Student Fined for Feather in Graduation Cap Symbolizing Heritage

Wednesday, 05 Jun 2013 12:36 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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An Alabama high school senior was fined $1,000 and denied her diploma for wearing a feather that symbolized her Native American heritage on her graduation cap last month.

Chelsey Ramer, 17, of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians in Atmore, Ala., first tried to appeal Escambia Academy High School's ban on wearing "extraneous items" at graduation, but her request was denied. The school reportedly had students sign a contract that threatened a fine and denial of diploma if they broke the rule against decorative accessories.

But Ramer made the decision to wear an eagle feather on her mortarboard at the May 23 ceremony anyway in order to celebrate her Native American heritage.

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"I got my friend behind me to put it on my tassel, I went down the field," she told the Indian Country Today Media Network. "They didn't say anything, but you could tell the staff and the headmaster was upset. But everybody clapped for me."

Ramer was issued a fine and her diploma and transcripts are being withheld until she pays. She plans to appeal the case.

Alex Alvarez, a former teacher of Ramer's and a friend of her family, said the situation is frustrating, especially because the school is within the jurisdiction of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

"I think this is ridiculous. If they took the time to understand and respect the differences in individuals, this would have never happened," Alvarez, who is also Native American, said. "We don't have much left as Indian people, to give a child an eagle feather as an achievement should be adhered to."

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