.  Since Native Americans are granted some exceptions to the bald eagle feather laws, I don't see why a similar exception can't be granted in this case.  And no, that doesn't mean they'd have to let everyone wear a bald eagle feather - it would still be illegal for most students.

 
 
 
1stwarrior
2.1  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  katrix @2    2 months ago

Members of Federally Recognized Tribes/Nations are allowed to use/wear Eagle Feathers as it is part of their religious/cultural practices.  Non-Indians CAN NOT use/wear Eagle Feathers, by law and by custom.

 
 
 
dave-2693993
2.1.1  dave-2693993  replied to  1stwarrior @2.1    2 months ago
Members of Federally Recognized Tribes/Nations are allowed to use/wear Eagle Feathers as it is part of their religious/cultural practices. 

Right and it seems to me, the school district members are unaware of this simple little detail too. Either that or they are assholes.

 
 
 
Jack_TX
2.2  Jack_TX  replied to  katrix @2    2 months ago
That said, the issue here is that it's illegal to wear bald eagle feathers.  If it were a Christian cross or a hijab, there would presumably be no problem. 

They don't allow decoration of any kind, except the school earned regalia like honor society shawls or cords.

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
3  Larry Hampton    2 months ago

Why would they consider confiscating the decorated cap rather than just refusing to allow it? What happens when someone gets their arm broken trying to take my beads and eagle feather?!

 
 
 
Split Personality
3.1  Split Personality  replied to  Larry Hampton @3    2 months ago
Why would they consider confiscating the decorated cap rather than just refusing to allow it?

That's just old white men braying about more lost influence.

 
 
 
1stwarrior
3.2  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  Larry Hampton @3    2 months ago

Let's look at that broken arm thingy Larry.  Suppose you broke your arm in a school sponsored sports activity.  All the kids who are your pals/buds sign your cast, some memes even rude, crude and socially unacceptable, but, when graduation comes, you can wear the cast with all it's graffiti.

Haven't scalped in a long time, but this could be an occasion to get back into practice.

 
 
 
Tacos!
4  Tacos!    2 months ago

I can't understand why anyone would object to her wearing this at graduation. I get that they have cap and gown and all, but cultural embellishments like this add something to the whole ceremony, imo. It doesn't seem like there is a specific individual complaining. I certainly hope there isn't and that this is just a matter of a mindless/heartless bureaucracy that will come to its collective senses.

 
 
 
Kavika
5  Kavika     2 months ago

The ban was been applied many times through out the U.S. but in most cases the school district has lost the battle or withdrawn from in under pressure from the student body/parents and others. 

Some school districts are still living in the 50's ...1850's...

 
 
 
1stwarrior
5.1  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  Kavika @5    2 months ago

It's interesting Kavika, but in AZ, the majority of school districts allow and encourage the wearing of Native American religious/cultural regalia during graduations.  What the hell is wrong with this district?

 
 
 
Kavika
5.1.1  Kavika   replied to  1stwarrior @5.1    2 months ago

IMO, it's who is on the school board...

 
 
 
dave-2693993
5.1.2  dave-2693993  replied to  Kavika @5.1.1    2 months ago
IMO, it's who is on the school board...

Bingo again.

 
 
 
dave-2693993
5.2  dave-2693993  replied to  Kavika @5    2 months ago
Some school districts are still living in the 50's ...1850's...

Bingo.

 
 
 
Jack_TX
5.3  Jack_TX  replied to  Kavika @5    2 months ago
Some school districts are still living in the 50's ...1850's...

Absolutely, and not just on this issue.

 
 
 
luther28
6  luther28    2 months ago

This is a crazy world we live in.

I would presume that folks drive by the same school bus stops as I. Based on the get ups I see many of these kids sporting on their way to school, a simple feather would be a major improvement.

 
 
 
Snuffy
7  Snuffy    2 months ago

Well,  they did stop her at the door and not allow her in with her decorated hat. 

https://www.abc15.com/news/region-west-valley/surprise/valley-senior-turned-away-at-graduation-because-of-decorated-cap

They would allow her entry if she wore an undecorated hat but she stood by her choices.  I commend her for standing tall, I'm sure this won't be the last time she has to chose. Sure wish there was some way we could get people to be more concerned about their own responsibilities and choices and less concerned about other people's responsibilities and choices.

 
 
 
r.t..b...
7.1  r.t..b...  replied to  Snuffy @7    2 months ago
I commend her for standing tall

She is the winner here, proud of her heritage and wanting to honor it in a most respectful way. The losers, anyone who clings to the arbitrary rules so often put in place to homogenize any attempt, through words, actions or deeds to squelch anything that they see as a threat to their comfortable, vanilla world. Her elders must be very proud.

 
 
 
1stwarrior
7.2  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  Snuffy @7    2 months ago

Sadly, they (the high school) don't realize what they have done and the massive storms that were created with their "White Guy" decision.

 
 
 
SteevieGee
7.2.1  SteevieGee  replied to  1stwarrior @7.2    2 months ago

They'll realize it when they get the lawsuit.

 
 
 
r.t..b...
7.2.2  r.t..b...  replied to  1stwarrior @7.2    2 months ago
their "White Guy" decision.

It's one thing to be marginalized through centuries of institutionalized discrimination and another to be vilified as invaders, but to be ignored and summarily dismissed is the sad fate of our Native American population. It is the most despicable reflection of our manifest destiny shame.

 
 
 
dave-2693993
7.3  dave-2693993  replied to  Snuffy @7    2 months ago

This issue needs to go to a higher court, one well above this tiny little jurisdiction.

 
 
 
Jack_TX
8  Jack_TX    2 months ago

I can see both sides of the situation.

The obvious issue is encapsulated with "why on earth wouldn't you let this girl wear a feather?".  So take that to encompass all of the religious freedom issues and associated Native American issues.

The other, less obvious side of the argument is the "where does this end?"  As much as some may not want to admit it, there is definitely some validity to that idea. 

I don't think there is anything undignified about a religious feather. 

But we all know that eventually there will be that one person who decides to bedazzle her cap with a cross.....or better yet a battery powered blinking LED cross... because the Lord told her someone would see that from the audience and ask Jesus into their heart, revival would break out during the valedictory address and 300 people would be baptized before day's end.  She's now on a mission from God, exercising her religious right to ruin everybody else's graduation.  Jesus saves.  Praise the Lord.

We'll also have kids deciding to wear "religious" garb that looks conspicuously identical to the stuff reserved for kids graduating with honors.  You'll have a kid who slogged her guts out to earn the right to wear honors at graduation yet who is totally indistinguishable from the kid with the 1.5 GPA wearing his "Sunday School Perfect Attendance Cord" and "FCA Shawl". 

Lots of people don't care for the idea that kids graduating with honors get to wear special items at graduation, but most of those people didn't graduate with honors and never had kids graduate with honors.  It's a couple of hours of recognition for 4 years of really hard work.  They've earned the right to be honored.

Some will say "oh...those things will never happen".  Trust me, they will.  If you need a list of shit the Pollyannas never thought would ever happen, ask any GenX friend with a little money set aside.   We'll quickly remind you that they all thought Hillary would be president.

So I'm not sure about the right course of action.  I feel pretty safe saying it's somewhere between feather banning and free for all, but as I'm done with HS graduations, I'll let people closer to the situation work that out.

 
 
 
1stwarrior
8.1  seeder  1stwarrior  replied to  Jack_TX @8    2 months ago

Pretty much though Jack, when the law is followed, as should be in this particular case, that's as far as it goes.

 
 
 
Jack_TX
8.1.1  Jack_TX  replied to  1stwarrior @8.1    2 months ago
Pretty much though Jack, when the law is followed, as should be in this particular case, that's as far as it goes.

That's as far as it's gone.....YET.

Give it time. 

As soon as people find out they can get a religious exception, we'll have people graduating in "ceremonial religious bikinis".

This is America.  We screw up everything.

 
 
 
Kavika
10  Kavika     2 months ago

An eagle feather? When representation of a Native Nation gets in the way of graduation

Across Turtle Island, it is a mixed bag on whether Native students can wear traditional items like eagle feathers, moccasins or beads when walking to receive their diplomas

In 2011, Mykillie Driver, Assiniboine/Lakota Sioux, a student at Reynold’s High School was looking forward to wearing an eagle feather in her graduation cap. She consulted with elders and worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure she had adequate documentation.

When she checked with the school, the vice principal said wearing adornments of any kind was against school policy. When she asked for a copy of the policy, Driver said she was met with hostility. Frustrated with a lack of real answers, Driver got to work writing to a slew of officials to include administration at the Reynolds School District, her school board, the Oregon Department of Education, both of the mayors’ offices in Troutdale and Portland, the Native American Rights Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

After significant due-diligence Driver was invited to her school’s superintendent’s office. After meeting with a representative and making her case, her superintendent emailed her stating she had permission.

https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/news/an-eagle-feather-when-representation-of-a-native-nation-gets-in-the-way-of-graduation-xEyG1-i9VUefaG0DZ-kw-g/

 
 
 
dave-2693993
10.1  dave-2693993  replied to  Kavika @10    2 months ago
When she asked for a copy of the policy, Driver said she was met with hostility.

A troubling theme.

P.S. Comment to other readers; the link is well worth following.

 
 
 
1stwarrior
11  seeder  1stwarrior    2 months ago

In '98, when I graduated from a College in Florida, I wore my Eagle Feather on my cap.  In 2000, Master's degree - same thing.  In 2003, Graduate from Air Command Space College with 541 AF Career Officers - same thing.  In 2015, Master's from law school - same thing.  No one said a thing.

The reason?  I didn't tell anyone and I didn't ask permission - I just did it because I had EARNED that right and no "school" wuz gonna tell me that I hadn't/couldn't.

But, I was well over the age of 21, a USMC Vietnam veteran (made sure everyone knew that fact) and at the ACSC graduation even had a few of the staff and graduates if they could look at and/or touch the feathers - looking at - yeah - touching - NO.

The difference here, I believe, is that I was graduating in an adult environment, whereas in the High Schools, there is little if any adult supervision at most of the schools - hence the angst from folks who haven't really been exposed to the outside world.

Stick to your guns young lady - they owe YOU - you don't owe them.

 
 
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