Native American regalia stirs controversy ahead of Latta graduation

A Latta student who recently said the school denied him the opportunity to wear an eagle feather on a beaded graduation cap and a Chickasaw Nation honor cord during the school’s commencement ceremony in May might still have a chance to wear some or all of the items, according to Latta school officials.

A Latta student who recently said the school denied him the opportunity to wear an eagle feather on a beaded graduation cap and a Chickasaw Nation honor cord during the school’s commencement ceremony in May might still have a chance to wear some or all of the items, according to Latta school officials.

The announcement by the student and his parents in viral social media posts and TV news interviews sparked an immediate outcry among Native American communities in Oklahoma and across the nation.

Latta Public Schools Superintendent Cliff Johnson said Tuesday the district’s current policy prohibits students from wearing any regalia not issued by the school unless the student obtains permission from the Board of Education. Johnson said the family will have an opportunity to make their case before the board May 6, before commencement ceremony occurs.

“They will be able to do that at the next regular board meeting, they will fill out a form where they put in writing what, exactly, they are requesting,” Johnson said. “The board will listen to what they have to say and consider their concerns. If the board decides to make an exception or change the policy then, yes, there is an opportunity for the students to wear non-school issued attire at the ceremony.”

Johnson said the district’s response to the student was not meant to be discriminatory or restrictive.

“It caught the local schools off-guard,” he said Tuesday by phone. “The tribe has always been good for us to work with and they have always been a partner with Latta, but this was something new that we hadn’t faced before. We do have and have had a strong relationship with the Chickasaw Nation and other local tribes. We work hand-in-hand with them on a daily basis providing educational opportunities to all of our students, including our Native students. The intent of the policy was to set a standard, to draw a line. It was never intended to discriminate against someone’s heritage. That has been brought to our attention now, that’s the claim, that this does discriminate against someone’s heritage. That’s something for us to look at and I know our school board will look at that along with all the other factors of this issue.”

Johnson said Latta schools have a long history with the Chickasaw Nation, and he does not expect this issue to change that relationship.

“Latta schools have a historically strong relationship with the Chickasaw Nation and other tribes in the area,” Johnson said. “We have worked cooperatively with our Native families for many years to provide the best in educational opportunities to their students. We hope, as we move forward, that we are able to work through any issues that may occur so that we can continue the cooperative spirit while honoring and recognizing our Native students and their culture.

The Ada News was unable to reach the student or his family by press time Tuesday.

The Chickasaw Nation released a prepared statement after reports surfaced that the student had been denied the opportunity to wear his cord and other items reflective of his Native heritage and culture.

“We are thrilled Chickasaw students want to honor their heritage in graduation ceremonies by wearing the Chickasaw honor cord,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said. “Pride in the educational achievement of our young people has been a part of Chickasaw culture for generations. We hope these cords serve as a symbol of that pride and a source of encouragement for years to come, and we hope that all institutions recognize our intent.”

Both Ada and Byng schools have embraced the arrival of the Chickasaw honor cords.

Ada City Schools Superintendent Mike Anderson said no changes were necessary to the district’s policies to allow students to wear to the cords.

“The partnership between Ada City Schools, the Chickasaw Nation and each of the other 26 tribes represented by our students is stronger now than it has ever been

before,” Anderson said. “As a result of this partnership, we have been able to expand our reach, improve our programming and instruction and provide more opportunities for all students. Ada Schools takes great pride in the cultural diversity exemplified in our student enrollment. We also take great pride in the work we do to honor and recognize the importance of every student’s heritage. With that being said, Ada City Schools will not deny our students the opportunity to honor their heritage by wearing appropriate cords at graduation.”

Anderson said at the present time, Ada City Schools do not have a board-approved policy that addresses what regalia may or may not be worn at graduation. Instead, the district has guidelines in place to help protect the integrity of the commencement ceremony.

Byng Public Schools Superintendent Todd Crabtree said Byng schools made an announcement during a recent meeting that, despite the district having a stricter policy in place than Ada’s, Byng students would be allowed to wear Chickasaw honor cords during their commencement ceremony.

“We are proud to continue our longstanding partnership with the Chickasaw Nation,” Crabtree said.

Contact Carl Lewis at 580-310-7520, or by email at clewis@theadanews.com.

Editor

Carl Lewis is the editor of The Ada News. He's an aspiring photographer, an unabashed fan of Apple products and an avid coffee swiller. Contact Carl at (580) 310-7520, or by email at clewis@theadanews.com.