In northern Oklahoma, a Native American high school graduate was ordered to remove an eagle feather from her graduation cap. In an interview with the Tulsa World, Lena Black, a student at Broken Arrow High School who is Otoe-Missouria and Osage, said that the feather was affixed to her mortarboard and that she had been informed in the past that the feather would be permitted because of the cultural value it has.
According to Black, she went through multiple checkpoints before being confronted by a counselor and a security officer who attempted to take the feather away from her. “I had to take my cap off,” Black said.
According to Rich Pawpa, the school’s Indian Education Coordinator, the altercation arose because of a misunderstanding of the rules for obtaining permission to include culturally important things in the mortarboards, as stated on the district’s website. Pawpa reports that other Indigenous kids attended the event dressed in regalia.
Marci Black, Black’s mother, claimed they were not informed of any rules and have gotten 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.
School officials received a letter from the state superintendent in January urging them to evaluate their rules on Indigenous students’ use of tribal regalia, feathers, and other culturally relevant items. According to the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, an Indigenous student’s freedom to wear eagle feathers on their mortarboard was protected by then Attorney General Mike Hunter in a letter dated 2019.