Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Chief Dr. Ogletree Richardson plans to speak before the Warren County Board of Education during its Tuesday meeting to present a resolution asking that the board allow Native American students to wear articles of honor during graduation ceremonies. The resolution would address the wearing of eagle feathers and beaded caps as expressions of both their cultural heritage and religious beliefs.
Tribal Council Chairman Gideon Lee told the newspaper Tuesday afternoon that Richardson planned to speak during the meeting, which will be held May 14 at 6 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Warren County Middle School, 118 Campus Dr., Warrenton.
Lee said that the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Council adopted the resolution last week. He said that because there are Native American students in counties throughout North Carolina, the council hopes that its resolution will lead school systems across the state to allow those students to wear cultural articles of honor during graduation ceremonies.
The resolution, titled, “Request for reconsideration to support allowing Native students to wear eagle feathers and beaded graduation caps at high school graduation,” notes that graduation from high school is especially significant for Native American students, citing statistics that the graduation rate among Native Americans is 67 percent.
The resolution also states that “according to many native religious and spiritual traditions, eagle feathers are worn only in times of great honor and often to mark significant personal achievements; and … for many Native students, wearing an eagle feather in recognition of high school graduation is as significant as earning the diploma.”
The resolution further states that “… while many public high schools permit Native students to wear eagle feathers at graduation, recognizing that commencement ceremonies are an appropriate setting for Native graduates to wear an eagle feather with dignity, some schools do not allow it.”
The tribal council’s resolution asks the board of education to reconsider and rescind the school system’s decision, stating that the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe “strongly supports allowing Native graduates to honor their cultural and spiritual heritage by wearing eagle feathers and beading their graduation caps.
The council’s decision came after 11-year-old Kaylee Evans spoke during its April meeting, questioning a recent decision by Warren County Schools to not allow the wearing of cultural articles of honor during graduation.
Lee said that the council hoped to send a copy of the resolution to Warren County Schools as early as Tuesday afternoon.
During the Warren County Board of Education’s April meeting, Dr. Ray Spain told board members that he agreed with the opinions of principals and guidance counselors at each of the three high schools in the Warren County Schools district to not change its policy for what is allowed to be worn during graduation. Spain said that he understood the students request, but, after hearing the school administrators’ recommendations, the school system concluded that to allow anyone to wear articles beyond the cap, gown and related academic attire for graduation would set a precedent that would result in students wearing items that are too distracting.
The students who made the original request to the board for the wearing of articles of honor, Zianne Richardson and Taylor Williams, said that local Native American students felt disrespected as a result of the decision and also because they felt that school officials described articles such as eagle feathers and beaded caps as decorations and distracting. Spain told the paper that no disrespect was meant, and that school officials’ recommendations left no other options open for the wearing of articles of honor.