High School Native American students and their families have long-standing traditions of beading elements of their dress or wearing feathers on their tassels at graduation. This is to publicly honor the graduate in front of family and friends. But school districts in Wyoming don’t have policies protecting their right to do that.
Hudda Curry-Herrera plays basketball for Laramie High School. He’s about to graduate and has a bright future ahead of him.
“I know that’s my way to college is through sports.” Hudda explained one evening at a park shooting hoops, “My whole family would show up from the reservation. I’d have people come down every weekend. Or whenever we played. So, I would bring a good crowd to the home game here.”
He always figured they’d all come down to see him graduate too and that he would be allowed to wear a beaded graduation cap and feather during the ceremony. When his mom graduated at a reservation high school, she wore full regalia and he wanted to do something similar. Laramie doesn’t have policy against decorating caps, but stories from other Native Students concerned Curry-Herrera. Like Navajo and Shoshone-Paiute member Alexus Whiterock’s story.
Alexus explains, “I asked the principle well it’s kind of part of my culture and everybody on my parents’ reservations do. And I was really hoping if I could bead my cap and put a feather on it. And they said no. And there was no way they were going to allow me to at all. And they said if I did, they would take my cap away from me.”
Whiterock graduated from Big Piney High School in 2016. She was told she could not bead her graduation cap because the privilege could also be abused. Kids could end up putting offensive or political imagery on graduation caps instead.
Stories like this worried Curry-Herrera’s mother Reinette Tendore and his step-father Lee Tendore. The family was already trying to decide which skilled beader would embroider Hudda’s cap.
“For me on my side of the family, all the ladies are beaders.” Lee said, “It holds a high significant for all of us. The feather, its achievement for the males. Once you get a certain pinnacle in life a step higher, then you receive something. Which is a feather.”
And both Reinette and Lee have many different tribal affiliations. Northern Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Northern Ute and Crow. There is a lot of be proud of during Hudda’s graduation ceremony.
Reinette is the Native American Program Advisor at the University of Wyoming. She works to boost the University of Wyoming’s poor Native enrollment numbers and is making lots of progress. And with increasing enrollment, Native students will bring families to Laramie. So, she went to the school board to help draft a new policy protecting graduation decorations.
“And when we talked to the school board we really talked to them about our UW Native Initiatives that are going on campus to increase our Native student enrollment here on campus. Numbers are rising here. I just encouraged them to be mindful that their numbers are going to rise.” Reinette explained.
Jubal Yennie is the superintendent of School district number one and has been supportive through the policy drafting process.
“I think from our standpoint this reflects our community.” Yennie said, “And Laramie has an opportunity that a lot of laces in Wyoming do not have just because we are not terribly diverse. But for the most part we try to recognize that we’ve got different cultures here and we want to be able to celebrate those.”
And while this issue is being tackled in Laramie, House Representative Andi Clifford wants to draft legislation that protects beadwork at high school graduations all over the state.
Clifford said, “I want to codify it. Because we do have Native Americans living across Wyoming in different towns. It’s just highlighting the indigenous people of this country and in a way honoring us. And it’s nothing political. It’s just embracing the diversity of Indigenous people.”
The policy to protect beadwork at graduation in Albany county should be in place by the end of the summer.
In the meantime, Hudda was allowed to wear his beaded cap and feather during graduation. Looking down from the stands at the graduating seniors, it was easy to spot Hudda with his a dangling feather. A symbol of strength and honor.
Native students and educators alongside the Albany County school board are coming up with a policy to protect beadwork and feathers on graduating seniors’ caps.
Wyoming’s high school graduation rates are on the rise for the fifth straight year. That’s according to the most recent graduation data released by the Wyoming Department of Education, or WDE.
Last year was the first year fifth graders from three schools on the Wind River Reservation participated in a cultural field camp just south of Yellowstone. The day camp organized by the National Forest Service hopes to give Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho children a chance to learn their culture while outdoors.
The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed Native American treaty rights in a narrow ruling Monday in favor of a Crow tribal member who argued he was allowed to hunt out-of-season on traditional lands in Wyoming.
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