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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Desiree Hellegers's picture
Desiree Hellegers
Submitted by Desiree Hellegers on
This appears to me to be a likely violation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. My guess is that the ACLU might be quite interested in this case. I hope she contacts them immediately if she hasn't already.

Myrna Kootenay' Nakoda Sioux, Canada's picture
Myrna Kootenay'...
Submitted by Myrna Kootenay'... on
Chelsey Congratulations on your High School diploma! I had received numerous Eagle Feathers for my academic achievements' its common practice country. It saddens me 2 hear of your plight re: Escambia Academy. Its nothing new especially from the non-native/caucasion perspective & their laws/rules, pretty the state of Alabama :( its sad how they are.., you're being subject to institutional racism, discrimination and prejudice. I am proud of you, don't give up the fight. Make a career of it and take them to the UN if need be. As the Authoritative body of your diploma, their backwards in their rules, regulations & subjecting you to misuse of power/authority. Its no different from the practices of the Indian Residential schools.

susan Jackson 's picture
susan Jackson
Submitted by susan Jackson on
To my granddaughter I support u all the way I don't know u my grandchildren think the world of u I know u will get to the end of this it is all crazy thank u

susan Jackson 's picture
susan Jackson
Submitted by susan Jackson on
To my granddaughter I support u all the way I don't know Alex I know he is doing the best he can thank u

Angela, Creek's picture
Angela, Creek
Submitted by Angela, Creek on
This is absurd. If they are alleging that it is contractual but neither she nor her parents signed it, then they have no grounds, she did not agree to it. I hope she finds an attorney to sue them for the $1,000.00 and anything else they can think of!

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Seriously? It's a FEATHER. How the hell does this even blow up like this? It's literally a fucking FEATHER.

Joel Flournoy's picture
Joel Flournoy
Submitted by Joel Flournoy on
It seems funny that the school will accept so much funding from the Indians but would not let a tribe member wear acceptable regalia ,especially as she asked first. My hat in hand and and thanks to her for telling them oh well . from someone who only has a little bit of Creek blood in me .

Garry Breault's picture
Garry Breault
Submitted by Garry Breault on
This is very petty. This girl, or anyone has the right to display their nationality.

Brad Nible 's picture
Brad Nible
Submitted by Brad Nible on
It says in this article that this is a PRIVATE school. I am asuming that this means no public funding. Thay can make whatever rules that they want for any event. But if you are indian or any other minority you want to be treated better than every body else.I did not say EQUAL I said better.

Howard Gunter's picture
Howard Gunter
Submitted by Howard Gunter on
The position of the school in this matter smacks of discrimination against a Native American. The eagle feather award was an indigenous award for academic accomplishment and has great meaning for recipients. I am amazed that some Native American tribe or organization hasn't stepped up and paid this fine for her and publicly shamed the school and its administration.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
What a shameful thing to happen. This young lady earned her diploma and no one had the right to deny her this certificate. Proof that there is extreme poor leadership in every country, city, town and communities! Would a youth with a turban on his head have been disciplined in such a manner? I would demand a face to face public apology from this school official. If all else fails, I would send a letter to the President of the United States for he seems to be a very concerned people leader and one who understands what discrimination is. It's shameful how little integrity and sense of righteousness there is in some people.

Ralph Agostini's picture
Ralph Agostini
Submitted by Ralph Agostini on
The natural born citizens of this country are "AMERICAN INDIANS". I understand that this country was maybe thirty years ago what the settlers fought for. Nevertheless, to make this of a young person who has worked "Hard" to earn her diploma and dyne her is not fair. Let her claim her heritage.

Lee Ann TallBear's picture
Lee Ann TallBear
Submitted by Lee Ann TallBear on
Well hopefully your Tribe will pay the fine for you and deliver it in pennies. However, no matter how stupid or racist the school leadership is, they can not take away from you the pride you felt and others felt to see you honor your culture and your people. You are a wonderful role model for other young people. Good luck to you.

Helen Kirk's picture
Helen Kirk
Submitted by Helen Kirk on
POARCH CREEK INDIAN NATION, Ala., June 6, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Poarch Band of Creek Indians today donated more than $200,000 dollars to schools in Escambia and Monroe counties in Alabama. The Tribe made the donation as part of its 2013 Planned Giving Campaign. "At a time when budget cuts are infiltrating our schools, I am proud that we are able make this investment in the future of our children," noted Tribal Chairman Buford L. Rolin. "I believe knowledge that is gained through education is essential for children to reach their goals in life, and it will enable them to have limitless opportunities." Maybe Escambia Academy was jealous because they didn't get a handout from the Poarch Creek Band of Indians

David Sena's picture
David Sena
Submitted by David Sena on
The school should be fined for being stupid and overbearing. I bet they teach diversity, but only allow the diversity they want to see.

Chuck Wynn's picture
Chuck Wynn
Submitted by Chuck Wynn on
I am proud that she is so proud of her heritage. Only Native Americans are allowed to use the eagle feathers in our country. Honor her, her family and her tribe for her proud moments as a recent graduate. Do not disgrace these proud people again.

Sam Hogge's picture
Sam Hogge
Submitted by Sam Hogge on
What's wrong with School leaders, out of common decency, give the girl her diploma, if you didn't know better you would think there might be some discrimination.

TommyG's picture
Submitted by TommyG on
She never signed the contract. Therefore she is not bound by it. The contract said she would forfeit being in the graduation activities, but the school let her participate. So the school waived that provision. I say take them to court and sue them for emotional distress.

Kerry's picture
Submitted by Kerry on
I can understand the statement that they don't want other articles on robes or caps. However, when it comes to something that represents a heritage, history, and religion, I do think they are wrong. I'm sure the original intent of this statement was meant to prevent students from putting things like Sponge Bob or something crazy on graduation apparel, minimizing the honor a diploma is supposed to represent. These people are being either way to literal or are complete idiots. This girl should be proud of her heritage, and I think she is awesome for not stepping down on it. I am proud of her myself and think SHE represents 9ironic's picture
Submitted by dave.erwin@symp... on
Redneck mentality is alive and well in America the home of the bigot the land of the bully.

Daniel Williams's picture
Daniel Williams
Submitted by Daniel Williams on
I agree that the students should have been allowed this one small item if it's a part of their culture, however, they should have fought this prior to the ceremony and fought it in court if necessary. Any rule which allows students to wear whatever they please will be abused, so schools set one rule for all students alike. These Native American students and their families apparently had 4 years in which to fight this rule and didn't. But by most reasonable standards, $1,000 fine and withholding her diploma are outrageous.

Carol Chandler's picture
Carol Chandler
Submitted by Carol Chandler on
Many of our American freedoms are disappearing. I think I would have worn the feather close to my heart, unseen by others. Little can be done by one lone individual. Only certain minorities have special rights. These often dismiss our freedoms.

Yenehtahaweh's picture
Submitted by Yenehtahaweh on
I am so ashamed for these schools who are still allowed to practice these racial prejudice's -especially toward our children. What more can you take from our people. We are of a different race-not a diffrent species! We should be allowed to partake in certain native rituals such as giving an honorary eagle feather to a student who has completed four years of enduring racial degradation, and other forms of bullying just for wanting to be her/himself. All I ask is "What exactly are we teaching the next generation of children when you do this? To continue the racism indeed!"-instead of embracing the fact that you are fortunate to have some very culturally wise young individuals who only want to share in the process of learning. Instead you are teaching our children to expect ridicule & continue to go with your "flow". To this all I can say is "thanks for the insensitivity I guess in a way you are making them stronger, but at what cost?" Low self-esteem, damaged egos, and more than anything a fear of the white man. I cannot wait for this racism to STOP once & for all.

Christopher Barrett, Florida's picture
Christopher Bar...
Submitted by Christopher Bar... on
I saw graduation services on TV news, the other day and a girl wore a PINK feather boa, drapped all around the edge of her cap. So what would a little Eagle feather hurt ?

George Spatz's picture
George Spatz
Submitted by George Spatz on
Is this school for real? They cannot with hold this diploma. According to this contract, if a student failed to sign it they would not be permitted to participate in the graduation ceremony but she was still allowed to. That in and of itself should void this contract and the school will have to give her her diploma and the fine will be null and void. Hooray for you girl for standing up for your heritage!!!! Sue this school and make sure they pay for your"pain and suffering" !!

hayn yarbrough's picture
hayn yarbrough
Submitted by hayn yarbrough on
Surly you don't think the Euro Roman minded colonists have changed their thinking in 500 years. I may be washed out and appear white, I am met with a lot of crazy attitudes when ask my religious preference and I tell them "Native American". They put down N/A. I have to wonder. They are so afraid of everything.The better man (or people) may not always win, but at least we know who they are! WE SHALL PREVAIL!!!!

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
You claim to be a non soverign nation so you should not be allowed to pursue anything in american courts. You pay no taxes but get support from the government ... you are leaches. We have paid what was promised to your elders many times over and over. WE OWE YOO NO MORE>

Hollye Walkingstick's picture
Hollye Walkingstick
Submitted by Hollye Walkingstick on
Chelsey, PLEASE contact my Son, Sky, and I. The exact same thing happened to him on the same night. He wore his Eagle Feather in his cap and was told by hi VP, Steve Bryson of J B Pennington HS in Blountsville, AL., that if he didn't remove it that he couldn't walk or get his diploma. Please get in touch with us. Sky's story is all over FB and Indian Country Today, but we would love to maybe to be able to have an interview with the 2 of you together because you have been done so wrong! You can contact us at 205-274-0264...Please do...we would love to hear from you....God Bless! Hollye & Sky Walkingstick