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Native American regalia allowed at high school graduation

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:38 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - Native American students across the area are looking forward to being able to display their proud heritage as they walk across high school graduation stages in Oklahoma.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister released a letter earlier this year reaffirming the state’s support of these students and their religious freedom to do so.

“It feels very empowering,” Eisenhower High School senior Liliana Kester said. “I am very happy to be able to go to a school that acknowledges our Native students and allows us to be able to embrace our culture and show other students that we’re still here, we’re still getting our GPAs up, and doing everything we can.”

Kester said her older siblings have taken pride in showing off their traditional clothing when graduating from Oklahoma high schools the past few years and are happy that the district is continuing to encourage them.

Lawton Public Schools said they have always allowed Native regalia for the graduating Native seniors but its nice to have the State Superintendent’s backing.

“We had phone calls from parents and students and teachers stating that the students were wanting to do this,” Raylisha Stanley, Indian Education Liaison, said. “So we knew it was something that needed to be done, and even the tribes got involved, local tribes stating they would like that to happen too. So we worked together to make that happen altogether.”

In 2020, local state representative Trey Caldwell tried to get protection for these students codified into state law. But after passing the House unanimously, the bill was stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But even without official state law protecting their rights, leaders in the Comanche Nation said they want their children to show their Native American pride. One of these leaders was Vice Chairman of the Comanche Nation Cornel Pewewardy.

“I would like to advocate for our students, so, therefore, we got together putting a template together then we got it vetted and endorsed by the Comanche nation and got to writing on the resolution and then the bill in itself, so it took him to present it to the state legislature,” he said.

Caldwell said he hopes to try again in the future to get his law passed, but until then hopes future graduating classes will continue showing their support to Native American students.

Due to Caldwell’s Law not being passed in 2020, each school district has the ability to handle the situation with their own rules and guidelines. If you have questions about your school’s policy, contact your local school’s administration.

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