A headdress worn during athletic events at a Maryland high school that has been part of an ongoing tradition at the academy has been banned as dueling petitions gather signatures.
Nancy Doll, the principal of Linganore High School in Frederick, Md., confirmed Wednesday that the school would not allow the headdress to be worn by students as it had in previous years following complaints about it being offensive to Native Americans.
Petitions for and against the ban have each garnered over 1,500 signatures. As of Thursday, the petition to bring the headdress back has amassed over 2,100 signatures, with most coming from community members and alumni.
Students vote for an incoming senior to become the “chief” of the student section each year, which is called “the tribe.” The leader wears the headdress for football and basketball games.
“I understand that some people find it offensive,” said Jacob Garwood, a senior at the school who was just chosen to be chief. “We never meant to offend anyone, but we take a lot of pride in this tradition and it means a lot to us. I hope there is a way we can work something out so we can keep the tradition but allow everyone to feel welcome.”
Native American headdresses were donned by the tribe’s chief who collected the feathers while in battle. The feathers were deemed sacred.
“We see feathers as gifts from the Creator,” Juan Boston, vice chairman of the board of directors at the Baltimore American Indian Center, told the Frederick News-Post.
“I’m 58, and in my life, I have received one eagle feather,” Boston said. “When you see some people wearing one jumping around like a monkey yelling like an idiot, it is disrespectful to our culture.”
“It’s like if someone were to wear an Army general’s uniform and parade around jumping and yelling making a mockery of it. The outcry would be incredible.”
The school was considering replacing the headdress with a spear for the chosen leader or putting it in a case where people could learn about its heritage.
“I understand that it may be offensive to some people but it has been, in my opinion at least, the biggest tradition Linganore has,” Harry Rasmussen, a former student and last year’s elected chief told the Frederick News-Post.
“It’s been passed down for more years than I know. It’s not meant to be demeaning or have bad intentions. It symbolizes the school as one. We are all one tribe at Linganore, and I think the headdress just sort of completes that."
“We all respect the headdress and who’s wearing it. We understand it means something.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.