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:

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Comments

Etoy Fox's picture
Etoy Fox
Submitted by Etoy Fox on
This is ridiculous. That feather is sacred in her Native American culture. Give that beautiful young lady her diploma.

Dr. Ison's picture
Dr. Ison
Submitted by Dr. Ison on
You know what...keep your *&**^^$^$%&#@%$@@% diploma...really, you don't need it, nor the humiliation.

michael deo's picture
michael deo
Submitted by michael deo on
shes lucky she didn't get charged with a terrorist charge!!!!!...like the poarch band of Indians lied about my friend.......how ironic!!!!!....I thought that was a white girl wearing a feather and I thought how cool that was cause my childrens are gonna be beaded.......then the article said she was a poarch banned.........people in your own county don't recognize yall as Indians........lol

Angelika's picture
Angelika
Submitted by Angelika on
Every other nationality have rights in the U.S.A. except the American Indians.What a shame their traditions are not honored.After all it is their country.

garystark's picture
garystark
Submitted by garystark on
people come to that country wearing veils turbans carring knifes ceromonial or not but a eagles feather the symbol of the usa and gets penalized for it get real people

Billy Coker's picture
Billy Coker
Submitted by Billy Coker on
It really hurts me that at this day in age, that some people can't respect other peoples heritage. I was raised in Atmore, Al, where the heritage of the Creek community can be found all over. I hope that this situation is resolved quickly an professionally.

Cheryl Morin's picture
Cheryl Morin
Submitted by Cheryl Morin on
Social Media and online petitions can be used to state your case on Turtle Island. Don't give up and don't give in! I'm sure we can find you a great First Nation's lawyer who would do pro bono work for your case...Idle No More!

Monty Price's picture
Monty Price
Submitted by Monty Price on
I think this is crazy. This does not make sense. Why should it matter what you wear. My God accepts me for who I am and that his love is unconditional to me. The students rights were violated and legal charges should be filed against this school. I believe the student should be given her diploma and that she should receive compensation for the wrong doings of this school. This is totally wrong by the school!

Mary Beaulieu-Monaco's picture
Mary Beaulieu-Monaco
Submitted by Mary Beaulieu-Monaco on
What ever happened to freedom of expression ...oh wait ,thats only if youre not indigenous...damn that should be in the fine print somewhere ..way to go for standing up for your heritage young lady!!

Paula P Martinez's picture
Paula P Martinez
Submitted by Paula P Martinez on
20013 people, such small minds, for a Academic Institution. Considering the history of the American Indian Culture , I would think Escambia Academy would have more awareness and sensitivity, shame on you

LYLA PLATOW's picture
LYLA PLATOW
Submitted by LYLA PLATOW on
WHAT A BUNCH OF CRAP.... SHE DANG WELL EARNED IT... I would say enough is enough...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
That is racist and the ACLU should take this case on. The students need to sue the crap out of that school!!! We will all stand behind them and any other Native American going through such blatant racism!! Every one of my children graduated with an Eagle feather, it was a great honor!!

indianmedicine's picture
indianmedicine
Submitted by indianmedicine on
I believe that the School is in serious error, and that the DIPLOMA is a "Property Right" since the Student Paid Fees to attend the Institution............................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................. As to the "Eagle Feather" being displayed by a Student, there is a DISPARITY in Treatment by the Institution, as the Eagle Feather has Religious & Culture Value to the Student, a Protected Constitutional & Bill of Rights Question. .................................................................................................................................. The "FINING" of the Student also appears to be inappropriate, and perhaps irregularity by a School Institution.......................................................................... ................................................................................................................................... If the Student is a Minor, the Institution exceeded its Jurisdiction & Authority over the Minor, as the Diploma is NOT a Professional License per se. ................................................................................................................................... Eagle Feathers do NOT inflame the senses, do NOT advocate Violent Behavior, do NOT instill force or fear by its presentation; therefore it is a "Protected Right"...................................................................................................... .................................................................................................................................... Since the Student returned the School's Property, there can be NO justified lien against the Student and / or Family.................................................................. ..................................................................................................................................... The School is in Wrongful Detainer of Student Property....................................... .....................................................................................................................................

dan brunson's picture
dan brunson
Submitted by dan brunson on
this school should have to pay for discrimination to this indian lady shes native and is her right to wear a eagle feather for this.the indians have been discriminated against long enough.just because other ethic groups may not understand out hearts dont give them any say so on what our creator gave us. its ours and will always be ours nobody will ever take it away,it has been tried for how long? we are still here.I thin this young lady for her courage and standing for what should be.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
This has happened before with other Native grads, and with African American grads who wanted to wear kente cloth to honor their heritage. It is blatantly racist - the letter is clearly aimed at keeping non-white students from their rights to display their culture.

Padma Thornlyre's picture
Padma Thornlyre
Submitted by Padma Thornlyre on
Not long ago, Miranda Washinawatok was punished for teaching another student how to say, "Hello. I love you." in her native Menominee. Now, another absolutely disgusting act of racism by a school ... it sickens my heart.

Richard Lee Clark, of Cherokee decsent's picture
Richard Lee Cla...
Submitted by Richard Lee Cla... on
I think it's a downright shame to not allow a simple feather on a tassel for a native student, why do they have to be so strict and unbending?Would this happen at a public high school also? This incident raises a lot of questions of appropriateness in the dress and clothing issue. Did the students have to wear uniforms to school during the school year, also?

Klynt little elk Brown Sr.'s picture
Klynt little el...
Submitted by Klynt little el... on
This is an extremely discussting story. What year is it? I would try to sue the pants off that school.. The student did what she had to in order to graduate in itself shows heart and the school should be proud to have another graduate from their establishment,,,

William Bailey's picture
William Bailey
Submitted by William Bailey on
I am an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe in Washington State and reading this..only one thing comes to mind..cultural genocide. How can any learning institute private or otherwise look at banning an Eagel Feather from any native student for accomplishing their goals? Who makes up these rules? And the set amount for a fine, where does this money go? To the staff slush fund?

Leaha Martin's picture
Leaha Martin
Submitted by Leaha Martin on
We have been entitled to our rights since the treaty of 1832, It has revised over and over but it still stands. Native Americans have right just as any other culture. I applaud Chelsy or any other student who promotes their right. Chelsy and Andrew celebrate their heritage. By graduating they Celebrate, an eagle feather shows pride and honor. Respect them as a"NATIVE AMERICAN", as they respect you for any nationality you may be. No one has the right based on the Constitution of United States of America. does not even have the right to determine how a individual should be. It says so. If Native Rights tell her, And the United States Constitution of America protects her rights to freedom of religon or speech, Who is the BOARD of Escambia Academy to tell her she's WRONG, Like I said CHELSY "BE PROUD OF YOURSELF AND HOLD YOUR HEADUP HIGH" YOU DO YOUR PEOPLE PROUD!!

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