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

Creek Indian, too, and agree...no feathers!!'s picture
Creek Indian, t...
Submitted by Creek Indian, t... on
I understand that this young lady wanted to represent her culture. But there is a time and place for everything. I am a Creek Indian, too, and would not have worn the feather if not given permission. The fact that she did not get her diploma and has to pay a fine are consequences for not listening and not respecting the rules. There are rules in life and society that people must respect. Lawlessness and lawbreakers are never good. Indians have a historical tradition of obeying their elders, though many Indians today have chosen to become disorderly and the alcohol and drug addiction rate on reservations is one of the highest among Americans. This is not about a specific culture, the graduation is about education. No one needs to represent anything but having made it through graduation. If the Creek Indians want to have a special event for seniors, then that would be the place for wearing a feather or perhaps recieving the feather. Feathers were traditionally given when someone did something worthy of a feather (like a trophy). Breaking the rules is not worthy of anything. What if someone decided that they want to represent The Rednecks of The South because they descended from a long line of Rednecks and wanted to wear Camo Bandanas peaking out under their graduation cap? Everyone could potentially represent something. This is a time for honoring education.

Creek Indian, too, and agree...no feathers!!'s picture
Creek Indian, t...
Submitted by Creek Indian, t... on
I understand that this young lady wanted to represent her culture. But there is a time and place for everything. I am a Creek Indian, too, and would not have worn the feather if not given permission. The fact that she did not get her diploma and has to pay a fine are consequences for not listening and not respecting the rules. There are rules in life and society that people must respect. Lawlessness and lawbreakers are never good. Indians have a historical tradition of obeying their elders, though many Indians today have chosen to become disorderly and the alcohol and drug addiction rate on reservations is one of the highest among Americans. This is not about a specific culture, the graduation is about education. No one needs to represent anything but having made it through graduation. If the Creek Indians want to have a special event for seniors, then that would be the place for wearing a feather or perhaps recieving the feather. Feathers were traditionally given when someone did something worthy of a feather (like a trophy). Breaking the rules is not worthy of anything. What if someone decided that they want to represent The Rednecks of The South because they descended from a long line of Rednecks and wanted to wear Camo Bandanas peaking out under their graduation cap? Everyone could potentially represent something. This is a time for honoring education.

june snow-lee's picture
june snow-lee
Submitted by june snow-lee on
I think it is a disgrace to not let a child who has spent 12 years of their lives studying & now on the brink of adulthood not to let them express in a small way their pride in themselves & their families. A feather??!! How demeaning & insulting to her to say, "we don't care about your expression of pride in your culture". This is coming from a mother whose child was valedictorian of his high school. And he gave his speech with a small change that was important to him. Every one was very proud of him. Shame on this school & their ignorant ways.

Sharon Baxter's picture
Sharon Baxter
Submitted by Sharon Baxter on
Yes, it sure is a disgrace for that young lady to be treated so wrong...

Sharon Baxter's picture
Sharon Baxter
Submitted by Sharon Baxter on
Yes, it sure is a disgrace for that young lady to be treated so wrong...

Howland Owl's picture
Howland Owl
Submitted by Howland Owl on
Is this a religious occurence, is it racial, or is it a case of "We will all look alike at this ceremony." As I read the contract, I think that it may as well say that "Any graduates of African descent shall cover the visible part of their bodies with talcum, so as to blend in with the rest of the class...." and hide those necklace chains with crosses on them, too. I see the school being fined for this travesty..

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I smell a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the school. The school district cannot legally impose the fine. Only a judge can! I do not believe any jury in the land will convict her!

Dr. Timothy M. Marshall's picture
Dr. Timothy M. ...
Submitted by Dr. Timothy M. ... on
This is beyond ridiculous, and a total insult to this young lady and her people. I suggest the school board act immediately, and correct this injustice (give the girl her diploma, STAT!) - and stop being a bunch of idiots. Seriously...what you're doing to this girl is criminal.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
You really have to wonder at times what's wrong with school administrators. This looks like another example of a zero tolerance policy run amok. Any reasonable person would look at this and say that this important bit of Native American culture trumps (and possibly does so by law) a rule intended just to keep a ceremony orderly. Clearly there was no disruption to the commencement ceremony, so why the big hassle now.

Mikyla Lennard's picture
Mikyla Lennard
Submitted by Mikyla Lennard on
This is completely outrageous!!! I'm in total shock and awe here. I am not native however I do have some Mohawk heritage. How is this even allowed, how was this student not given her right to walk on stage with her class wearing a FEATHER!!! in her cap. She wasn't sporting anything illegal, anything offensive, or anything dangerous?!? This school and those in support of it should be ashamed of themselves. In a day in age where acceptance and understanding is promoted, we can't allow some students to show pride in their heritage?? The letter states that if you were part of a particular school club, you could sport their pin or logo.... well I'm pretty sure being some of the only Native students in a school is a pretty elite club!! I'm so disgusted and hope there are consequences to those involved. It makes me sick. To the student in this story, you have my support!!! -Mikyla Lennard, Ontario, Canada

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
who makes these crazy rules, anyway. They should have better things to do, like teachin' the children RIGHT !

ManyTotems's picture
ManyTotems
Submitted by ManyTotems on
Shame on that school for disrespecting the youngsters' traditions and religion. Give that child her diploma, she earned it and you legally can't withhold it from her. I hope her parents and the other Native American students sue that school for discrimination. They deserve to be sued.

Hollye Walkingstick's picture
Hollye Walkingstick
Submitted by Hollye Walkingstick on
Same thing happened to my Son, Sky Walkingstick, when he tried to wear his Eagle Feather in his cap. He is a member of The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. When he got to graduation his history teacher and VP, Steve Bryson, of JB Pennington HS in Blountsville, AL. told him if he wore it that he could not walk or get diploma. This was his right! Both of these kids were done so very wrong. I can't wait to see what happens to these schools. Please post this on Facebook as much as possible and also contact and put pressure on the school and school board. The schools number is 205-429-4101; and it is the Blount Co. Board of Education 205-625-4102.... Help these young people. Native people deserve their rights back! Please help us make this happen! Thank you for your support!

whiteplume's picture
whiteplume
Submitted by whiteplume on
Like I said before. She could of had a special ceremony the night before. The family should of known that would happen.

Joanne Greenwood's picture
Joanne Greenwood
Submitted by Joanne Greenwood on
This policy driven by flawed ideaology is an embarassment to educators that care and foster not only academic success but personal freedoms. Care about students and they in turn will enrich the lives they touch. I have been an educator for 29 years and this story saddened and angered me but did not surprise me.

Jacquie G's picture
Jacquie G
Submitted by Jacquie G on
If this girl completed all of her course work & achieved the appropriate GPA, then she deserves the diploma she earned. It's ridiculous the school is holding it hostage because she chose to honor her heritage. She is wearing the feather in the above photo! I had to stare for a moment to be sure it really was there. Something so insignificant & the school is creating that much fuss? Sounds like discrimination to me.

azy's picture
azy
Submitted by azy on
Truthfully I think that is f***ing stupid. What happened to our freedom of expression? If that were me id be handing out a petition and having people who also agree its unfair to be calling the school complaining. That's what we did at our school when they tried banning piercings and tried to make us wear uniforms . The school caved in pretty quickly. Also take it to the next step if you have to, try to get on the news and I'm pretty sure there will be a lot of people rooting for you.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
BULL**** A Feather? It is a disgrace to Native Americans! A FEATHER??? Leave the poor girl alone. She worked hard for her diploma just like any other human being. She should not have to pay for it on top of it, just for a feather.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
this is a disgrace...to think educators of our future are still so ignorant and intolerant of individuality and culture

tiredoftalking's picture
tiredoftalking
Submitted by tiredoftalking on
How much more ignorance and intolerance will be perpetrated by so called learning institutions before they get slammed by Human Rights. One would think that educational institutions would have open minds and forward thinking...this is sooo backwards and prejudicial it is a wonder that anyone would actually PAY to attend such an archaic, colonialistic, stuck in last century institution.

shirley boyer's picture
shirley boyer
Submitted by shirley boyer on
My heart goes out to all american indians. This is another shameful treatment that they are still receiving.

shirley boyer's picture
shirley boyer
Submitted by shirley boyer on
My heart goes out to all american indians. This is another shameful treatment that they are still receiving.

gary goddard's picture
gary goddard
Submitted by gary goddard on
if there is a price to pay for being proud of one's heritage then it is worth not complying. way to go young lady. caps and gowns are just another way to make money off of people. they need to be eliminated.

gary goddard's picture
gary goddard
Submitted by gary goddard on
if there is a price to pay for being proud of one's heritage then it is worth not complying. way to go young lady. caps and gowns are just another way to make money off of people. they need to be eliminated.

gary goddard's picture
gary goddard
Submitted by gary goddard on
if there is a price to pay for being proud of one's heritage then it is worth not complying. way to go young lady. caps and gowns are just another way to make money off of people. they need to be eliminated.

Lillian Hagar's picture
Lillian Hagar
Submitted by Lillian Hagar on
This is absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for. If she is proud of who she is, and the significance of wearing that feather on her cap was so important to her and her family, no one has the right to say, NO you can't, or to give her a fine of $1000.00 is uncalled for. They should be ashamed of themselves, and by all means they should rectify their actions. Especially when many moons ago, we striped them from their rights. We forced them to live in a patch of land, and we took everything away from Indians, their land, their way of living, and their respect respect they had of nature, its easy to take away, but not east to respect any and all tribes. I hope many people feel as I do and let them know. I urge everyone that feel as I do to express their disgust with the schools actions.

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