Student wins fight over wearing sacred eagle feather at graduation

Central Calif. student wins fight with school district to wear sacred feather on graduation cap

A Native American student declared victory this week in a face-off with Clovis High School after district officials initially barred him from wearing a ceremonial eagle’s feather on his cap during graduation.

Christian Titman, 18, a member of the Pit River Tribe, had asked the Clovis Unified School District in April if he could wear an eagle’s feather that his father had given him; the feather is about 3 or 4 inches long.

The central California district said no, citing its dress code. Items such as rosaries are prohibited too, the district said in a letter.

“It’s really simple. They’re telling me, ‘Don’t be proud you’re Indian. Don’t be proud of your heritage. Don’t be proud of your accomplishment,” Titman told the Los AngelesTimes on Tuesday, just hours before an agreement was reached.

On Tuesday, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California, Titman sought a temporary restraining order that would bar Clovis Unified’s dress code from being enforced at graduation – scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

But before the judge could rule, the district and Titman reached an agreement. He may wear the feather in his hair during the ceremony; when it is time to move the cap’s tassel to the other side, Titman may attach the feather to his cap.

“It has been our goal from the beginning to find a mutually agreeable solution that honors and respects the culture of our Native American students while affirming the long-standing traditions and standards honoring every one of our graduating seniors,” district Supt. Janet Young said in a statement. “We look forward to doing both at Thursday’s graduation ceremony.”

The eagle is considered sacred because it is seen as being able to fly up to the creators, Titman explained. His father had given him the feather because it honored an important transition in his life.

The 18-year-old struggled in his first years in high school and was on a path to fall short of the credits needed to graduate, he said. He met with his guidance counselor regularly and took a class to make up credits. Titman enrolled in a Regional Occupational Program class for carpentry and has an apprenticeship lined up for after he graduates, he said.

“I climbed that ladder so I could graduate,” he said. “I want to wear this because I accomplished a great thing.”

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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