Native American graduate fined $1K for wearing heritage-appropriate eagle feather to ceremony

Chelsey Ramer Eagle Feather Graduation

As a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, Chelsey Ramer was given an eagle’s feather in recognition of her high school graduation. However, when it came time for the school ceremony, Ramer was informed that she could not wear the feather in her hair.

“They told me that if I wore it that they would pull me off the field,” said Ramer in an interview with Local 15 TV.

Even after she joined together with other Native American students and petitioned the school to change its policy, the Escambia Academy High School headmaster denied the graduating seniors’ request.

The students’ parents and local tribal council members also asked to speak with school administrators, but they were never granted an audience.

Meanwhile, the private academy administrators didn’t forget about the issue. Just before graduation, the school issued a contract for all students. The agreement read: “Students and staff shall not wear extraneous items during graduation exercises unless approved by the administration.”

Ramer refused to sign the contract and went through with wearing the meaningful feather for the May 23 ceremony.

The school also went through with its threats. Now, Ramer must pay $1,000 before she is granted her diploma.

“I feel like this wasn’t fair. It felt like it wasn’t legal,” Ramer said in an interview with Indian Country. “It really did hurt my feelings. I have watched others wear it and I looked forward to it my whole four years there. Now when it was my turn, [they said] I couldn’t.”

Alex Alvarez, Ramer’s former tribal history teacher, agreed the school was missing the point.

“I think this is ridiculous. If they took the time to understand and respect the differences in individuals, this would have never happened,” Alvarez told Indian Country. “We don’t have much left as Indian people, to give a child an eagle feather as an achievement should be adhered to.”

Six days after the graduation, Ramer went into the school’s administrative office to appeal the fine. At that point, she learned that the headmaster was no longer with the academy — but she was still expected to pay the $1,000. At this point, she is in a standoff with the school as she refuses to pay and the academy hasn’t agreed to drop the issue.

Do you think Ramer should have just followed the school’s rules? Or did she have a right to honor her heritage?

I think we all know whose side Jenelle would take

Jenelle It's a Right to Wear Feathers

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  • LexiconD1

    Take the school to small claims court. Since she didn’t’ sign the ‘contract’ and they let her attend the graduation ceremony anyway, they don’t have a leg to stand on.

    I can see the schools reasons (up to a point, they want uniformity in their graduation), but they failed to get their contract signed…that’s where they let their ‘reason’ goes awry.

    • Nathan

      Small claims court? Just don’t pay the fine. The only way they can enforce it is if they go to court, and they’re not going to take someone to court over $1,000

      • LexiconD1

        Not for the fine, for the diploma…I’m on the girls side. It’s way cheaper than paying the fine. She can sue the school for the court costs, too.

        • GingerAnn1212

          Diploma isn’t worth the paper it is printed on except for a sentimental keepsake. They can’t keep her school records from her and that is what she will need going forward. I don’t know what all the fuss is about, you can barely even see the feather. School officials need to find more important things to do with their time.

  • Karina

    It is never wrong to stand up for what you believe in especially when you do it in a non violent manner. The school policy can suck it.

  • Nathan

    The rule applies to everyone else, so why shouldn’t it apply to her? Just because she’s “native American?”

    • gagalooch

      Ignorant. It’s not just some “Ke$ha” feathers. It has MEANING. In her culture it means she has made it and earned the right to wear it. Same issue with turbans, hijabs, kippas….

    • Coree Sargent

      EXACTLY! Because an eagle feather has more meaning to us then it does everybody else. If the rules apply to “everone else” then maybe the school system needs somebody like this girl to stand up and show them it needs to changed.

  • Shy

    I wonder if the school would have reacted the same way if it was a Christian cross instead of feathers

  • Sarah Gordon-Levitt

    Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything!! I admire that girl!

  • yourmother

    Just another way for the white man to keep us down !

  • Geniya

    i say don’t wear the feather get the diploma and get out of there. i say don’t give yourself a headache over someone else’s stupidity and ignorance. The 1000 dollar fine is very suspicious. Makes me think the school is just greedy and ignorent.

  • April Ritchie

    It is part of who she is. You are not going to fine someone for wearing a flower in their hair so why do it for wearing a feather. I don’t see what the big issue is. Its a feather. Its not like she graduated naked or defaced school property. This is rediculous and I think the school is over reacting.

  • justathought

    Unless the person who gave her the feather had a permit to obtain it than it was illegal for her to be in possession of it in the first place.

  • cathy jarvis

    It depends the school policy. If the policy bans all “accruements” i.e., lei’s, then she should have to comply. Simple as that.