Graduation season is upon us, and for many seniors, it is a chance to display their proudest achievements as they move onto a new phase of their lives.
This was no different for Native American high school senior and Atmore, Ala., resident Chelsey Ramer, who intended to don her eagle feather along with her cap and gown, as a way to honor her heritage as a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians.
Her private school, Escambia Academy High School thought otherwise.
According to Local 15 WPMI, Ramar was fined $1,000 for wearing her feather, and her diploma and transcripts would also be withheld until she complied. “They told me that if I wore it that they would pull me off the field," Ramer said.
Her school required that all students must sign a contract agreeing to the policy that "Students and staff shall not wear extraneous items during graduation exercises unless approved by the administration." Ramer sought such approval from the headmaster, who only denied her request.
Yet what the school deemed to be an “extraneous item” holds just as much of a spiritual significance for the Poarch Creek Band of Indians as it is a cultural signifier. One of Ramer’s former tribe teachers, Alex Alvarez, noted that, "Being honored with a feather for graduation is a wonderful experience. It's a lot more than showing off your culture. It has ties into our spirituality as well.”
Ramer ultimately signed no such contract. She walked, feather and all.
The question is, does the school, though private, have a right to even make such a ban?
"I don't think it's fair at all. I feel like its discrimination," Ramer stated.
She is right. Denying her the ability to wear the feather reflects not only a breach of freedom of expression, but freedom of religion. It also demonstrates a greater lack of appreciation for cultural diversity within the surrounding community.
Unlike a cross or Star of David, an eagle feather is more conspicuous and not normalized. Yet it is no less a symbol of spiritual significance for Ramer, and merits the same validation.
“It was worth it. It was important to me,” Ramer said.
For anyone at any age, let alone a graduating high school student, Ramer has displayed incredible courage in standing up for her rights and what she believes in. May this be yet another feather in her cap.