LATTA — A Latta High School senior who was previously told by school officials he would not be able to wear a Chickasaw Nation honor cord and an eagle feather — an item he viewed as sacred, culturally — was informed Monday that he would be allowed to wear the items during his commencement ceremony.
Latta Public Schools Board of Education members assured Tvli Birdshead and others in attendance at a meeting Monday they would not only allow Birdshead to wear his regalia and sacred items during commencement ceremonies, but the district would craft a policy that allows other students to wear their sacred items and regalia going forward.
“I feel relieved that I am finally able to wear my regalia and my sacred items,” Birdshead said Tuesday by phone. “I feel like the meeting went very well. I hope one day we see legislation (protecting this right) in the future, but as for this school, I feel relieved that they changed the policy for future students as well.”
Birdshead said he feels empowered by the board’s decision.
“I feel like I was heard at that meeting and that my prayers were answered,” he said. “It felt reassuring (to have so much support). I didn’t know what to expect at that meeting. I didn’t know how it would turn out. The American Indian Movement, Oklahoma Chapter also presented me with an eagle feather.”
He said the importance of the board’s decision is rooted in preserving American Indian culture, much of which was nearly stripped from many tribes in its entirety during a period when colonial Europeans and early Americans tried to force tribes to assimilate into Western culture, abandoning their own.
“I want every student to — if they want to wear their regalia, I want them to know the meaning behind it, why they’re wearing it and who they’re wearing it for,” Birdshead said. “If they do want to wear their regalia and their school has a policy against it, (they should) present (the regalia) earlier in the year and spread awareness. Tell them what it means to them, and tell them why they want to wear it.”
Birdshead said the outcome of Monday’s meeting reassures him he is on the right path with his life. He plans to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he will pursue either a bachelor’s degree in business and liberal arts, a bachelor’s degree in studio art or both.
“I would like for my art to serve a higher purpose — to spread awareness and advocate for indigenous rights,” he said. “That’s what I hope to accomplish through my art.”
Contact Carl Lewis at 580-310-7520, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.