LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) – Area Native American students are eager to display their proud heritage as they navigate the stages of high school graduation in Oklahoma.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister issued a letter earlier this year reaffirming the state’s support for these students and their religious freedom to do so.
“It’s very empowering,” said Eisenhower High School senior Liliana Kester. “I am very happy to be able to go to a school that recognizes our Indigenous students and allows us to embrace our culture and show other students that we are still here, that we are still getting our GPAs and that we are doing everything that we can.
Kester said his older siblings were proud to show off their traditional attire when they graduated from Oklahoma high schools in recent years and are glad the district continues to cheer them on.
Lawton Public Schools said they have always allowed Native badges for graduating Native Elders, but it’s good to have the support of the state superintendent.
“We’ve had phone calls from parents, students and teachers saying the students want to do this,” said Raylisha Stanley, Indian education liaison. “So we knew it was something that needed to be done, and even the tribes got involved, with the local tribes saying they would like that to happen too. So we worked together to make that happen.
In 2020, local state representative Trey Caldwell tried to get protection for these students codified in state law. But after passing the House unanimously, the bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But even without official state law protecting their rights, Comanche Nation leaders said they wanted their children to show their Native American pride. One of these leaders was Vice President of the Comanche Nation Cornel Pewewardy.
“I would like to stand up for our students so therefore we got together and created a model and then we had it vetted and approved by the Comanche Nation and started writing about the resolution and then the bill in himself, so it took him to introduce him to the state legislature,” he said.
Caldwell said he hopes to try again in the future to get his law passed, but hopes until then that future graduating classes will continue to show support for Native American students.
Since Caldwell’s Law was not passed in 2020, each school district has the capacity to handle the situation with its own rules and guidelines. If you have questions about your school’s policy, contact your local school administration.
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