Eagle Feather Creating Controversy For Graduating Oklahoma Senior

Tuesday, April 28th 2015, 7:38 pm

A high schooler's crowning achievement is coming with controversy.

Her graduation next month should be a feather in her cap, but she thinks her heritage means she's facing discrimination on her way to a diploma from Caney Valley High School.

Hayden Griffith's graduation cap should have a feather in it, but she said the school told her if she wears it she will not be allowed to walk across the stage.

Hanging next to the 2015 graduation tassel is one of the most rewarding gifts that Hayden can get as a Native American, an eagle feather.

“To them it's a feather, but to me it's more,” she said. “It's an honor. I'm respecting the people of my culture.”

Hayden said she is Cherokee and Delaware and that the feather was given to her by an elder in the Delaware tribe.

It's a symbol of growth and strength, she said, as she gets ready for college, where she's going on a full ride softball scholarship.

“I just enrolled at Coffeyville Community College, so got my schedule and everything,” Hayden said.

Before Hayden's freshman year begins, her senior year at Caney Valley High School in Ramona must end, and she wants to wear the eagle feather when she receives her diploma.

“In 2001 my cousin got to wear his eagle feather on his cap at the same school as me,” she said. “I was princess twice and kind of just feel like it seems they should just let me wear it.”

After her mom, Lisa Griffith, posted a picture on Facebook, Hayden said the graduation coordinator told her it was against school policy, and if she shows up wearing it she won't get to be a part of graduation.

Lisa said according to the school handbook there's no official policy.

“I can't find where it's been approved at the board meeting, it's just one of the teacher's came up with these things and this is what we're doing,” Lisa said. “I'm kind of ashamed to live where we do, because in 2015 I have to ask permission for my daughter to be respected as a Native American, but you want to take her money when the Cherokee Nation's willing to give it to you."

In a statement the superintendent said “We deeply respect the heritage of every student.”

Read Rick Peter's Full Statement

He said the decision has nothing to do with the fact Hayden is Native American, but is concerned saying, “If we grant this student's request then we have opened the door to virtually any other decoration.”

To Hayden, it's not a decoration, it's an honor.

“Makes me feel awful because I can't represent my culture, but I want to graduate and make everyone proud,” she said.

Hayden said a group of seniors met with the graduation coordinator in hopes of coming up with some structured guidelines that would give students the option to personalize their caps, while following school policy.

She said the teacher is supposed to let the senior class know by May 1.