Poarch Creek Indian Teen Chelsey Ramer Denied Diploma, Fined $1,000 for Wearing Eagle Feather in Graduation Cap
Seventeen-year-old Chelsey Ramer, a senior at the private Escambia Academy High School in Atmore, wore the feather in her graduation cap at her May 23 commencement ceremony. She is of the Poarch Creek Band of Native Americans, descendants of a segment of the original Creek Nation, who have lived in the area for centuries. The Poarch Creek are the only federally recognized Indian tribe in the state of Alabama.
Ramer wanted to wear the eagle feather as a display of pride in her heritage. The feather also connects her people with their spirituality. But school policy forbids “extraneous items” from being worn without permission. Graduating seniors were required to sign a contract prior to the ceremony; Ramer says she never signed it. She asked the headmaster for permission to wear the feather but was told she couldn’t. With her family’s (and some teachers’) support, she walked across the graduation stage proudly wearing the feather.
She was then fined $1,000, with her diploma withheld until she pays up.
“I feel like this wasn’t fair,” Ramer told Indian Country Today. “It really did hurt my feelings. I have watched others wear it and I looked forward to it my whole four years there. Now when it was my turn, [they said] I couldn’t.”
“I feel like it’s discrimination,” she told WPMI.
Betty Warren, the headmaster who denied Ramer permission to wear the eagle feather, has been replaced by David Walker, who supports Ramer’s position.
“[Walker] said it it was up to him, he would give me my diploma,” Ramer told Indian Country Today. “But he had to go through the board to get it approved.”
Alex Alvarez, a Creek Indian who formerly taught Ramer at Escambia Academy, told Indian Country today that even though the school is private, it is still required to obey federal laws regarding personal displays of religious freedom.
“Private institutions still have to follow the federal guidelines, especially in regards to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act,” he said.
Alvarez called the girl’s situation “ridiculous.”
“If they took the time to understand and respect the differences in individuals, this would never have happened,” he said. “We don’t have much left as an Indian people, to give a child an eagle feather as an achievement should be adhered to.”
Tagged American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Atmore Alabama, Chelsey Ramer, Creek Nation, Escambia Academy High School, girl denied diploma for wearing feather, girl fined for wearing feather, Poarch Creek Band, Poarch Creek Indians