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

Jack Assinine's picture
Jack Assinine
Submitted by Jack Assinine on
This is why the US education system is so poor! Power hungry small mined administrators with out a vision.

Ed Griffin's picture
Ed Griffin
Submitted by Ed Griffin on
It's Alabama. Most private schools there pride themselves on their backwardness. Get out as soon as possible!

Ed Griffin's picture
Ed Griffin
Submitted by Ed Griffin on
It's Alabama. Most private schools there pride themselves on their backwardness. Get out as soon as possible!

Don Acton's picture
Don Acton
Submitted by Don Acton on
schools have the right to dress codes. students have rights to rebel. everybody is overreacting . just live your lives . it didn't hurt anybody drop the fine.

Keeper of the Feather's picture
Keeper of the F...
Submitted by Keeper of the F... on
Hey Indians! If you don't like it, then go back to your own country of origin where you can dress in the fashion of your own tradition, customs, and culture. Don't come to the United States expecting to impose your culture on the rest of us. Go home American Indians! What? This is your home country of origin? You have no other country to go to? Okay, never mind.

Brigita Leader-Longhorn MS's picture
Brigita Leader-...
Submitted by Brigita Leader-... on
As an educator, and advocate, Eagle feathers are considered sacred objects- I teach from the perspective that not everyone can handle the eagle feather, Most people I know (our family) registered with the Federal Gaming to receive eagles through mail for use for regalia. We carry that letter and your Tribal Chief, representatives can sign off on the paperwork to get eagle feathers, Also, know your federal laws, 1. the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and other numerous laws that protect our religious ceremonies. Your justification can come from your religious practice, involvement with pow-wows, my worldview came through getting educated, being raised in the traditional world of grass root people, Muscogee Creeks have 17 existing sacred fires, Know my roots and involved in Pow-wow arena. Be proud of who you are, and where we come from our people fought for our rights. We have to be equal player in the modern world, get it by education, specially become lawyer! I hope to do that one day. The other thing is people are under-educated and we are still having to battle educating non-Indians, etc. MVTO! for allowing me to share and good luck!

Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
Submitted by Robin Thompson on
Rules r rules: how is Native American status a "political interest group"? This is racism, pure and simple. way to go, Chelsey! You don't need that piece of paper (it's ceremonial). You graduated and that's all you need to go on to college. It's that bachelor degree or diploma you'll be wanting to put on your wall - not a paper from this short-sighted high school.

Metazip's picture
Metazip
Submitted by Metazip on
Do the right thing, take them to court and make sure you ask for legal costs too. Every school tries to tell graduates they have to do this, or that. Graduates are sick of being told what to do, a time honored tradition and while most will cower to this type of threat, the few, the brave, will just look at them and say..."Nuts!"

Metazip's picture
Metazip
Submitted by Metazip on
Do the right thing, take them to court and make sure you ask for legal costs too. Every school tries to tell graduates they have to do this, or that. Graduates are sick of being told what to do, a time honored tradition and while most will cower to this type of threat, the few, the brave, will just look at them and say..."Nuts!"

James P Louviere's picture
James P Louviere
Submitted by James P Louviere on
The administrators or school board is totally wrong for persecuting this young woman. She's been taught that the USA honors its treaties, assures freedom of speech, respects religious and cultural traditions and encourages self expression, courage, individuality and spunk. Thunk. She owes these cretins $1000. She should sue for breach of contract, for they taught her false values and then imposed their insensitivity and stupidity on her after neglecting to read their own civics books. Escambia is not an academy but a training ground for teaching people to be intimidated, subservient, slavish and mean. She's been seriously offended and degraded. I hope she fights back. James P Louviere, long-time teacher from Louisiana living in Texas..

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
DISGRACE TO THE WORLD.... NATIVE OR NOT HOW PATHETIC IS IT THAT THEY KEEP HER BACK... bullshit sue there asses

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