Mar 22, 2023 - News

Texas weighs bills to allow Native American regalia at school events

Illustration of a student in a mortarboard hat, fragments of text, and eagle feathers.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new set of bills in the Texas legislature would allow Native American students to wear cultural regalia — including ceremonial eagle feathers — to graduation and other school events.

Why it matters: Last year, Kayla Price, an Afro-Indigenous high school senior in San Antonio, made headlines after she was told she couldn't wear an eagle feather on her cap during her school's graduation ceremony — though administrators quickly changed their minds.

  • Price later said she felt "marginalized and disrespected for honoring my traditional spirituality."

Between the lines: The ability to wear cultural attire at school ceremonies is a debate inside a larger discussion about Indigenous erasure.

The big picture: The U.S. Department of the Interior has acknowledged the long-running efforts by government agencies to erase Indigenous languages and cultures.

  • A 2022 report concluded that hundreds of children died in government-run Native American boarding schools.
  • In Texas, government agencies, universities, and museums continue to hold the remains of Indigenous people, despite a 1990 federal law that requires they work to return them to tribes.

What's happening: Texas Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Democrat from Dallas, filed a bill that would forbid school districts from restricting a member — or anyone eligible for membership — in a federally or state-recognized American Indian or Alaska Native tribe from wearing traditional tribal regalia at a school event.

  • Texas Sen. Royce West, another Democrat from Dallas, filed an identical bill in the state Senate.

Details: The regalia mentioned in the bills include feathers, beadwork, and "tribal symbols."

Of note: About 1% of the 30 million people in the state are American Indian or Alaska Native, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

What they're saying: "Every student deserves the opportunity to celebrate their cultural and religious heritage," Anchía said in a statement.

  • "Allowing them to wear cultural items at graduation is a small but important step in recognizing the contributions and unique perspectives of Native American communities in our state."

What's next: The House bill was referred to the House State Affairs Committee.


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