Native American students must have approval of Native American counselor
By Elizabeth Doran
LaFayette school administrators have decided to allow Native American students to wear their regalia to high school graduation ceremonies June 25.
Seniors must have the native regalia they’ll wear approved by the school’s Native American counselor before wearing it at the ceremony.
Superintendent Mark Mondanaro made the decision with the senior class adviser and high school Principal Paula Cowling and announced it Wednesday. It follows a two-hour meeting Friday night in which seniors and their parents expressed their views on the issue.
“I’m very excited and grateful,” said senior Marcia Lyons, who led the effort among six Native American seniors to wear their regalia at graduation. “It’s so important to me.”
Lyons said she doesn’t expect the decision will please everyone. “Of course there will always be someone who’s unhappy, but (school officials) didn’t expect they’d make everyone happy,” she said. “They just did what they think is right.”
Mondanaro said he knows it will take time, but he hopes the decision “will be embraced by the community.”
“As one student said after the meeting Friday, now the senior class will be unified and all students will feel good about graduation,” he said.
Mondanaro said part of the discussion Friday revolved around alternatives to wearing the regalia, such as wearing it for a portion of the ceremony, wearing it under the cap and gown or wearing it under the cap and gown and taking it off when the diploma was accepted.
“We thought that would affect the ceremony more materially than wearing it the whole time,” he said. “Anything else would be clumsy, both in principle and materially.”
LaFayette senior class Co-President Alex Stowe said he’s relieved a decision has been made, and hopes it will ensure everyone participates in graduation.
“It got to the point where you’re going to make people mad either way,” he said. “We just want to ensure that all seniors attend graduation, and we don’t want people to be mad at each other. We want everyone to come and be comfortable.”
District officialssaid they took the same three main points into consideration when making a decision about this as they did when deciding to fly the Haudenosaunee flag in 2003. Those issues revolved around the legality of the practice, whether it would set a precedent that would allow unwanted groups to make a similar request, and whether wearing the regalia favors one group’s traditions over another.
Administrators concluded the practice is legal, and determined the regalia represents the one true indigenous people of the area, and so wearing it isn’t disrespectful to others who aren’t indigenous. They also concluded it wouldn’t favor one group’s traditions over another, and thus doesn’t overstep the test of “Two Row,” which defines the relationship between the two cultures.
“Two Row” refers to two lines running parallel on the wampum belt that never meet. They symbolize that the river is wide enough for both canoes cultures traveling down it, but that each one be able to live by its own traditions without colliding with the other.