AP NEWS

Lawmakers mull eagle feathers, plumes at graduations

March 4, 2019
Sheridan McNeil, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, holds up an eagle feather at a Senate hearing in Bismarck, N.D., Monday, March 4, 2019. The North Dakota Legislature is considering a bill that would allow American Indian students to wear eagle feathers or plumes at school graduations. Fargo Democratic Rep. Ruth Buffalo, the bill sponsor, told the Senate Education Committee on Monday that some schools in the state forbid the practice. (AP Photo/James MacPherson)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — American Indian students in North Dakota would be allowed to wear eagle feathers or plumes at school graduations under a measure considered by the Legislature.

Fargo Democratic Rep. Ruth Buffalo, the bill sponsor and member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, told the Senate Education Committee on Monday that some schools in the state forbid the practice of wearing eagle feather and plumes, which are Native American symbols of strength, honor and pride.

They are presented by families, military veterans or elders to recognize major accomplishments, Buffalo said.

“Students should not have to worry about whether they will be allowed to celebrate their heritage,” said Buffalo, the first female Native American Democrat elected to the state Legislature.

“Embracing our indigenous culture and identity are essential to our survival,” she said.

The House passed the bipartisan tribal regalia bill 90-2 last month. The Senate committee did not take immediate action on Monday.

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler and the North Dakota School Boards Association support the legislation.

South Dakota passed similar legislation last year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the National Eagle Repository to provide Native Americans with eagle carcasses, parts and feathers.

Carol Two Eagles, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, told lawmakers that schools that forbid the practice are violating students’ First Amendment Rights.

North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission Director Scott Davis, who also is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, called the legislation “long overdue” and it recognizes a “long, long, long-standing custom for us.”

Davis said in an interview he gets complaints each spring from Native American parents who have been told their children can’t wear eagle feathers or plumes at high school graduation.

Sheridan McNeil, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, said her son, Drayton Kary, will wear an eagle feather given to him by his late father at his high school graduation in Bismarck this spring.

“It sends a positive message and shows our youth and the people of North Dakota who we are,” said McNeil, who’s Dakota name translated means “Respects the People Woman.”