Chelsey Ramer
Chelsey Ramer, 17, at Escambia Academy High School's graduation ceremony on May 23 with her eagle feather on her tassel.

Poarch Creek Student Fined for Wearing Eagle Feather at Graduation

Vincent Schilling
5/31/13

 

An Escambia Academy High School student who wore an eagle feather on her graduation cap was denied her diploma after graduating May 23. According to a contract issued by the school in Atmore, Alabama, 17-year-old Chelsey Ramer, of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, would not receive her diploma or high school transcripts until she paid a $1,000 fine for wearing the feather.

“I feel like this wasn’t fair. It felt like it wasn’t legal,” Ramer said. “It really did hurt my feelings. I have watched others wear it and I looked forward to it my whole four years there. Now when it was my turn, [they said] I couldn’t.”

Ramer said American Indian seniors four years ago wore feathers to the school’s graduation, but because it was a surprise to the school, no action was taken.

“About two months ago, me and the other Indian seniors from the graduating class asked our headmaster if we could wear the feathers on our caps. She told us ‘no’ and that if we did, she would pull us off the field,” Ramer said.

Ramer says soon after their request, the school gave graduating students a contract that they had to sign or they would not be able to participate in graduation.

“I never signed that paper,” she said.

The contract outlined rules for what to wear at the graduation ceremony. It forbid any “extraneous items during graduation exercises.” It also said students violating the contract would not get their diplomas until appropriate disciplinary actions were taken and students paid a $1,000 fine.

Ramer decided that expressing her Native heritage with an eagle feather was worth the consequences. Of the other three Native seniors at Escambia, one wore a feather on a necklace and did not face any disciplinary actions; the other two did not wear a feather at all for fear of being fined.

While Ramer was nervous on graduation day, she had been looking forward to wearing that eagle feather for four years, so she wore it with pride.

“I got my friend behind me to put it on my tassel, I went down the field. They didn't say anything, but you could tell the staff and the headmaster was upset. But everybody clapped for me,” she said.

Though no one addressed the issue during the ceremony, she was not given a diploma. “I turned in my cap and gown and they just looked at me,” Ramer said.

When Ramer visited the administrative office on May 29 to speak with Headmaster Betty Warren, she was told Warren was no longer with the school.

According to the school’s website, David Walker, the girls’ basketball coach is now serving as the interim headmaster. It is unclear if this change is related to the graduation incident.

“I went in today to talk to Mrs. Warren and they told me she had gotten fired,” Ramer said. “I looked in her office and it was already cleaned out… I asked why she got fired and the people told me they didn't know. I didn’t say anything, but Coach Walker said some people from Indian country were calling him and asking for a statement, but he didn’t know what to tell them.”

Alex Alvarez, Creek, a former teacher of Ramer’s and family friend who attended the graduation ceremony, says the situation is frustrating.

“I think this is ridiculous. If they took the time to understand and respect the differences in individuals, this would have never happened,” he said. “We don’t have much left as Indian people, to give a child an eagle feather as an achievement should be adhered to.”

Alvarez said for the past two months parents and tribal council members had requested to speak with school board members to discuss the issue of the eagle feather but such requests were never granted.

“The kicker is that this is a private school,” Alvarez continued. “Private institutions still have to follow federal guidelines, especially in regards to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.”

Alvarez even wrote to his local newspaper, The Atmore Advance, citing these concerns, but the school didn’t change its stance.

ICTMN made several attempts to contact the school for a comment, but none were returned.

Ramer still does not have her diploma. She said after speaking to Coach Walker, “He said if it was up to him, he would give me my diploma… but he had to go through the board to get it approved.”

See the contract handed out by the school below:

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page

POST A COMMENT

Comments

Kate Mabry's picture
Kate Mabry
Submitted by Kate Mabry on
This is a disgrace to Native Americans and yet again, an attempt to destroy their culture. This must be pursued legally until justice is served.

Rules r rules's picture
Rules r rules
Submitted by Rules r rules on
Eagle feather or not, I would support the 'skool' in establishing a one process for all WANTING to participate in the ceremonies. I DO NOT agree, however, the with $1,000 dollar fee penalty regardless of whether the form was signed or not. I would NOT PAY the $1,000 and fight for release of the diploma. Unfortunately, the school has liability concerns regarding different 'political interest' groups to be represented at a graduation ceremony. Once again, legit American interests are caught up AGAIN in how these special interests attempt to inter=mingle their politics into public acceptance. I don't agree with their shady practices and still don't support that effort. If the student still wants to pursue legal action, then certainly there are laws and established regulations that protect legit American Indians beliefs and traditional values.

Ndnfromthenorth's picture
Ndnfromthenorth
Submitted by Ndnfromthenorth on
You can fight this legally in court and the school will lose. Keep your head up..get their attitudes up to date. It's not 1700's and respect goes both ways! This is our home!

chilly's picture
chilly
Submitted by chilly on
I as a Poarch Creek Tribal Member am proud of you Chelsey Ramer. Every Indian everywhere should also be proud, if I were given the option to be fined or be proud of my heritage, I would have stood with you feather in hand.......to me being a Indian is privilege not a problem.....i'm proud to know my traditions and roots i came from stood for something ............:0)

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
What a load of BS! This will NOT hold up in any court of law. This is a First Nations member & as such, this school, even if it is private, MUST obey our laws or face the legal consequences. Our people have the right to wear our cultural things if we so choose & there is not one blasted thing that can be done to us! However, when these washichu fools decide to violate our rights as First Nations people, regardless of our ages or genders, WE CAN sue them in a court of law for violation of our religious & cultural rights. Tribal lawyers, go after these bigots & racist people at this school! They will either give this daughter of the people her hard-earned diploma & change that graduation policy or face the consequences. If I wanted to march down the aisle in full regalia, that's my right as a First Nations person! I think our graduates ought to do that anyhow! Be proud of who you are & who your people are! Stop dressing like these white oppressors & Invader land thieves! Start standing up for your rights folks & don't stand down when you are challenged for your beliefs as First Nations people! Hoa!

Paul York's picture
Paul York
Submitted by Paul York on
It's a human rights issue. She can take them to a human rights tribunal for quashing her expression of religious freedom.

Paul York's picture
Paul York
Submitted by Paul York on
It's a human rights issue. She can take them to a human rights tribunal for quashing her expression of religious freedom.

florence's picture
florence
Submitted by florence on
It's a shame that this type of colonial perception is still alive in this day and age. some folks believe that it is not and first nations people walk through the world with ease... but unbeknownst to many... is that racism is still rampant. And, we live with it almost daily.

Bobby Stabler's picture
Bobby Stabler
Submitted by Bobby Stabler on
REALLY ? I am furious this is rediculous . Where is freedom ? What is the reasoning behind them not being able to wear the feather. It Seems that heritage has became a joke to some people and so has freedom of speech ! Our God given right ! I will stand with chelsey and I am not on the roll but do have indian blood in my veins. And everyone needs to take a stand now and put a stop to this non sense. They have already taken god out of schools. Then wanna wonder why society is failing ! Well look around ! U did it fools... Give this girl her diploma ! Be human not a humanoid cold hearted Idiot !!!!

Anita Williams's picture
Anita Williams
Submitted by Anita Williams on
What an outrage. This (or any) school should CELEBRATE the achievements of their students and encourage them to be proud of who they are. There are schools who allow/facilitate their student's heritage by allowing them to were "Heritage Stoles" around their necks on their gown. It adds celebration and dimension to the wonderful process and honor of graduation. This school needs to adhere to Federal laws and standards, private or not. And it needs to move into the 21st century of honoring individual heritage and culture. Their original stance with their punitive ILLEGAL contract to UNDERAGE students was wrong. Their not coming forward and speaking out now is cowardly. The headmaster didn't get fired for nothing, you can be sure!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
The culture was once forbidden & stolen... However the spirit of our ancestors and the respect of our tradition and culture will never again go unrecognized. I applaud 17-year-old Chelsey Ramer for her bravery. Thank you

CME's picture
CME
Submitted by CME on
The culture was once forbidden & stolen... However the spirit of our ancestors and the respect of our tradition and culture will never again go unrecognized. I applaud 17-year-old Chelsey Ramer for her bravery. Thank you

Annegret Allison's picture
Annegret Allison
Submitted by Annegret Allison on
I think the reaction of the school is redicolous. They should give Ramer her diploma without fining her the 1000 Dollar. If they would do the same over here in Britain they would make their school the laughing stock of the country. Ramer has been looking forward to her graduation ceremony and to wearing the Eagle feather as a proud sign of who she is. That should be respected by the school authorities and not fined. The decision of the school authorities is a joke in my eyes and they should be ashamed about it !

Annegret Allison's picture
Annegret Allison
Submitted by Annegret Allison on
I think the reaction of the school is redicolous. They should give Ramer her diploma without fining her the 1000 Dollar. If they would do the same over here in Britain they would make their school the laughing stock of the country. Ramer has been looking forward to her graduation ceremony and to wearing the Eagle feather as a proud sign of who she is. That should be respected by the school authorities and not fined. The decision of the school authorities is a joke in my eyes and they should be ashamed about it !

Damien Mountain's picture
Damien Mountain
Submitted by Damien Mountain on
As a graduating Senior from CSUFullerton, i am outraged that something like a feather was denounced and that a student at Escambia was treated this way for expressing her cultural heritage...Shame on Escambia

Ranay's picture
Ranay
Submitted by Ranay on
This is so outrages that if I hadn't read this over twice word for word I don't think I would have believed this.I have American Indian running in my blood line from 5 generations ago and my 5th great grand father was the chief about 25 miles from where I now live in Upstate New York at the bottom of the Adirondack Mountains. I also take this as an insult as I'm very proud to have Indian blood lines in my genetics. On the other hand my father whose is the 4th great grandson of this chief would never ever talk about it or tell me about my heritage as he was ashamed of his heritage. I find this appalling in so many way's and now I'm trying to track my Indian blood lines for my own knowledge as that is my right and my belief. I hope you can get this resolved without paying the fine as not letting you participate and receiving your diploma was horrible and more punishment than you deserved. I wish you the very best of luck with this and if I had the money I would send it to you in a heart beat, but that's giving into them and I don't think you should do that either. Congratulations for graduating and I mean that from my heart and soul. <3 <3 a Indian heritage friend. I hope your future is very bright and prosperous as you worked hard to get their. <3 <3

Dana Vickrey's picture
Dana Vickrey
Submitted by Dana Vickrey on
I think that both parties share responsibility on this issue. I commend the students for asking permission. However, it appears that the administration (board) failed to adequately give a forum for discussion on what would be acceptable to accommodate both sides. Had that occurred, it is likely that this whole issue could have been avoided. In this case, neither side worked to compromise and thus, both are now responsible for creating a division that did not exist prior to the incident. I question how we expect our next generation to lead if we don't lead by example. We all loose as a result.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
We should not let our differences get in the way of a student graduating.She has every right to wear a feather if she wants to. I am proud the she chose to do so.It is time that we start honoring or Native American people and their traditions. Keep up the good work. Give her the deploma she earned it.

Paul Stephany's picture
Paul Stephany
Submitted by Paul Stephany on
This is crass, and a blatant misuse of colonial and hegemonic authority! :(

Maryann Hoffman 's picture
Maryann Hoffman
Submitted by Maryann Hoffman on
How sad that a young girl with love and pride in her heart is told she could not wear a feather with pride and love, to say she is proud of who she is shame shame, what is the world comming too, here they are banning the the song rain rain go away come back a another day.Ramer stay strong love , don't let people like that get you down, love.

Aurora's picture
Aurora
Submitted by Aurora on
Looks to me like the headmaster was setting these kids up, knowing they wanted to wear their feathers, so if they violated it, big fines make money for the school. What is this teaching these students? Their culture is not respected, and they must conform to ridiculous, invented rules, that are pitted against them for profit. Shameful behavior from leaders that demand respect.. Shameful

Aurora's picture
Aurora
Submitted by Aurora on
Looks to me like the headmaster was setting these kids up, knowing they wanted to wear their feathers, so if they violated it, big fines make money for the school. What is this teaching these students? Their culture is not respected, and they must conform to ridiculous, invented rules, that are pitted against them for profit. Shameful behavior from leaders that demand respect.. Shameful

Pages

222