Christian Titman Clovis High School California
Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via Associated Press
In this April 11, 2015 photo, Christian Titman, Miwok, is seen here during the Grand Entry at the 24th Fresno State First Nations Powwow in Fresno, California. Titman sued his California school district on Monday, June 1, 2015, over its refusal to let him wear an eagle feather during his high school graduation ceremony, claiming his rights to freedom of expression and religion in the state constitution are being violated.

Fighting for Native Student’s Right to Wear Eagle Feather at Graduation

André Cramblit
6/2/15

Editor’s Note: Clovis Unified School District and attorneys for Christian Titman reached an agreement June 2, which will allow him to wear the eagle feather at graduation. “The district’s refusal to allow a small symbol of religious expression during the graduation ceremony is a misunderstanding of both the spirit and the letter of the law,” Novella Coleman, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued. “The implication that an eagle feather with religious significance is unacceptable or disruptive signals a deep disrespect from the district.”

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gregory Frizzell said the school’s policy prohibiting decorations on graduation caps does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s right to exercise religious freedom because it was applied generally and was religion-neutral, reports the Associated Press.

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On June 1, a Native American graduating senior at Clovis High School in California, filed a notice of intent to file an emergency lawsuit to challenge the school district’s refusal to allow him to wear and display a small eagle feather during the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 4.

The student will only be able to wear the eagle feather, an item with religious and cultural significance, on his graduation cap during the ceremony if a court intervenes. The notice asks for an emergency court hearing on Tuesday, June 2, to decide the issue.

Read the full press release from the American Civil Liberties Union, here. I expressed my support for Christian Titman to members of the school board and political leaders in the letter that follows.

I am writing today to protest your decision to violate the Civil Rights (American Indian Civil Rights Act) of Christian Titman.  His right to wear eagle feathers is guaranteed under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (American Indian Religious Freedom Act). He also has the right to wear his feathers as it is considered to be a mark of academic distinction much like gold National Honor Society cords.

Graduation is a significant event in the community. The traditional gifting of a feather is an honor that is shared with the public to mark the importance of the achievement of the recipient. If you would allow a Sikh student to wear a turban or a Christian student to wear a cross then you must not be hypocritical in denying Native Americans the right to wear the symbols of their culture that mark this success.

 It is your duty to support and exalt your students, not make punitive decisions that negatively impact their self-esteem. Celebrate this milestone reached in cooperation with your district by confirming the importance of this accomplishment by allowing Mr. Titman to respectfully adorn his mortarboard to note his achievement. I urge the Clovis Unified School District to protect the inherent legal and moral rights of your American Indian students.

RELATED: School Policy in the 21st Century

André Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.

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Flower's picture
Flower
Submitted by Flower on
This is a fight so many of our young people should not be having in the 21st Century. We want our children to be able to go school off-reservations and continue their education without losing themselves or their identity, but when something like this happens it makes you stop and pray they remain strong enough to stand up and protect their traditional beliefs without having to constantly fight or explain to those who are uneducated about Native culture. This is a minor request and if other students can wear expressions of their religious beliefs for the short period of time during graduation such as a scarf or a cross, I don't see a reason why our Native children cannot do the same. I wish public school systems would be more accepting of Native children and culture since this is a really big accomplishment to see them graduate. They are role models for our younger ones who see them walk the line with a feather in their cap or hair and they will want to do the same because they identify with them. Our young people have so many challenges just to reach HS graduation and we need these positive role models for those who might be contemplating dropping out or worse.

Noel Benoist
Noel Benoist
Submitted by Noel Benoist on
Eagle feathers are protected by federal law with ONLY "American Indians" having the right to have, hold, or do anything with them. This is a Treaty Right and Article Six of the Constitution of the United States (U.S.A. Supreme law) STSTES that "all treaties made and to be made are the Supreme Law of the Land"! That means NOBODY can stop our people from having and wearing feathers no matter where it is! The treaty law cannot be avoided, voided, or broken short of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified by two thirds of the states voting in favor of it. The voters must be the people and not state governors or legislators!

Boston-paleface's picture
Boston-paleface
Submitted by Boston-paleface on
good for u Christian & best of luck in the future & keep fighting the 'good fight'...i was totally perplexed as to why that this should have been an issue to begin with!

CheyLaMohawk's picture
CheyLaMohawk
Submitted by CheyLaMohawk on
Awesome! I recently experienced the same the type of prejudice at my College graduation ceremony. My aunt had made me a gorgeous traditional regalia outfit to wear at graduation. Upon arrival and line up to walk I was told I was not able to wear it. I said Im wearing it and you cant stop there were several "higher ups" called and contacted with no response. I still remained in line, he came back to ask me if I would still walk if I was forced to wear a black robe over my outfit I said no I would not walk, and proceeded to give the man a history lesson " did you know that when the Jesuits came to convert my people and proceeded to kill them and invade our homelands we called them black robes and now you want me to wear a black robe?" " No I will not walk with that black robe covering my outfit im proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. He walked away came back and said he still had no reply I said well you cant stop me from walking this is my day not yours. As the graduation procession started I walked confidently and he finally came back and said I got the OK to walk and wear my outfit. Ironically the Dean's speech was about diversity and how proud she was about how diverse our campus was.

migiziienii's picture
migiziienii
Submitted by migiziienii on
I guess even U.S. judges don't understand the difference between religion and spirituality. They are not the same. Ignorance is such a terrible affliction in this country.

chell694's picture
chell694
Submitted by chell694 on
I would probably have finished school if they had "gave" us an eagle feather for graduation instead of a worthless diploma. Even having a college education doesn't help much any more unless your included in the "right kind" of people. Those kids deserve to wear their feather after all they did accomplish their challenge.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
sarcasm on/How can YOU PEOPLE assimilate if you want to hang onto your old customs and traditions? Why are you fighting the notion that equality means you all look alike? We give you a good (and free) education and this is how you pay us back? sarcasm off/

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Nothing new to see here! We've been urged to "assimilate" since the 1800's, but apparently White people in power believe that means that we have to abandon all our beliefs and our culture. We're always urged to "compromise," but when it comes to the predominate culture sacrificing anything they fall back on tired, old memes. I'll bet the students in the school would agree that young Mr. Titman wearing a feather is NOT disruptive nor is it unacceptable.
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