District apologizes for taking eagle feather from student
BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota school district has apologized to a Native American student who was told he couldn’t wear an eagle feather during his graduation.
Brookings School District Superintendent Klint Willert released a statement Tuesday apologizing for the events that led to Miles Livermont having his eagle feather taken from him at the May 26 ceremony. The move violated state law.
Willert said the district will work to ensure that students can express pride in their tribal heritage at future graduations, the Argus Leader reported.
Livermont said the principal at Brookings High School, Paul von Fischer, told him he couldn’t wear the feather attached to his graduation cap because district rules banned alterations to the ceremonial caps and gowns. Under state law, any person can wear “traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at a school honoring or graduation ceremony.”
In Native American culture, eagle feathers are presented to those who’ve achieved something worthy of recognition, said Livermont’s mother, Tasiyagnunpa Livermont Barondeau.
Barondeau said von Fischer took the feather from her son, and it was then passed to several people before a security guard returned it to the family. Barondeau gave the feather back to Livermont before he crossed the stage to receive his diploma.
She said it’s a violation of federal law for anyone other than Native Americans to possess an eagle feather.
Barondeau said she shared her son’s story on Monday in an online petition that called on the district to pass a policy that recognizes the state’s law regarding tribal regalia. The petition also requested that the district work with Native American students, parents and organizations to prevent any future issues.
“I’m not happy that my son and I were forced into the corner like this,” she said. “Our family is committed to not letting it go until they have policy changes, and they have at least the basics of what our petition outlines.”