Ray Carter | February 7, 2023

Lawmakers vote to end school bans on student Indian regalia

Ray Carter

American Indian students in Oklahoma public schools could not be prohibited from wearing tribal regalia under legislation that has won committee approval in the Oklahoma Senate.

“I was shocked that this was even an issue,” said state Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt.

Senate Bill 429 would allow students to “wear tribal regalia on school property or at any school function, whether it is held at a public or private location.”

The legislation defines “tribal regalia” to include “traditional garments, jewelry, other adornments such as an eagle feather, an eagle plume, a beaded cap, a stole, or similar objects of cultural significance worn by members of a federally recognized Indian tribe or the tribe of another country.”

“These items are often gifted to students by parents or tribal leaders in recognition of their pivotal and once-in-a-lifetime achievement,” Murdock said.

The legislation allows schools to continue banning weapons and says tribal regalia cannot include any object that is otherwise prohibited by federal law.

Oklahoma is home to 39 federally recognized tribes and a significant share of students are American Indian, leading to many instances where students may wish to wear tribal regalia at a school event. While most of those requests are allowed as a matter of course, Murdock said problems have arisen at some schools through the years.

“There’s been several occasions that they were not allowed to wear eagle feathers or like tribal-custom regalia,” Murdock said.

In 2016, a graduating senior at Sapulpa Public Schools wanted to wear traditional Navajo moccasins to the ceremony, but was initially told she could not.

In 2019, the Latta School District told a senior he could not wear his Chickasaw Nation honor cord and beaded cap and feather while walking across the stage during a graduation ceremony.

SB 429 passed the Senate Education Committee on an 11-0 vote.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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