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

Peace Sign's picture
Peace Sign
Submitted by Peace Sign on
I don't agree with the fine. Otoh, what if someone decided to attach a swastika to their tassle.

Dean Massalsky's picture
Dean Massalsky
Submitted by Dean Massalsky on
Idiocy. Where do they find these clueless people making decisions tat are supposed to be examples of leadership to our young. If this were my child, there would be no fine paid, and I'd take a news crew there to get the damn diploma. Grrrr!

Dirty Dan McGrue's picture
Dirty Dan McGrue
Submitted by Dirty Dan McGrue on
If she's "Native American" I guess I am too...uh-huh, yeah, me, too...

Dirty Dan McGrue's picture
Dirty Dan McGrue
Submitted by Dirty Dan McGrue on
If she's "Native American" I guess I am too...uh-huh, yeah, me, too...

Mary Ann Hutchison's picture
Mary Ann Hutchison
Submitted by Mary Ann Hutchison on
I live in Tucson, Arizona. I'm appalled at the school's insensitivity and inability to even discuss this issues. As a gesture of solidarity, I would like to make a donation to the family to help them pay the fine. I'm wondering how I can do this? I'm very proud of this young woman for standing her ground.

IF "rules r rules"...'s picture
IF "rules r rul...
Submitted by IF "rules r rul... on
... I wonder if other students , wearing crosses, crucifixes, Stars of David, etc were also denied their diplomas and fined and transcript records withheld until fines paid? An Eagle Feather is NOT a fashion/clothing accessory, but a vital symbol of nearly Native American religions/spirituality, and afforded equal protections under the First Amendment (aka "Rule", law of the land, etc). No ensuing "rule" can supersede inalienable rights. Oh... did I use the "sue" word? Or is that Sioux word? Look out! ;-)

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
a "traditional accessory" found on many students at graduation is a flower lei. were those allowed at this ceremony? if so, why? what harm was done by wearing a feather? the school should support those people that are proud of their accomplishments and heritage rather than punish them. punish the ones that disrupt the ceremony or deface the cap and/or gown or even worse.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Whiteman down South hate anything thats non-white they're racist pigs who need to be butchered and cooked then eaten the Aztec way. Mexica or Anahuac and the Maya would do away with these foreigners!

kay santi's picture
kay santi
Submitted by kay santi on
Since the beginning Native Americans have been messed with.......I am an 78 yr. old grmother who is just shocked at this outrages behavior by the school!!!!People should be always allowed to show their heritage in anyway they see fit!!!!!

Eduardo Castanon's picture
Eduardo Castanon
Submitted by Eduardo Castanon on
This isn't a political statement. This is a recognition by a Native American of her heritage. Native Americans are unaware of the support that many of us have for their causes, and the perpetuation of their culture.

Paw paw's picture
Paw paw
Submitted by Paw paw on
This person has worked hard to graduate. It is a very noble thing to do. To be denied simply because of a feather is pure dee BS and worse it is discriminatory. Seems to me the people in charge of this school have less education than those who are graduating from it. Paw Paw said that

bknarrow's picture
bknarrow
Submitted by bknarrow on
do not ever back down for what you believe in, your heart is strong and the truth is what they are afraid of. As a native you still do not have the same rights as the white man. AIM is on your side.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Just follow the rules you can wear feathers after the ceremony. As a nurse teacher banker you won't be wearing feathers so get used to it, wear them in your off time.

Deborah Pacheco's picture
Deborah Pacheco
Submitted by Deborah Pacheco on
This is RIDICULOUS. It's nothing more than racial discrimination against our People. How long will the USA and its citizens trample on our rights and try to destroy our dignity as a People???

tracy neudorf's picture
tracy neudorf
Submitted by tracy neudorf on
religious freedom? bigots? racism? this is an act of defiance. she asked & was told no. if you have rules in place they need to be enforced. the fine is absurd but there has to be some consequence. if you want to change the rules - power to you. if you wish to protect the age old custom of feather/tassel at graduation, who's cares enough to stop you? i respect all cultures and believe they are not so fragile as to be at risk without symbolic representation. i read all these angry comments & i wish people would stop looking for a fight.

Ann's picture
Ann
Submitted by Ann on
The school should change its policy to allow Native Americans to express their cultural heritage as is required by Federal law. They could avoid problems (like Neo-nazi symbols by prohibiting hate and racist symbols).

really?'s picture
really?
Submitted by really? on
Freedom of "what"? GIVE HER HER DIPLOMA!!!!!!!.. sad that country and world is the way it is and we're going to bitch and moan about this? isn't this what started everything to begin with?

Jody Powers - Cherokee's picture
Jody Powers - C...
Submitted by Jody Powers - C... on
This is NOT a newsworthy item. There are plenty of real issues that needs to be addressed instead of this distraction!

Clif Delaney's picture
Clif Delaney
Submitted by Clif Delaney on
I think in her case, this is ridiculous to deny Chelsey's diploma and the $1,000 fine. A feather is not consider an article of clothing, and would not hold up in court. She needs to sue this school. I would think that there would be some attorney's that would love to pursue this case.

mary adair's picture
mary adair
Submitted by mary adair on
Unfortunatel, this day and age you must make rules. What if someone wanted to hang something inappropiate? She asked and the answer was, "No." Pay the fine. Surely plenty have contributied to the cause.

DMG's picture
DMG
Submitted by DMG on
They will never break the spirit of the beautiful Native American culture. They are intimidated and fearful of such a successful and beautiful people. Chelsey is a beautiful girl that is intelligent and dedicated to the ways of her people regardless of the consequences of her actions. I have the utmost respect for those who stand up for what is right. The road may be tough at times but you have self-respect, courage, wisdom, and are appreciated from those whose lives you touch in your journey of life.

Joseph Lowndes's picture
Joseph Lowndes
Submitted by Joseph Lowndes on
This shows just how stupid and how big of idiots these school administrators are getting, they need to be sinsative to peoples heritage and their feelings. I hope that this girl sues the !@#$%^&*()_+ out the school administrators and the school board as well. GOOD GOING MISS RAMER, AND GOOD LUCK. I'bet if it were a certain group of religious folks from outside of the USA there would have been no problem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Joseph Lowndes's picture
Joseph Lowndes
Submitted by Joseph Lowndes on
This shows just how stupid and how big of idiots these school administrators are getting, they need to be sinsative to peoples heritage and their feelings. I hope that this girl sues the !@#$%^&*()_+ out the school administrators and the school board as well. GOOD GOING MISS RAMER, AND GOOD LUCK. I'bet if it were a certain group of religious folks from outside of the USA there would have been no problem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chris Gloin's picture
Chris Gloin
Submitted by Chris Gloin on
I have never heard of anything so ridiculous. What on earth is wrong with wearing an eagle feather as a symbol of acheivement? I think it is discrimination, with a capital D

RoSean Howard's picture
RoSean Howard
Submitted by RoSean Howard on
Ignorance in the school system, any educational system should be evaluated. How can people who have no exposure to other cultures make decisions for us?!

LFitz's picture
LFitz
Submitted by LFitz on
I was in a similar situation at my hs graduation when I wore the 'boy color' instead of the 'girl color'. My principle told me that I 'had personality traits that would lead to failure in all my future endeavors'. At this point I have no hs diploma and will be graduating from a Big10 University in 3 years from the Honors College and going to law school. I have already worked for lobbying firms and in sales. Chelsey, if you're reading this you should know you've already made yourself stand out from the rest. By refusing to give up who you are you've decided that it is YOU who decides YOUR future and no one else. Congratulations! Some things are worth more than a diploma....

Rainer's picture
Rainer
Submitted by Rainer on
First of all: those people, who made up the pamphlet certainly overstepped their boundaries. The diploma and the transcript papers are legal documents and may not been withheld by any school. What do those (school) people think who they are? They might have the right to set certain rules (which would need to be scrutinized from case to case)- but that's it. To impose a fine -even if the student signed it- is not one of them. This "contract" - if one wants to call it that - bursts all limits of moral and justice. I wish a judge would step up to the plate and order the school to hand over all documents right away; any delay sanctioned by a fine of $100.- / day or so. Any paid fine has to be returned with the same interests as those of a major credit card. To Ms. Ramer I only can say: "Well done, young lady!" BTW: I am white and do have high respect for the Native American Culture BTW: the school might be for profit- but it's primary goal is to serve the students and the public - not the opposite. I am sick and tired of self- empowered people.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Public Law 95-341: 95th Congress Joint Resolution American Indian Religious Freedom. Whereas the freedom of religion for all people is an inherent right, fundamental to the democratic structure of the United States and is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; Whereas the United States has traditionally rejected the concept of a government denying individuals the right to practice their religion, and as a result, has benefited from a rich variety of religious heritages in this country; Whereas the religious practices of the American Indian (as well as Native Alaskan and Hawaiian) are an integral part of their culture, tradition, and heritage, such practices forming the basis of Indian identity and value systems; Whereas the traditional American Indian religions as an integral part of Indian life, are indispensable and irreplaceable; Whereas the lack of a clear, comprehensive, and consistent Federal policy has often resulted in the abridgment of religious freedom for traditional American Indians; Whereas such religious infringements result from the lack of knowledge of the insensitive and inflexible enforcement of Federal policies and regulations premised on a variety of laws; Whereas such laws were designed for such worthwhile purposes as conservation and preservation of natural species and resources but were never intended to relate to Indian religious practices and, there, were passed without consideration of their effect on traditional American Indian religions; Whereas such laws and policies often deny American Indians access to sacred sites required in their religions, including cemeteries; Whereas such laws at times prohibit the use and possession of sacred objects necessary to the exercise of religious rites and ceremonies; Whereas traditional American Indian ceremonies have been intruded upon, interfered with, and in a few instances banned; Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of American in Congress Assembled, That henceforth it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites. SEC. 2. The President shall direct that various Federal departments, agencies, and other instrumentalities responsible for the administering relevant laws to evaluate their policies and procedures in consultation with Native traditional religious leaders in order to determine appropriate changes necessary to protect and preserve Native American religious cultural rights and practices. Twelve months after approval of this resolution, the President shall report back to Congress the results of his evaluation, including any changes which were made in administrative policies and procedures, and any recommendations he may have for legislative action. Approved August 11, 1978.

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