Officials at LaFayette High School, which is one-fourth Native American, undecided. Meeting is tonight
By Elizabeth Doran
Six LaFayette High School seniors want the district to let them graduate wearing their traditional Native American regalia, but school officials aren’t sure they’ll allow it.
School administrators have scheduled a closed informational meeting for seniors and their parents at 6 p.m. today to discuss the request and get feedback. Officials say they’re not opposed to the request, but want to ensure everyone’s viewpoint is considered before they make a precedent-setting decision.
Marcia Lyons, 18, who lives on the Onondaga Nation, is leading the effort to wear the regalia, which is traditionally worn at ceremonies and significant events.
“A cap and gown isn’t our tradition,” said Lyons. “We want to show our pride in our cultural heritage by wearing our regalia.”
Six of nine LaFayette seniors who are Native Americans want to wear the regalia, Lyons said. About one-quarter of the high school’s students are Native American. There are 54 seniors.
For her senior project, Lyons is making her own regalia, a short-sleeved below-the-knee light brown dress with a maroon-flowered pattern. A longer maroon skirt is worn under the dress, along with cloth leggings. There’s also a yoke, or beaded collar, for around the dress’s neckline, moccasins and two white leather hair extensions.
The other five, all males, would wear ribbon shirts with a breechcloth and leggings, and moccasins and headdresses.
Lyons asked Principal Paula Cowling a few weeks ago if it would be acceptable to wear regalia at graduation and hasn’t received an answer.
An informal survey of students in senior government classes showed half of them were opposed, Lyons said. After Lyons and seniors Kevin Wilkerson and Jeremy Thompson visited the classes to discuss their reasons, many students changed their minds, she said.
“At first, a lot of students were opposed to it because they thought it was disrespectful and breaking years of tradition,” Lyons said. “But after hearing us, the general reaction was if it’s that important to you, we can live with it.”
Senior Charlie Huff wants to wear his regalia, just as he did at his eighth-grade graduation from the Onondaga Nation School.
“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” he said “I’m really surprised about how big an issue it’s becoming. We wear our regalia to celebrations. If you’re trying to promote diversity, not letting us do this would go against that.”
LaFayette Superintendent Mark Mondanaro said the district isn’t opposed, but wants to proceed cautiously.
“When we have something brought to our attention that has the potential to polarize people to a degree, we can’t just say yes or no,” she said. “We’re not stringing it out, but we need to think it through and hear people’s thoughts on this. What do seniors think? It would be disrespectful if we didn’t hear their feelings.”
Mondanaro said it’s important for seniors and their families to hear the cultural importance of this request. The meeting where the discussion will take place won’t be open to the public or media, he said. Mondanaro said he doesn’t expect to make a decision Friday.
Huff’s mother, Trudy Shenandoah, said she won’t attend because she doesn’t see anything to discuss. “It’s not an issue,” she said. “We should be able to express ourselves. They seem to want to suppress our culture and beliefs.”
Several seniors say they’ve been advised by staff not to comment publicly on the issue. Alex Stowe, senior class co-president, would only say, “It’s best for us to make this decision together as a community.”
Lyons said she’ll probably skip the ceremony if she can’t wear her regalia. But it wouldn’t make sense to ban the regalia, she said. When the Haudenosaunee flag was first raised outside the high school in 2003, the idea was to recognize that Native Americans are a major part of the school community.
“If they say we can’t wear our regalia to graduation, that contradicts the whole purpose of the flag,” she said.