Tribal resolution seeks inclusion for Native students
By Angel Ellis/Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma –Every year graduating students across indigenous communities run into challenges if they choose to incorporate their Native heritage into their school graduations. Students and their families often have to obtain special permission to wear culturally significant regalia such as beading or eagle feathers to their own graduation ceremonies.
Seeing students and families struggle through the process inspired Representative Mark Randolph to sponsor tribal resolution 19-084. The resolution supports enrolled MCN Citizens the right to wear regalia or objects of cultural significance at public events and urge the state of Oklahoma to enact a law prohibiting a state agency or municipality from forbidding an individual from wearing traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at public events.
Randolph said he was inspired to see states like Kansas adopt a policy that supports Native Americans and their rights to wear culturally significant items, but he felt a need to lead by example in Oklahoma.
The legislation was passed unanimously at the June 29 regular council session. Randolph made a motion to adopt the bill. Representative Robert Huft seconded the motion.
“If it doesn’t start with us, we can’t really expect them (the state) to pick it up,” Randolph said.
He said he heard about the difficultly Mvskoke youth faced when trying to represent themselves authentically.
“I consider myself a staunch advocate for our youth,” Randolph said. “I worked with youth for many years.”
Randolph even recounted his experiences as a young person facing stereotypes and stigmas.
“For a moment, I thought, they tried to rob us of our joy when we were trying to celebrate our academic success,” Randolph said. “It’s a form of oppression.”
Randolph said he’s sat down with school officials to help advocate and has encountered many supporters of the rules forbidding any variation of graduation dress code. He has been told, “what if this opens the door to things like students trying to wear a swastika or a pentagram?”
“I have explained we are the original inhabitants of this land, not a political party, we are a living culture of people, and this is our inherent right to express who we are in times of celebrations,” Randolph said. “That is important to our youth…for their self-worth, their self-talk, how they perceive themselves.”
“We don’t want them to be repressed.”
The legislation cites the annual friction many families face.
‘Each year Muscogee (Creek) Students and other Native American students, along with their families, face the battle of being permitted or denied the right by certain public schools and districts within the Nation’s jurisdictional boundaries to express their rich heritage and unique identity as citizens of sovereign nations,’ the legislation stated.
The bill also cites the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. According to Article 2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.
Recent Morris High School Graduate Bryson Jones was able to wear his feather proudly when he made a symbolic walk to accept his diploma and transition into adulthood.
“I was given permission,” Jones said. “But there were a lot of hoops to jump through first.”
“It was stressful in those final weeks of before graduating, we had the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief, several officials and my mom meeting with the principal just to be allowed to have a symbol of my culture.”
At times Jones even worried if pushing for his rights would make things awkward at school for his sibling.
“I have a little brother,” Jones said. “He’s a sophomore, and I was graduating.”
“I was concerned it might leave him to get through problems like this or to deal with people being upset we stood up for ourselves.”
Jones said he was glad to be able to wear his feather but wants schools to be more understanding.
“The schools come to the tribes for funding,” Jones said. “So they should respect us enough that we don’t have to jump through hoops when it comes to our culture.”
Jones faced some of the same arguments most schools make. They told him if they let him then it would open the door to anyone wearing whatever they wanted.
“I hope that my little brother can wear what he chooses without the back and forth,” Jones said. “Everyone was calm and respectful in these meetings but we shouldn’t have to get approval.”
Randolph said he hopes this piece of legislation gives the tribe a solution to negotiate on behalf of young people.
“We not only appropriate money to schools, but our compacts money is turned over to the state and earmarked for education,” Randolph said.
He said he hopes to amend the legislation in the future to encourage schools to be more proactive in accepting the student’s cultural.
“If they will not then they should not come to the tribe for funding,” Randolph said.1 comment