Native American Student Sues School District For Allegedly Trying To Remove Tribal Regalia At Graduation

The student alleged that authorities tried to forcibly remove the eagle plume from her graduation cap.


An Oklahoma teen is suing her school district after she says she was blocked from wearing an eagle feather at her graduation.

Lena Black is a member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe.

“My eagle plume has been part of my cultural and spiritual practices since I was three years old. I wore this plume on graduation day in recognition of my academic achievement and to carry the prayers of my Otoe-Missouria community with me,” said Black, according to Oklahoma news station KOTV.

She was at the Broken Arrow school graduation last year when the incident took place, she said. Black alleged that school officials tried to physically remove the feather from her graduation cap.

The Native American Rights Fund is representing Black in her lawsuit.  It said members of many tribal nations wear specific clothing or objects, like eagle plumes, at graduation ceremonies to signify their academic achievement and in recognition of their spiritual and religious beliefs.

“The law protects my right to wear this eagle plume at my graduation, and school officials had no authority to forcibly remove it from my cap,” said Black.

The school district issued a statement to KOTV about the lawsuit saying:

"At this time, the District has not yet been served with a court filing on behalf of Ms. Black. As a result, it would be inappropriate to comment publicly as to such a lawsuit."

The school district has released a video before this year’s graduation stating that students can add Native American items to their graduation outfits but only if they are approved in advance.

“This lawsuit demonstrates why these decisions cannot be left up to individual school districts,” said Pipestem Law Partner Wilson Pipestem. “Without clarity from the State, Native students will continue to be forced to seek justice in the courts after their rights have been violated and their graduation ceremonies are long since over.”

Governor J. Kevin Stitt recently vetoed a bil that would have reaffirmed the right for Native American students to wear tribal regalia during graduation ceremonies.

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