Gov. Edwina Butler-Wolfe, of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, requested a meeting with Shawnee Public School Superintendent Dr. April Grace April 15. The governor had been working with the Shawnee Public School Indian Parent Committee on the issue of Native American Seniors of wearing Tribal Stoles, Feathers and Indian Regalia to their graduation ceremony.
Some states and Oklahoma school districts are beginning to recognize the importance of the diverse cultures and traditions of their high school student population. Some schools in Oklahoma encourage their Indian students to express their culture by allowing wearing of feathers and tribally themed stoles in recognition of teachings handed down through the generations. A student honoring their culture and tradition during commencement should not be an issue in today’s Oklahoma.
Policies are being changed to reflect the impact being made collectively by Oklahoma’s Tribes. They provide additional revenues to the state’s Treasury through negotiated compacts in areas of Gaming, Vehicle Tags, Fuel and Tobacco. They are one of the largest employers; Federal Impact Aid; Johnson O’Malley and other federal funds are available to schools due to Indian student enrollment. Additional funding is provided at the local level by the Tribes at their discretion. Oklahoma is home to 39 tribal nations and has one of the highest Indian populations in the United States.
During this meeting on April 15, there were two senior students at Shawnee High School, Abigail Owings and Tara Ann Nicole Winter, who questioned, “What would happen if (we) choose to wear Tribal Stoles?” Abigail spoke out before the superintendent that she was going to wear her Tribal Stole and there was no other option. Tribal Leaders who attended the meeting were: Principal Chief Kay Rhoads of the Sac and Fox Nation, and Principal Chief Greg Chilcoat of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma; Lt. Gov. Kenneth Blanchard of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe; Former Chief of the Creek Nation and Chairman of the United Indian Nation of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, George Tiger; Tresha Spoon, Absentee Shawnee Education director; Phil Gover, Charter School; Quinton Roman Nose, Clint Walkingstick; Kandice Howell, staff of Congresswoman Kendra Horn; Bruce Longhorn; Tammy Winter; Dos Owings; Teresa Fife; Fustina Blanchard; LaHoma Roberts; Josh Gibson; Austin Fife; Hobbs, Strauss, Dean and Walker Attorneys; and Graham Primeaux, the Indian education director for Shawnee Public School.
Grace reportedly informed Primeaux that Native American seniors will be allowed to wear their Tribal Stoles and Eagle Feathers to the FY19 graduation ceremony, according to the press release from Media Assistant Sara Jackson, of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.
“We would like to thank the Shawnee Administration for their fast response to this issue as there is much work to be done on the Shawnee Public School policies,” the press release states.