Jim Davenport/Facebook
Sky Walkingstick dances at the Jacksonville Powwow.

Another Indian Student in Alabama Asked to Remove Eagle Feather

Vincent Schilling
6/25/13

 

Last month, a 19-year-old Native American high school student at J B Pennington High School in Blountsville, Alabama was told he couldn’t wear an eagle feather if he wanted to graduate. When Sky Walkingstick, of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, explained it was a demonstration of his beliefs protected under federal law, he was still told by Assistant Principal Steven Bryson, a former history teacher, and another instructor, William Smitherman, who teaches government, economics and 9th grade history, to remove it.

“I was just starting the graduation ceremony and I had my eagle feather in my cap, it was hanging from the tassel. I was walking towards Mr. Smitherman he saw my eagle feather and stopped me. He started shaking his head no. He said you cannot wear that during the graduation,” said Walkingstick.

“I asked him why not and he said, ‘you just can't.”

Walkingstick, who has been a men’s traditional dancer since age 5 and a fancy dancer for about a year says the eagle feather is part of his heritage, his religious beliefs and achievements. He said he tried to explain that the wearing of a feather was also protected, but he was shut down.

“I started to get upset and tear up, but I held it in. I put my eagle feather back in my car. When I came back Mr. Smitherman and Mr. Bryson told me again,” said Walkingstick.

Sky and Hollye at Sky's graduation. (Facebook)

Walkingstick was surprised two educators with backgrounds in teaching history and government aren’t aware of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Walkingstick complied during the May 23 graduation ceremony, even though he didn’t want to. “I didn't want any trouble nor did I want to cause a ruckus... I went ahead with graduation with my feather in my heart and my head held high.”

His mother, Hollye Walkingstick, was frustrated by the situation. “You would think of all people, that history teacher would be more aware. It made me very mad,” she said.

“I asked Mr. Bryson ‘can you tell me why he can't wear it?’ He said, ‘the main reason is that all of the kids are required to look the same. I told him there was no dress code the kids had to sign and no one was told they had to wear certain things. I told him you would not tell a Christian person to remove their cross or a Jewish person to remove their Star of David. And I can guarantee you that if you had a Muslim child in your school you would not tell her to remove her head covering. You could not do that by law.”

She explained that Sky respected Bryson’s wishes because he is an elder and the assistant principal. “But this is a school, you could turn this into a real teaching opportunity,” Hollye told Bryson.

Hollye said she and the teachers argued that other students—honor students—wore adornments in their tassels. She also said the school accepts funding for having minority students, but doesn’t support their beliefs.

“My daughter asked Mr. Bryson if he understood what the eagle feather meant and he said ‘Oh yeah, I know you all smoke peace pipes and what you smoke in them.’ This is a former history teacher who is now the vice principal and the history teacher was standing right next to him,” Hollye said. “This is unreal to me.”

J.B. Pennington High School principal Brian Kirk said the school has no comment on the issue and referred ICTMN to the Blount County Board of Education Superintendent Jim Carr, who has not returned several calls.

This isn’t the first time a graduating senior has taken flack for wearing an eagle feather at graduation from an Alabama school. Chelsey Ramer, a Poarch Creek Band of Indians student who recently graduated from Escambia Academy in Atmore, Alabama faced a similar situation. She did wear her feather though and nearly had to pay a $1,000 fine for doing so. (Related story: “Poarch Creek Student Not Required to Pay Fine, Receives Diploma)

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Shawn Mark's picture
Shawn Mark
Submitted by Shawn Mark on
Im sure they knew the laws and history, they did not want to comply because of they are white and he is NDN.

Shawn Mark's picture
Shawn Mark
Submitted by Shawn Mark on
Im sure they knew the laws and history, they did not want to comply because of they are white and he is NDN.

WinterElk's picture
WinterElk
Submitted by WinterElk on
‘Oh yeah, I know you all smoke peace pipes and what you smoke in them.’ Could this be considered a racist comment? If so, Sky Walkingstick & Chelsey Ramer might consider raising the issue in Court...

DoYi's picture
DoYi
Submitted by DoYi on
You still have your religion. You still have your eagle feather. You graduated.Congratulations. They have problems. Who knows, maybe next year all native americans will wear their feathers and/or regalia.

Joan Simonsen's picture
Joan Simonsen
Submitted by Joan Simonsen on
It has been said before, no crosses, Star of David or Muslim head coverings had to be removed. All these schools, all these teachers, especially history teachers, you should be ashamed of yourselves. The history teachers do not know American History? Where did they get their education?

Elisa McCrea's picture
Elisa McCrea
Submitted by Elisa McCrea on
I can tell you after having lived in Alabama for the past almost three years that they despise difference here. Or things that challenge what they know or think they know. Unless you're "one of them" they don't have any respect, courtesy, decency or tolerance for you. This includes other white people who have decent educations, healthy vocabularies and a normal dose of self-respect. If you're "stuck" living here in Alabama ve only advice I have is to seek out people like yourself, be who you are in your heart at all times and never let the idiots wear you down. You're bigger than this and capable of rising above to greater heights. Keep the eagle feather you were forced to hide and use it to soar!

Lora Martin's picture
Lora Martin
Submitted by Lora Martin on
What you need to remember is that history was written in favor of the white man, not the native american

Lora Martin's picture
Lora Martin
Submitted by Lora Martin on
What you need to remember is that history was written in favor of the white man, not the native american

Ira Miller's picture
Ira Miller
Submitted by Ira Miller on
It is incomprehensible to me to hear that someone with a supposed education, and background in the history of America, and a therefore supposed knowledge of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act could, or would act so callously, and illegally (as well as in so obviously a bigoted manner) as to prohibit the wearing of the symbol of this young man's protected heritage!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
They can call it what they want its discrimination plain as day. We were here before that guy.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
They can call it what they want its discrimination plain as day. We were here before that guy.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
If other graduates can hang adornments on their tassels, the Walkingstick should have been permitted to do so. He showed respect, and rose above arbitrary rules, but he could have tucked it in his shirt pocket, rather than in the car.

Little Bullhead's picture
Little Bullhead
Submitted by Little Bullhead on
This is outrageous and just shows how little people know of the Native culture and beliefs. At the same time, I applaud Sky for respecting his "elders", as is taught in the Native culture. With his actions, he stands tall and speaks volumes for his heritage. I think the teachers need to go back to school!

Melissa Mendoza's picture
Melissa Mendoza
Submitted by Melissa Mendoza on
This is what the American society has come to.We have too many people in this country who are living thier lives to suit others and what this society deems to be appropriate these days. Religion, no matter the denomination, is only allowed if it suits the majority. We have no freedom to practice religion and speech??? well that went out the window long ago except for those in power and those who support those in power. You can say or do whatever you like in this country if you have enough money to pay for the privilage or if you have enough people behind you to pay for it for you. This is not a free country. There are too many people that are telling too many other people how they are allowed to live and winner of the battle will always be the one with the fullest pockets and the emptiest head.

Mary Ann's picture
Mary Ann
Submitted by Mary Ann on
That young man should of been able to wear his eagle feather. Those educators are ignorant. It is ashame. I am sure if he was in California they would let him do so. Or could they not even have him just hold the eagle feather? This disgusts me. I am so sorry.

Mary Ann's picture
Mary Ann
Submitted by Mary Ann on
That young man should of been able to wear his eagle feather. Those educators are ignorant. It is ashame. I am sure if he was in California they would let him do so. Or could they not even have him just hold the eagle feather? This disgusts me. I am so sorry.

Supporting Mom's picture
Supporting Mom
Submitted by Supporting Mom on
I agree with the mother here. If we were Jewish, Muslim, or of a different of Christian nothing would have been said or even done. Native Americans still have to make changes for everyone else. When will it be our turn?

Victoria Perez (Pomo)'s picture
Victoria Perez ...
Submitted by Victoria Perez ... on
This is terrible the statements in this article are so true other children are not asked to remove their crosses etc. This young man and lady should not have to hide away what they believe in and their culture. They are proud of who they are and their accomplishments.... and a fine? I wouldn't pay it and find out how to fight for this right.

Kenneth Franzen's picture
Kenneth Franzen
Submitted by Kenneth Franzen on
This is just down right wrong. If one child can wear some thing than all are able to. Why do the 1st Natives always have to suffer for every one else. Why don't the teachers learn the history that they are teaching.

linda ford's picture
linda ford
Submitted by linda ford on
this is freedom of religion and his cultural teachings, what would you do if a muslim wanted to wear their burka or turban? this is racist at the most extreme. let him wear the feather or get another job where you don't have to lie about what you are suppose to be teaching these kids.

texasouthwind's picture
texasouthwind
Submitted by texasouthwind on
My grandfather and Dad were from the eastern band of Cherokee and I believe also in Alabama. The history teacher by all means studied history and I guess one of our ancestor's,must have killed one of their kin. He must have a grudge against the people Susie marie baker Marie came from the french and susie was my Choctaw grand mother's name I am RED,WHITE and BLUE

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Sounds just like when you couldn't speak your own language at school and you were punished if you did.

Glenn D Locust's picture
Glenn D Locust
Submitted by Glenn D Locust on
Unfortunately, these acts of mjs-understanding the most crucial elements of a persons nucleus is one of the factors, just one, of the reasons that Native Americans were made to feel as if they were less than human beings we were savages. Never mind the savagery that was perpetrated on us. They should consider returning to the countries from whence they came to settle in our land, our world, and to turn it to polluted cesspool.

Michelle McGillis's picture
Michelle McGillis
Submitted by Michelle McGillis on
This is so wrong, I just want to say we have 2 High Schools in Great Falls, Montana and both are proud of their Native American Students and are proud to be apart of the giving of the feather as well as the students wearing them during graduation. I believe this is considered discrimination and I would be getting a attorney.

Michelle McGillis's picture
Michelle McGillis
Submitted by Michelle McGillis on
This is so wrong, I just want to say we have 2 High Schools in Great Falls, Montana and both are proud of their Native American Students and are proud to be apart of the giving of the feather as well as the students wearing them during graduation. I believe this is considered discrimination and I would be getting a attorney.

Sandra black cloud's picture
Sandra black cloud
Submitted by Sandra black cloud on
I would fight this injustice to our beliefs my son wore his feather when ever he wanted in school

Monique Coronado's picture
Monique Coronado
Submitted by Monique Coronado on
This is just another show of disrespect from uneducated, bigoted people. The graduates should have been able to wear their 'Eagle Feathers' with no trouble or shame directed towards them. Yet again "how dare you tell us that we can't show our love for our culture." We as Indian People are very spiritual and have sacred symbols and objects that we hold dear to us. Petty people should not be allowed to practice their stupidity against us. Let us be and leave us alone once and for all, because you'll never understand, nor do you want to, so quit wasting our time showing how ignorant you all are.

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