Native American girl sues high school for $50,000 after she says she was banned from wearing eagle feather in her graduation cap
- Lena’ Black, of Oklahoma, has sued Broken Arrows Public Schools after school officials ‘accosted’ her and took away her sacred eagle feather at graduation
- Black, who is a member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, was told to ‘remove’ the plume from her cap, as she had not gotten approval to wear it
- The now-graduate says her First Amendment rights were violated, as other students were allowed to wear crosses, hijabs, secular stoles, and more
A Native American teenager has sued her high school for $50,000 after they banned her from wearing a sacred eagle feather in her graduation cap.
Lena’ Black, of Oklahoma, has sued Broken Arrows Public Schools after school officials ‘accosted’ her and took away her eagle feather right before she was set to graduate in May 2022.
Black, who is a member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, was told to ‘remove’ the plume from her cap, which hung right by her tassel, as she had not gotten approval to wear it. The feather was reportedly damaged after two school officials ‘attempted to forcibly remove the eagle plume,’ the lawsuit stated.
Black then suffered from an anxiety attack and ‘collapsed’ on the ground, trying to protect herself and her feather while ‘school officials continued to grab at her eagle plume and mortarboard.’
She eventually walked across the graduation stage with the feather in her hand, the lawsuit said.
The now-graduate says her First Amendment rights were violated, as other students were allowed to wear crosses, hijabs, secular stoles, cords, and other items to graduation.
‘My eagle plume has been part of my cultural and spiritual practices since I was three years old. I wore this plume on graduation day in recognition of my academic achievement and to carry the prayers of my Otoe-Missouria community with me,’ she said, according to the Native American Rights Fund, who is representing her.
‘The law protects my right to wear this eagle plume at my graduation, and school officials had no authority to forcibly remove it from my cap.’
The school argued that she was out of dress code, as she did not seek permission to wear the feather at the ceremony. However, the Oklahoman said she wasn’t aware she had to follow a certain process, according to CNN.
The school requires students who want to make adjustments to their graduation attire to submit an application – including a photo of the item – and to meet with the Native American education coordinator or principal before receiving written approval.
Black said the Native American coordinator was on leave at the time and when she asked a teacher if she could wear the eagle feather, she was told she’d be fine, according to CNN.
The former student is now seeking $50,000 in damages and her attorney, Morgan Saunders, said the case demonstrates the continued discrimination against Native Americans.
Governor Kevin Stitt recently vetoed legislation that would have made it illegal for schools to discriminate graduation dress code, the Native American Rights Fund said.
‘The bill would have reaffirmed the rights of Native American students like Black to wear tribal regalia at graduations, a critical protection in the state with the second highest concentration of American Indians,’ the fund said. ‘Following his veto, Governor Stitt suggested this issue should instead be resolved at the district level.’
‘This lawsuit demonstrates why these decisions cannot be left up to individual school districts,’ Pipestem Law Partner Wilson Pipestem said in a statement. ‘Without clarity from the State, Native students will continue to be forced to seek justice in the courts after their rights have been violated and their graduation ceremonies are long since over.’
Oklahoma is home to nearly 40 Native American tribes.