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New Okla. bill would help Native American students wear regalia at graduation

Posted at 9:38 PM, Jan 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-29 23:24:10-05

VIAN, Okla. — What has been a subject of controversy in the past, is now in the hands of state lawmakers.

Oklahoma House Bill 3046 would further protect freedom of religion and make it easier for Native American students who want to wear regalia at graduation. The state has a history of schools stopping students from doing that.

The bill’s author, Representative Trey Caldwell, says, "There are a couple schools that rejected a couple tribal members from wearing any type of regalia other than the black cap and gown."

William Christie graduated from Vian High School in 2018. He was only allowed to wear his eagle feather underneath his gown.

“They just kept saying no and no and no. All the answers were no, even up until graduation."

After months of fighting, Christie's sister was able to wear her tribal regalia when she graduated, last year.

Related story: Cherokee student fights for eagle feather to worn at graduation

“Eagle feathers represent achievement, strength, honor. Letting us wear those at graduation really expresses who we are as native people."

The issue is now recognized at the state level.

“We never want an erosion of free speech or freedom of religion. I wouldn't want a school to tell me I couldn't wear a cross around my neck at graduation, or something along those lines,” says Representative Caldwell.

Caldwell authored the bill to ensure freedom of religion. It states, “No governmental entity shall burden a person's free exercise of religion…; a school nor district policy prohibit students from wearing tribal regalia during graduations.”

If the bill passes the legislature, it could be enacted in November.

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