School district apologizes for feather removal

Courtesy photo

BROOKINGS – The Brookings School District issued a public apology Tuesday after a graduating senior was stripped of an eagle feather at Sunday’s Brookings High School commencement ceremony.

Tasiyagnunpa Barondeau, mother of Miles Livermont, requested the public apology to her son and the BHS Class of 2019, and that the district make other changes, via an online petition on change.org. The petition had nearly 5,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Barondeau and school district officials also planned to meet Wednesday morning.

In her petition, Barondeau says her son, “Miles Paul Livermont, a descendent of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was honored by his Cheyenne River Sioux family with an eagle feather and star quilt at a family gathering at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, a couple hours before Brookings High School commencement ceremony.”

Barondeau says just before her son entered the Swiftel Center arena with his class Sunday, “school faculty insisted he remove and hand over the eagle feather, or he would not be able to walk with his classmates.”

Livermont cited a state law that ensures an eagle feather or plume may be worn during commencement by tribal youth, but he was told he failed to have it approved early enough to be allowed to wear it.

South Dakota Codified Law 13-1-66 says: “Wearing of traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at school honoring or graduation ceremony to be permitted. The state, any of its political subdivisions, municipalities or subdivisions thereof shall not prohibit any person from wearing traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at a school honoring or graduation ceremony. For purposes of this section the term, tribal regalia or object of cultural significance, means an eagle feather or eagle plume.”

After about 20 minutes, the feather was returned to Barondeau, and she was able to affix it back on her son’s cap before he walked across the stage for his diploma. Barondeau said her son didn’t know he was receiving the eagle feather – a symbol of honor – until that morning, and state law doesn’t require prior authorization for it to be worn at graduation.

“The school district broke the law by upholding some pedantic policy of no decorated caps and gowns. … I want the school board to do more than say ‘oops.’ This needs to be a bigger conversation,” she said.

“This isn’t some little petty family grievance. To me this is indicative of a larger issue of the Brookings School District. … This isn’t just self-expression. It’s a protected expression of tribal members, and why that is. I’m willing to help them find resources. ... People have been educating people on this for decades. It’s just somehow we’re not getting it, and it’s because it’s always a reactive thing rather than a proactive thing.”

Other requests made by Barondeau on her online petition included calling a special school board meeting to address the issue; passing a policy officially recognizing South Dakota Codified Law 13-1-66 as Brookings School District policy; the district committing to further education on Oceti Sakowin Oyate customs, culture and language; and creating two ex-officio seats to the school board, one committed to tribal student and parent interests and the other to be dedicated to all manner of human diversity, including immigrant and differently-abled concerns.

The petition with Barondeau's full description of events can be found online at https://www.change.org/p/brookings-school-board-brookings-school-district-must-apologize-for-stripping-tribal-senior-of-eagle-feather?recruiter=394275861&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink.

A statement from Brookings School District Superintendent Klint Willert released Tuesday afternoon says:

“On behalf of the Brookings School District, I want to offer a sincere apology for events that transpired at the graduation ceremony for the class of 2019.

"After Miles Livermont, a graduating senior, was observed with an eagle feather attached to his graduation mortarboard, high school staff and administration requested the feather be removed. The practice of preventing modifications to mortarboards or graduation gowns has been a long-held practice of the Brookings School District. Following the request by district officials, Miles removed the feather from his mortarboard. After an unsuccessful attempt to contact his parents to hold the feather, Miles proceeded to ask a high school staff member to hold the feather for safe keeping until the conclusion of the graduation ceremony.

"As the ceremony was beginning, Miles’ parents realized the feather was not attached tothe mortarboard. They then located the feather and attached the sacred object to the mortarboard for the graduation ceremony. Miles fully participated in the remainder of the graduation ceremony with the sacred feather attached to his mortarboard. He was awarded his diploma along with over 190 other graduates.

“The Brookings School District honors and respects the significance of the sacred eagle feather and pledges to equally respect the law which protects tribal regalia and objects of cultural significance to be worn at a school honoring or graduation ceremony. The School District regrets the misapplication of its longstanding practice of denying modified mortarboards and gowns at graduation. Looking forward, the district will take the necessary steps to ensure students are allowed to express pride in their tribal heritage at future school honorings and graduation ceremonies. Specifically, we extend our apology to Miles and his entire family and have scheduled a meeting with the family to discuss this matter further.

“On behalf of all involved in this matter from the Brookings School District, I offer my sincere and heartfelt apology. We know that graduation often marks the final experience in our school district for students and, unfortunately, Miles last experience was not as joyous as it might have been. For that, we are truly sorry.”

Contact Jill Fier at [email protected]

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