Each spring the issue seems to come up in Oklahoma: should Native American student be allowed to wear ceremonial eagle feathers on their graduation caps.
Senate Bill 429 looks to address this once and for all. The bill was introduced Jan. 17 by Senator John Michael Montgomery, a republican from Lawton.
SB 429 would “allows a student enrolled in a public school district, charter school, or technology center school to wear tribal regalia on school property or at any school function.”
The topic has long been debated with many saying dress-code exemptions are a slippery slope while the other side argues religious freedom.
In 2016, a Tulsa federal judge got involved in the debate, ultimately ruling against a Caney Valley student’s request to wear a feather to graduation.
In 2018, Cherokee Nation officials and the Oklahoma Attorney General got involved after a Vian senior was denied the right to wear his feather to graduation.
In 2019, then-Attorney General Mike Hunter wrote a letter backing a student’s right to wear an eagle feather, saying that right is protected under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act. Hunter referenced the Caney Valley and Vian cases in this letter.
In May 2022, then-State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister issued a letter to schools asking them to review policies for students wearing tribal regalia.
Having an eagle feather is prohibited under federal law, however tribal citizens can request permission to have one for religious or spiritual reasons.
The bill made it out of the Senate Education Committee last week. Should it ultimately get the governor’s signature, it would go into effect July 1st, 2023.
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