American Indian Council
Senior fights for eagle feather in graduation cap
By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, Special Correspondent, Cherokee Phoenix
Okla. — It all started with a Facebook photo.
Hayden Griffith, a Cherokee and Delaware senior at Caney Valley High School,
received her graduation cap and gown, her mother, Lisa, snapped a quick photo of
her in the gear, along with an eagle feather presented to her by a Delaware
elder. The photo was uploaded to Facebook and the Griffiths went about their
A few days later, a school faculty member who saw the picture online stopped
Hayden Griffith in the hallway and told her the feather would not be welcome at
the school’s May 21 graduation ceremony.
“I was being honored,” she said. “This is my showing respect to the person who
gave it (the feather) to me, my respect for my people and it shows everyone that
I’ve been honored. I got it through hard work. This is a big accomplishment.
It’s not the biggest one I’ll ever get, but it’s a big one for me now.”
In a statement released to the media, Caney Valley Public Schools officials
characterized their decision as one made to keep the proverbial floodgates
closed and denied the perception that it was a race-based move. According to the
Oklahoma Department of Education, 43 percent of the students at the consolidated
Washington County high school are Native American.
“Our decision to deny the request by this student and her family has nothing to
do with the fact that this student is Native American,” Superintendent Ron
Peters wrote. “Our decision is based upon our neutral practice of not allowing
any student to adorn or decorate his or her graduation cap. We are concerned
that if we grant this student’s request, then we have opened the door to
virtually any other decoration.”
The Griffiths acknowledge that the district proposed a few alternatives to
wearing the feather on Hayden’s cap, such as in her hair or as part of a piece
of jewelry. However, those suggestions were inconsistent with the traditions
associated with wearing eagle feathers, prompting the Griffiths to decline the
The most recent copy of the Caney Valley High School handbook does not include
language prohibiting the use of feathers or anything else not issued by the
school district along with graduation regalia. A copy of the school’s graduation
dress code, which the Griffiths had to sign and return to the school during the
fall 2014 semester, also is silent on the issue.
A “graduation top 10 list” handed out by the senior class sponsor during the
spring semester states in underlined text that hats may not be decorated at all,
but calls out the use of glitter and paint rather than an additional item
hanging from the mortarboard.
“If hear the word ‘decoration’ one more time, I think I’ll scream,” Lisa
Griffith said. “You decorate a Christmas tree or a yard. An eagle feather is not
a decoration. It’s sacred.”
Just as social media started the brouhaha, it has brought additional allies for
the Griffiths, as Hayden and her mother have received emails, phone calls and
letters of support from the Native American Rights Fund, Caney Valley High
School alumni from across the country and elected officials with the Cherokee
Nation, Delaware Tribe and the state.
The Griffiths plan to appeal to the Caney Valley board of education at its next
meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 11.
Meanwhile, Hayden has already enrolled for the fall at Coffeyville Community
College, where she will attend on a softball scholarship. She has not decided
what course of action to take if ultimately denied the right to wear her eagle
feather during commencement.
“I never expected it to get to this point, but this isn’t just about me,” she
said. “If it were another student going through this, I’d be behind them 100
percent. I don’t want to ‘decorate’ my cap or put anything offensive on it. I
just want to show what I’ve done and accomplished while honoring my culture.”
UP STORY ON MAY 21
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