SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Two Springfield Public School students have been told they will not be allowed to wear their Native American eagle feathers and stoles to their graduation ceremony.

Isabella (Bella) Wooten and Faith Budd have both been told they are not allowed to wear their traditional stole and feather to graduation, and if they do, they will not be allowed to walk on stage to receive their diplomas.

What’s happening in Springfield

Randy Falcon is an advisor for the Southwest Missouri Indian Center and descends from Mescalero Apache, Navajo, and Ottowa bloodlines.

“Only 65% of Native Americans graduate as opposed to the 75.3% of the national average,” said Falcon. “Our graduation rate is pretty low. When they looked into why that happens they found out that it was all culture.”

Falcon said both Wooten and Budd just want to represent their tribe and show their pride in their heritage. However, Falcon said they are being met with resistance.

“We were the first people here,” said Falcon. “A lot of stuff has been taken from us. So this is just one more thing to take from us. When we were put on reservations it was not for us to live there. It was to hold us there. We fought against that and we are fighting against this.”

Bella represents the Potawatomi Indians who are Native American people of the western Great Lakes region, upper Mississippi River, and Great Plains areas.

Bella said she has been told if she wears her eagle feathers or stole she will not be allowed to walk at her graduation ceremony. Bella struggles with dyslexia and made it on the honor roll at Central High School.

“I have fought and struggled so hard,” said Bella. “This is more than just my diploma. This is a completely separate diploma that I deserve and I deserve to show off and be able to represent my tribe and my culture.”

Faith is a junior at Parkview High School and is graduating a year early on the honor roll. She represents Nez Perce tribe.

“I am the first of my siblings to graduate,” said Faith. “And it means a lot to my family and me that I be able to get this. It’s not okay that it’s a possibility I won’t be able to because they let other people do other things but they won’t let us.”

“We have been put out of sight out of mind for too long,” said Falcon. “Especially in the city of Springfield and that’s not going to happen anymore.”

Springfield Public Schools’ response

Chief Communications Officer for the Springfield Public Schools District released the following statement:

“We are incredibly proud of the Class of 2022, which totals more than 1,500 graduates. Each and every graduate is special, with their own unique story. Adhering to specific graduation protocols is essential. If an exception is made for one student, an exception must be made for all. Standardized SPS commencement practices ensure the district celebrates the achievements of all students equally, in a consistent and respectful manner, while maintaining an appropriate focus on academics.”

Springfield Public Schools

Recent developments across the country

Many Native Americans have experienced this resistance from school administrations and this is what led to the introduction of  House Bill 2705 in the Arizona State Legislature, which would allow a citizen of a federally recognized tribe to wear traditional regalia “or objects of cultural significance” during graduation.

Former Arizona State Representative Arlando Teller introduced the bill in 2019. His successor, State Representative Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, moved it through the Arizona House and Senate in 2021.

Back in 2020, a Native American family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Dysart Unified School District in Maricopa County, Arizona for denying their daughter the right to wear her feathers and regalia. The lawsuit stated the school district violated LaRissa Waln’s “right to the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech and denying them equal protection of the law.”

Honoring culture

“I didn’t grow up in the Native culture,” said Faith. “I always wanted to learn it. My dad said I grew up white and that I didn’t need it. And that hurts a lot. And there are many other children that didn’t grow up in the culture that deserve to know if they want to learn it. “

Bella stated every single one of her siblings was allowed to wear traditional regalia and just wants the same courtesy.

“In Portland they do it,” said Bella. “There is no setback and there is no hesitation. And where I’m from we are proud to represent it and to come here and to have that right completely torn away from me and to not even have a direct answer as to why. It hurts.”

Falcon said both girls will be wearing their feathers and stole at the graduation and stated they will continue to fight for the rights of Native Americans to represent their heritage.