New Mexico School Cuts Feather From Lakota Student's Graduation Cap

High school later apologized after incident went viral
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2024 5:15 AM CDT
New Mexico School Cuts Feather From Lakota Student's Graduation Cap
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / sengchoy)

A New Mexico high school senior—and Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe—was denied the opportunity to celebrate her graduation with a traditionally decorated cap, advocates say. Video from the Farmington High School commencement ceremony on May 13 shows two staffers approaching Genesis White Bull, taking her graduation cap, which was decorated with beadwork and a white feather plume, and handing her a plain cap in return. "That's part of our culture, when we reach a milestone in our life, we as Lakotas decorate, do our beadwork and place our plume on them," White Bull's mother tells the Tri-City Record, adding that the family had prayed over the plume, known as an aópazan, before placing it on White Bull's head.

When her mother saw what happened, she approached the staff members and asked to be allowed to remove the aópazan herself; instead, she says, they cut it from the cap with scissors. Per the Guardian, the school district initially said the staffers were "following district guidelines" before ultimately apologizing in a later statement. "To learn from this experience and to improve our school community, we will continue to collaborate with groups within the Navajo Nation and other community stakeholders to begin the healing process and figure out the best ways to move forward," it says. The first lady of the Navajo Nation and the ACLU of New Mexico both issued statements supporting White Bull. (More New Mexico stories.)

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