BY SUDHIN THANAWALA, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Native American student wore an eagle feather that he considers sacred to his high school graduation ceremony Thursday night after resolving a court fight with a California school district.
Christian Titman, clad in blue with his fellow graduates of Clovis High School, marched into the stadium at sunset, his long braid with the eagle feather attached came out one side of his cap while the traditional graduate’s tassel hung over the other side.
His presence — and the feather’s — at the ceremony came after a last-minute deal with the Clovis Unified School District, which sought to enforce the strict graduation dress code that had previously led it to deny stoles, leis, rosaries and necklaces on other students.
The 18-year-old is a member of the Pit River Tribe, which considers eagle feathers sacred and symbolic of a significant accomplishment, and he said the district was violating his rights to freedom of expression and religion under the California Constitution.
The case went to court before the sides agreed that Titman could wear the feather in his hair and attach it to his cap for the traditional tassel turn.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Titman in the lawsuit, issued a statement Thursday night congratulating him on graduating and “proudly displaying and eagle feather.”
“His determination to advocate for what is right has inspired us all,” the ACLU said.
His mother, Renee Titman, did not immediately respond to phone messages left after the ceremony.
She said earlier that her son was expected to be popular at graduation, an accomplishment that required him to scramble for credits after he struggled during his freshman and sophomore years, said his mom, Renee titman.
“Half his senior class wants to take pictures with him after what happened,” she said.
She said that the school district had granted a dress-code exception for his long hair after he enrolled, and she had thought it would do the same for the feather.
Christian Titman declined requests for comment.
In a letter to Titman’s attorneys in May, Superintendent Janet Young said the district’s graduation dress code was intended in part to avoid “disruption … that would likely occur if students were allowed to alter or add on to their graduation cap and gown.”
Tara Houska, a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C., said fights over eagle feathers come up every year around graduation time and show the need to educate people about Native American culture.
“Just like the hijab or yarmulke, this is something that is intrinsic to the religion,” she said. “This isn’t just a symbol or something that is an individual fashion choice.”
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