RELIGION

School district changes rule to allow feathers on grad caps

A northern Nevada school district has tentatively reversed a long-standing policy that would have prohibited Native American students from wearing eagle feathers on their graduation caps.

Washoe County Deputy School Superintendent Kristen McNeill's office said in a memo this week that the right to wear eagle feathers is guaranteed under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Quecholli Nordwall, an 18-year-old senior at Reed High School in Sparks, started organizing fellow students in a protest after he was told at a pre-graduation assembly earlier this month that wearing a feather would be a violation of district guidelines.

The rules were put in place to prevent students from inappropriately decorating graduation caps with things such as offensive language or gang symbols, school officials said.

Nordwall said he wanted to take a stand because his older sister was not allowed to wear her eagle feather on her cap when she graduated from Reed in 2014.

"When we are given an eagle feather, it represents something very significant in our lives," Nordwall told the Reno Gazette Journal .

"The eagle feather represents not only our religious aspect but mostly our cultural perseverance," Nordwall said. "It shows that we are still alive today."

The district announced at least a temporary exception to the policy after a number of people spoke out against the guidelines during a school board meeting on Tuesday. The school board intends to consider a permanent change in the rules at a future board meeting.

"This has been an ongoing issue every school year," said Christina Thomas, a former Paiute language and cultural instructor for the school district. "A lot of time students graduate and they get a car or a computer or they get something worth a lot of money. For our people they get a feather."

Thomas said she understood the district wanting to be fair by not allowing anything on graduation caps for all students.

"But this is not glitter. It is not Mickey Mouse ears. It's not saying, 'Hi Mom,' " she said. "It is part of who we are as Native people."

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com