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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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Robert tewaslake hopkins's picture
Robert tewaslak...
Submitted by Robert tewaslak... on
Give that girl her diploma she should fine you people for being ignorant

Betsy Toll's picture
Betsy Toll
Submitted by Betsy Toll on
Chelsey Ramer is a star and a hero! Shame on the school board officials. How dare they!!! She will fly far, and they will be stuck in the mud.

Fiona Pardington's picture
Fiona Pardington
Submitted by Fiona Pardington on
This bigoted Academy needs to get in touch with the University of Auckland in Aotearoa/New Zealand and have a good hard look at our Bachelor, Master and PhD Students in their academic regalia at our award ceremonies - enhanced with feather cloaks, traditional lei and necklaces reflecting the reality of a society at the forefront of racial relations in the world. Maori, Rarotongan, Samoan, Tokelauan and Fijian students all receive their degrees wearing their traditional dress along with their gowns and headgear. Kia kaha/be strong in your culture Chelsey Ramer. Escambia Academy needs to catch up with the real world. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
You did the right thing. There are often bad reactions but the right thing is still the right thing. The wrong thing is the stupid rules banning you from wearing the feather.

Michelle Sam's picture
Michelle Sam
Submitted by Michelle Sam on
That is discrimination against the Native Americans. So wrong and unfair. I do understand that if Chelsea's tribe distributes Native American Church (NAC) cards that would give her the right to carry an eagle feather anywhere. I suggest that she attains a card which gives her the right to carry an eagle feather. Also that she files discrimination charges against said individuals. That so upsets me alot. Congratulations Chelsea!! Don't feel that you did something wrong, because you did something right and they don't like it one bit.

Paul Bignardi's picture
Paul Bignardi
Submitted by Paul Bignardi on
Based on a narrow reading of the proposed contract no violation occurred, because it was never signed and therefore no contract was in place. A unilateral contract is not a contract. The penalty for failure to sign was a student would "forfeit their right to participate in graduation exercises". Enforcement of the penalty was the duty of the school district - who failed to do so. The penalties for wearing extra items on the cap and gown don't apply, because there was no contract. So actually the school is breaking the law by not granting the diploma and by trying to collect an unwarranted $1000 fine. Dumb and dumber. I hope she had a good time and received a good education at the school, because the administration seems pretty stupid and petty. Perhaps their diplomas should be rescinded.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
This is part of our native heritage and a symbol of power and strength the united state's have adopted as their symbol. More often then not people have fear of us and our ways .they love to use them in a honorary way .Only when we don our own feathers it seems to bring fear .I would guess.. they feel guilty for the atrocities they're ancestors have done to our people .. .And in the back of their minds they know some day there will be a day of reckoning .If they only took the time to realize this isn't who we are as a people or they would have perished when they were first here. People must stop listening to tales created 4 hundred or more years ago to justify the killing of our ancestors .We are a proud and trusting people who believe in ways like wearing feathers for respect to a;ll living things like the majestic eagle. It is illegal to Donne a feather if you are not native as its a endangered species .Why you ask are they endangered well for awhile so were we because of fear of strength and positiver power. The ghost dance scared the bejesus out of the soldiers and governments of the day why again you ask 'Well their is great power in it and the main ingredient is respect . This is what lacks in this type of people .It must stop as we all need to respect each other as most of my brothers and sisters do when they wave the American flag the same flag that flew in the air when they massacred women and children. Only this was in the past and we must learn from our mistakes as to not commit other atrocities.Its a time of healing and these kind of instances bring negative to the healing process we all need to forgive and live in peace with each other .Peace

Minister Christina Lawrence's picture
Minister Christ...
Submitted by Minister Christ... on
This is an outrageous injustice!!! As a teacher for 17 years I championed the rights and respect do students of all ethnicities and cultures. I will sign a petition, write a letter, and I suggest you contact Rev. Al Sharpton, the great civil rights advocate and MSNBC host of Politics Nation. He will get this proud student the justice she and all Native American students deserve.

Sue's picture
Sue
Submitted by Sue on
It is not to understand and unhumanited from school to take away the diplom only because a eaglefeather!! That would be never happen in our world, where every people must having the same chance to live like everybody is! Much human without feahter are in the heart ugly , it comes of the human inside on, nothing other is important! In what a world do we live!!!!!!! All my gratulation are going to the girl with the eaglefeather and I am proud of her!! She is a great girl!

Mary Ellison 's picture
Mary Ellison
Submitted by Mary Ellison on
This should never have been an issue. Give this young woman her diploma and drop the fine in the trash where it belongs.

Myrna Elliott's picture
Myrna Elliott
Submitted by Myrna Elliott on
How do people, who epitomize ignorance and cruelty, get to hold the lofty positions and make up such degrading and rules. I am sitting here gritting my teeth and wringing my hands wishing I could verbally express my horror and disgust at the actions taken by Escambia Academy. I can only hope that the walls come tumbling down around them.

Little Bear's picture
Little Bear
Submitted by Little Bear on
Go after their charter for discrimination and crimes against an independent nation

Vicki Jimerson's picture
Vicki Jimerson
Submitted by Vicki Jimerson on
this is so wrong! In many respects, Education, Religious beliefs, total discrimination.. This is 2013... the right to and education. and yes all Schools have to follow Federal guidelines, which this student achieved and graduated. There should be a Law suit filed against this School. At least they knew enough to fire the Principal, and the stand in "Coach" is he really qualified for this position academically..!?! Stand up for what right for this Student!!!! This is 2013. I support you "Poarch Creek Band Tribe"... :)

paul keller's picture
paul keller
Submitted by paul keller on
What a bunch of idiots . First true Native Americans being jerked around by idiots .

Atty Garfinkel's picture
Atty Garfinkel
Submitted by Atty Garfinkel on
Technically, The lovely young lady didn't violate the exact wording of the contract. Note that it says she may wear one (1) tassel etc. If she integrated her feather to her tassel it became a part of her one tassel and ceased to be an "other article". Further it was not worn on or over her robe/gown or mortar board/hat. With these facts combined with the point that she did not sign the contract, it would appear that the threat of legal action by the parents of the child would not only prove fruitful, but might assist the Board of Trustees to establish a policy in the future permitting at least some display of familial pride.

Melynda Broadhead's picture
Melynda Broadhead
Submitted by Melynda Broadhead on
Has anyone ever heard of Culture Diversity at that school? If not they should put that 1000 dollars into a class. This is not right. It is not the teen killed an eagle for that feather and the feather is part of her heritage. To not give her diploma is not right and against the law. She worked hard to achieve the goal to graduate . A 1000 dollar fine? How stupid can one get. They may be a private school but not the cops. Grow up and stop being racist!! It's a feather not a short skirt or a streaker and there should never be an unhappy ending to a graduating class . We need to teach our children that other cultures have special ways of honoring their goals and achievements . Without a Diploma you really don't go far. That's like ruining that girls life. Give her the diploma and apoligize . They ought to be ashamed and embarrassed of themselves.

Renae M. Bushman's picture
Renae M. Bushman
Submitted by Renae M. Bushman on
Give the girl her diploma, she did the work and accomplished the task of completing school. This "rule" is outrageous & ridiculous. Apparently this Headmaster is a bigot. The validity of this contract needs to be investigated, it may not be legal or binding, also they didn't adhere to their own contract, the bottom portion that was not signed says the student will forfeit graduation activities.

Sheron Nall's picture
Sheron Nall
Submitted by Sheron Nall on
This is the most stupidest thing I have ever heard of !!! Being punished for being proud of your heritage is just wrong. I say give her the diploma that she has earned or go get you a lawyer !!! Then I would tell them where they could shove that thousand dollar fine : ))))

mary ann sackabuckshkum's picture
mary ann sackab...
Submitted by mary ann sackab... on
this really is astounding in this day and age. The School should be disciplined for this and a public apology made. If the student has earned her diploma, the school cannot withold it from her. She has earned it, paid for it and the school is required to acknowledge that and hand her the resulting Diploma. And to deny her the symbol of her heritage is utterly racist, and completely unacceptable. SHAME on you Escambia Academy

John nick Jeddore 's picture
John nick Jeddore
Submitted by John nick Jeddore on
Here in Canada, some RCMP members can go around with a dagger in their hat while Indians are fined for having a feather in their hat.???????????

Melba's picture
Melba
Submitted by Melba on
I think that is kind of dumb if u are of indian heritage why not...just bull malarky to me

Ben Cedeno's picture
Ben Cedeno
Submitted by Ben Cedeno on
That's a load of crap, we've been through too much to be put down like that. The school is obviously disregarding her rights, traditions & beliefs. I see a lawsuit happening where alot of the staff NEEDS to be fired for violating her tribal & civil rights.

Tory Williams's picture
Tory Williams
Submitted by Tory Williams on
hmmmm thats a shameful thing for a *Whiteman* to tell an Indian-individual to not where his/her Traditional Feather she/he earned getting an Education at your so called School to honor and wear that Feather at events that prooved that boy/girl got an Education...to hold back a Diploma they earned for 4 yrs...that person who held back that Diploma should be ashamed of herself/hisself....<<<they dint earn it the boy/girl did...shame shame shame....grrrrr(Chippewa native from Wisconsin)....

Interested Citizen's picture
Interested Citizen
Submitted by Interested Citizen on
Since the school admin won't address the situation with the student, perhaps her best option is to retain a lawyer to speak for her.

Joseph Lavallee's picture
Joseph Lavallee
Submitted by Joseph Lavallee on
Would a sike be allowed to wear his turbin. And his ceremonial dagger ? would a Hebrew boy be allowed to wear his skull cap ? Would a muslim be allowed to wear their body covering ?

Merlee 's picture
Merlee
Submitted by Merlee on
That school needs to get with the times of day! This is a violation of your freedom of speech and rights! File a lawsuit now. Natives have to speak up and fight for their rights. Thousands support you.

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