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


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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lee crowder's picture
lee crowder
Submitted by lee crowder on
I have some Cherokee in my family and I am proud to know someone is willing to stand for what she believes in

tony sappier's picture
tony sappier
Submitted by tony sappier on
holy i cant believe from canada,,AND yes im a full blooded maliseet would thing this school would be proud to have a native,,show her pride by letting her wear an eagle her grad....nonnative people should understand that eagles are what we worship...not as a god...but as a beautiful.....bird..that protects our spirit.....and who we really native people.....its time the nonnative us some respect.....pertaining to our culture......and fly like an eagle.......wolwollin...

Elizabeth Lorenz, British Columbia, Canada's picture
Elizabeth Loren...
Submitted by Elizabeth Loren... on
This article is making its rounds on Facebook to teachers in Canada. In our school district #68, helping First Nations children graduate from high school is a district priority. We will use any amount of feathers, ceremonies and assistance to help them achieve this goal. Congratulations to this young lady for her perseverance, courage and her pride in her culture. Now what can be done to help those who are afraid of feathers become educated, compassionate human beings? Chelsey, you have received your high school education. It's inside of you. No one can withhold that from you. You don't need the diploma. Design your own diploma. Make it big and colourful and add lots of sparkles and feathers and put it up on your bedroom wall so it's the last thing you see before you go to bed at night.

Sarah Shillinger's picture
Sarah Shillinger
Submitted by Sarah Shillinger on
Did they fine all of the students who were wearing crosses

Chris J. (Red Eagle) McLeod (Kitchikesik)'s picture
Chris J. (Red E...
Submitted by Chris J. (Red E... on
I am an Indian from Manitoba Canada and have a BA from the University of Manitoba. Upon graduation we are allowed to adorn our gowns and mortar bars with traditional regalia and there is a massive "Graduation Pow Wow" at one of the major halls at the University every year! Think about what you are doing ... and chuckle and then do the right thing by awarding the degree and withdrawing the penalty which borders on racism. Saying it is a contract is hiding behind a construct to hide racist policies.

conrad mclean's picture
conrad mclean
Submitted by conrad mclean on
iam from Lake Manitoba FIRST Nation in Manitoba Canada this is a shame this student had to endure this racism i know in the southern United States has always been raciist towards the Indians and Black PEOPLE EVER SINCE the 1800s keep your head up my native sister hope you get your diploma

Yasmin's picture
Submitted by Yasmin on
This is shit. Who the hell do they think they are?

Alfred Johns's picture
Alfred Johns
Submitted by Alfred Johns on
The situation is ridiculous. She was not mocking anything, only honoring her culture at an important life event. The school is disrespecting her and her culture and should be ashamed.

Carol ioannides's picture
Carol ioannides
Submitted by Carol ioannides on
The administrators of this school should hang their heads in shame. These kids need to have pride in their heritage & should be allowed to wear their feathers. Would they have fined a Muslim wearing their scarves? Shame on them. Chelsea Ramer showed great courage in standing up & wearing her Eagle Feather. Congratulations, Chelsea, I wish you all good things for your future.

cassidy's picture
Submitted by cassidy on

Larry Kowalchuk's picture
Larry Kowalchuk
Submitted by Larry Kowalchuk on
how can I help pay the fine and in any other way? This is sooo dehumanizing and disrepectful!!!!!

Linda Lancaster's picture
Linda Lancaster
Submitted by Linda Lancaster on
To whom it may concern, Shame on everyone of you.There should be serious up rising over this. Native people speak. I am

Wolfgang Haug's picture
Wolfgang Haug
Submitted by Wolfgang Haug on
Congratulations to Chelsey from Germany; I like it very much that you had the courage and I only can be ashamed for such stupid "regulations" made by stubborn people. Hope you'll get your diploma soon without paying anything!

Sue Croft's picture
Sue Croft
Submitted by Sue Croft on
Respect this young woman for having the courage to define a rule that did not have life and death consenquences. She may have stepped on some toes , but this is just another example of how Natives are being treated today 2013. Will it ever stop?

Mignonne's picture
Submitted by Mignonne on
This is a religious rights issue plain and simple. I strongly urge this young lady to file a lawsuit.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
How ridiculous.... If you earn your diploma there is no reason whatsoever to with hold it. Cultural pride is a very positive thing, how dare they try to insinuate otherwise?

Mary Sixwomen BLount's picture
Mary Sixwomen BLount
Submitted by Mary Sixwomen BLount on
Unanswered questions are always distressing. For example: The date of the "Original Dress Code Contract" was May 17, 2013 and deadline for return May 19, before 2PM. Did a two day deadline constitute reasonable timeline for a contract? Was the student of majority age to sign such a contract, Was the exact information included in the Financial Contract on Fee Payments? Did an ornithologist examine and pronounced the feather a "true" eagle feather before denying issuance of graduation certificate to the student? Does the State of Alabama underwrite the license of Private Schools to assess fines and make legal determinations regarding penalties? And many more. Poarch Legal Services most certainly will find answers to these and other questions in the very near future.

Tiffany's picture
Submitted by Tiffany on
How does an eagle feather become an " extraneous item" Last time I checked, there is meaning and significance along with great pride in an eagle feather. History tells us that white people wanted "Indians" educated. We NATIVES have come a long way to get that education and having an eagle feather is a great honor in a huge accomplishment.

Dale Mitchell's picture
Dale Mitchell
Submitted by Dale Mitchell on
This was a highly discriminatory tactic initiated by Mrs. Warren. Chelsea should be awarded her diploma & issued an apology by the board of Escambia Academy - and should not have to pay that ridiculous fine!

Tony Hammonds (Lumbee Tribe)'s picture
Tony Hammonds (...
Submitted by Tony Hammonds (... on
Student should be awarded diploma due to the fact that the school did not follow its OWN guidelines. Stating in the form that was passed out (Note: At bottom of page says to be turned on May 19, 2013) on Friday the 17th to turn in the paper or failure to will lead to not participating in further graduation activities. Right there shows that the school did not follow their own policy for she did walk at graduation. This also is probably why it does not tell you why the headmaster lost her job.

Dana's picture
Submitted by Dana on
This is a SHAME !!! People should be FREE in the U.S.A. to show how proud they are and also who they are . What is America coming to ? Its Coming to and END ! Chelsey ,,, I am so PROUD of YOU and I wish You a Bright Future ! I will hold a Feather with you ,,, and not just because , Im Indian too but because its the right thing to do . Continue To Be Proud , Chelsey !

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
My child is a Native Americian from Poarch and This is abserb Give that girl her diplomia she deserves it People are so crazy

Barb from YST rez's picture
Barb from YST rez
Submitted by Barb from YST rez on
First of all, I would like to say that I am proud of you Chelsey for standing up for what you believe in and for showing pride in your Indian heritage. It is too bad that you should have to fight for something that I'm sure that you worked really hard for; just look at it this way, receiving an eagle feather from your family is more of an honor than a piece of paper that the white man requires you to have. Keep the faith and the Great Spirit will take care of you and provide. Good luck to you and congratulations on your graduation.

joe's picture
Submitted by joe on
If crosses and Stars of David were allowed on the outside of robes, the feather should have been allowed. Schools often have no objection to the crosses and stars.

E. Hart's picture
E. Hart
Submitted by E. Hart on
Give this young lady her diploma! She needs a civil rights attorney now. That 1000 dollar fine will seem like pennies to that school after this law suit. Such a shame for Chelsey. I hope she gets her entire college education paid for by these bastards.

Anglo4Indianidenty 's picture
Submitted by Anglo4Indianidenty on
Glad to hear you chose to wear the feather. The cap and gown as I see it falls short of having the historical significance within the native American culture. The academy accepted you as a student, a person of Indian decent, they should also accept your cultural beliefs. I hope this reaches a satisfactory solution for the Indian students.