Caney Valley senior fights for eagle feather in graduation cap

Special Correspondent
05/08/2015 04:00 PM
RAMONA, Okla. — It all started with a Facebook photo.

After Hayden Griffith, a Cherokee and Delaware senior at Caney Valley High School, received her graduation cap and gown, her mother, Lisa, snapped a quick photo of her in the gear, along with an eagle feather presented to her by a Delaware elder. The photo was uploaded to Facebook and the Griffiths went about their business.

A few days later, a school faculty member who saw the picture online stopped Hayden Griffith in the hallway and told her the feather would not be welcome at the school’s May 21 graduation ceremony.

“I was being honored,” she said. “This is my showing respect to the person who gave it (the feather) to me, my respect for my people and it shows everyone that I’ve been honored. I got it through hard work. This is a big accomplishment. It’s not the biggest one I’ll ever get, but it’s a big one for me now.”

In a statement released to the media, Caney Valley Public Schools officials characterized their decision as one made to keep the proverbial floodgates closed and denied the perception that it was a race-based move. According to the Oklahoma Department of Education, 43 percent of the students at the consolidated Washington County high school are Native American.

“Our decision to deny the request by this student and her family has nothing to do with the fact that this student is Native American,” Superintendent Ron Peters wrote. “Our decision is based upon our neutral practice of not allowing any student to adorn or decorate his or her graduation cap. We are concerned that if we grant this student’s request, then we have opened the door to virtually any other decoration.”

The Griffiths acknowledge that the district proposed a few alternatives to wearing the feather on Hayden’s cap, such as in her hair or as part of a piece of jewelry. However, those suggestions were inconsistent with the traditions associated with wearing eagle feathers, prompting the Griffiths to decline the offer.

The most recent copy of the Caney Valley High School handbook does not include language prohibiting the use of feathers or anything else not issued by the school district along with graduation regalia. A copy of the school’s graduation dress code, which the Griffiths had to sign and return to the school during the fall 2014 semester, also is silent on the issue.

A “graduation top 10 list” handed out by the senior class sponsor during the spring semester states in underlined text that hats may not be decorated at all, but calls out the use of glitter and paint rather than an additional item hanging from the mortarboard.

“If hear the word ‘decoration’ one more time, I think I’ll scream,” Lisa Griffith said. “You decorate a Christmas tree or a yard. An eagle feather is not a decoration. It’s sacred.”

Just as social media started the brouhaha, it has brought additional allies for the Griffiths, as Hayden and her mother have received emails, phone calls and letters of support from the Native American Rights Fund, Caney Valley High School alumni from across the country and elected officials with the Cherokee Nation, Delaware Tribe and the state.

The Griffiths plan to appeal to the Caney Valley board of education at its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 11.

Meanwhile, Hayden has already enrolled for the fall at Coffeyville Community College, where she will attend on a softball scholarship. She has not decided what course of action to take if ultimately denied the right to wear her eagle feather during commencement.

“I never expected it to get to this point, but this isn’t just about me,” she said. “If it were another student going through this, I’d be behind them 100 percent. I don’t want to ‘decorate’ my cap or put anything offensive on it. I just want to show what I’ve done and accomplished while honoring my culture.”


06/28/2017 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Five Cherokee Nation citizens were recently named 2017 Academic All-State Scholars and received scholarships in recognition of their academic achievements. The five Cherokees honored were Chelsea Anderson, of Warner; Ann Marie Grue, of Welch; Gideon Moore, of Muldrow; Jacob Ross Taylor, of Broken Arrow; and Brook Wigginton, of Oologah. The honors were bestowed upon them during an event in which the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence honored the state’s top 100 high school seniors, as well as five outstanding Oklahoma public educators, during its 31st Academics Awards Banquet. The annual gala is a statewide tribute honoring the best in Oklahoma’s public schools. The 2017 Academic All-State class hails from 77 schools in 68 school districts. This year’s honorees were selected from hundreds of nominations during the academic competition. Scholars are nominated by their principals or superintendents and selected based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities and community involvement, as well as an essay submitted by each nominee. With support from scholarship sponsors such as Cherokee Nation Businesses, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence presented merit-based scholarships of $1,000 each and medallions to 100 Academic All-State Scholars. “We very much appreciate Cherokee Nation Businesses serving as the All-State Scholarship Partner for all five of the Cherokee students who were named Academic All-Staters,” Emily Stratton, Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence executive director, said. “It is remarkable to have so many All-Staters from one class who share the same tribal heritage. Cherokee Nation must be very proud.” CNB Executive Vice President said CNB is proud to partner with the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence “to honor these scholars for their achievements and to help support them in continuing their education.” The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in 1985 by then U.S. Sen. David L. Boren to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. Through its Academic Awards Program, the foundation has awarded more than $4.5 million in merit-based scholarships and cash awards to honor outstanding graduating seniors as Academic All-Staters and exceptional educators as Medal for Excellence winners. For more information on the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
06/26/2017 04:00 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials recently donated $29,000 to the Alice Robertson Junior High School to help construct an outdoor classroom focused on environmental sciences. Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Tribal Councilor Don Garvin and Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. presented the check to Principal Peggy Jones and Indian Education liaison Jerrod Adair. “This donation gives our students at Alice Robertson Junior High an opportunity to extend their learning beyond what we could do in a regular classroom,” Jones said. “It gives our kids a hands-on opportunity to do a multitude of kinds of things in an interactive environment.” The donation is expected to provide students a new outdoor space for botany, horticulture, agribusiness and other environmental science hands-on classes and activities. Garvin said the donation would have a major impact on the learning and futures of students at Alice Robertson Junior High School. “As a former educator, I know the impact that a project like this outdoor space learning area can have on students,” Garvin said. “I’m so proud that the Cherokee Nation can step up and help our schools provide some special learning amenities to students that will have a lasting impact on their academic and professional careers.”
06/21/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A new cornerstone for capacity building was put into place June 14 at the United Keetoowah Band John Hair Cultural Center & Museum with the signing of a memorandum of understanding for cooperation between Northeastern State University and the UKB. “This memorandum solidifies the collaborative opportunities for both institutions. It will help to further our respective missions for developing learning opportunities and creating educational and economic success for the health and productive futures of our populations,” UKB Chief Joe Bunch. “Our tribe is honored to sign this MOU with the university. The alliance with NSU offers incredible resources, experiences and opportunities for both entities to forge new paths and grow together. The cooperative agreement with NSU, an outstanding regional university, represents new promise, hope and progress for enhancing and developing many of the important programs and services for the UKB going forward.” UKB Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson said the UKB Tribal Council unanimously endorsed the dedicated relationship, honoring NSU’s standards of excellence, quality teaching, challenging curricula, research and scholarly activities – particularly its goal to provide immersive learning opportunities for their faculty and students in service to the local community. “We envision the collaborative relationship to include capacity building areas of elder community services, sustainable language, kinesiology/recreation, Indian Child Welfare, child development, tribal libraries and technology and more. The tribe and university have also agreed to consider undertaking mutually beneficial, sanctioned research and grant-funded projects,” he said. After signing the agreement, NSU President Steve Turner cited the rich educational heritage of the Cherokee people and the university’s respect for the UKB as two key elements that led to the partnership. He also acknowledged the UKB’s commitment to higher education and deep roots with the university and the Cherokee Nation. “We seek collaborations such as this alliance with the UKB to advance or mission of helping all of our region to achieve professional and personal success in this multicultural and global society,” Turner said. “NSU continues to devote faculty and student services resources toward collaborative projects with the tribe and other American Indians that encourage, inspire and support tribal members to lead healthy and productive lives and to encourage the pursuit of post-secondary education at our institution.” The memorandum will be supported by a joint committee comprised of individuals from both the university and the tribe who will provide oversight for the activities and projects included in the alliance.
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
06/16/2017 09:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – It has been more than a year since the last cohort for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program was announced, giving several Cherokee recipients time to reflect on the scholarship’s legacy and impact it has made on their lives. “It was just a huge, huge blessing,” Felicia Manning said. Manning is one of 326 Cherokees who are citizens of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes to receive the scholarship during the program’s 16-year run, according to the American Indian Graduate Center, which oversees the GMSP. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created the program in 2000. It funds any undergraduate study area and seven graduate study areas: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health and science. A 2010 scholarship selection, Manning recently completed her first year of graduate study in marine science at Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida. The program also funded Manning’s 2016 study abroad trip to Mossel Bay, South Africa. While there she tagged sharks with Oceans Research, an organization dedicated to Southern African wildlife management and conservation via marine research. “That’s a group that I had been following for a long time,” Manning said. “The fact that they actually picked my school, and I’m partnered with them and I get to do my thesis work with them, that has just been so awesome. Gates (scholarship) definitely helped pave the way for me to do that.” The scholarship is also paving a better future for Wrighter Weavel, 20, a 2015 recipient. “I wasn’t even going to go to college, but when I found out that I got Gates, that opened so many opportunities for me to go anywhere I want, to experience any life, any culture in the entire United States,” he said. Weavel said he plans to transfer to the University of Oklahoma to complete his undergraduate studies in education or medicine, with an overall goal to obtain a doctorate. “I want to get my Ph.D. and I want to be called Dr. Weavel because I have a plan,” he said. “I want to have little ones, and I want them to look at me and see where I came from and to understand that it doesn’t matter the background you have, if you want to do something, you can do whatever you set your mind to.” Weavel said he has also benefited from the scholarship beyond financial assistance. “They offer mentors, which the mentors are a huge help,” he said. “They really help expand your mind on exactly what the scholarship can do for you.” Weavel’s mentor is Corey Still, 26, a United Keetoowah Band citizen who received the scholarship in 2009. Though initially interested in business and law, Still is now obtaining a doctorate in adult and higher education at OU. “I really began to fall in love with this idea of education and how we can help our communities through education,” he said. “I really wanted to be able to help other people and especially other students.” Still said he looks forward to joining the few Native American men with doctorates, which he decided to pursue because of the “faith” the GMSP puts into its scholars. “Whether they know it or not, that by selecting us as scholars and putting a little bit of faith into us, we’re going to go out and make something with those scholarships and with those degrees, that we’re going to make some type of impact within our community or greater society.” Still serves on the Gates Millennium Alumni Advisory Council as the American Indian Graduate Center liaison and said he appreciates the “communal and family ties” the GMSP creates. “You really see the impact this scholarship has, and not just within Indian Country, because the scholarship itself is for minority students in under-represented fields. And so you really see the connections that are created across cultural barriers and across the country and it really does become a family.” Of the Cherokee recipients, 313 are CN citizens, eight are UKB citizens and five are Eastern Band citizens. In its 16 years, the GMSP funded more than 20,000 scholars and awarded more than $934 million in scholarship funds. The program ended in 2016, but the Hispanic Scholarship Fund manages a new version. <strong>Editor’s Note: Reporter Brittney Bennett is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient.</strong>
06/14/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – More than 150 educators traveled June 7-8 to Northeastern State University for training in the latest science, technology, engineering and math teaching and learning techniques at the Cherokee Nation’s Teachers of Successful Students conference. For a fifth straight year, the CN funded the conference at no cost to teachers. To culminate the conference, the CN awarded a Creative Teaching Grant of $1,000 to 10 teachers to start STEM projects in their classrooms next fall. Angela Wall, who teaches preschool and kindergarten at Bluejacket Public Schools, said the $1,000 grant from the tribe would help the school in implementing a robotics lab for the lower elementary students. “This grant makes it possible for us to establish this lab. It’s not something covered in the daily material, and we will now be able to implement STEM projects in the lower grades,” Wall said. “I’m very appreciative of this grant.” Other teachers receiving $1,000 grants were: • Greasy Public School’s Maygen Clark for “To Infinity and Beyond,” • Maryetta Public School’s Tiffany Clawson for “Motivating Tiny Builders,” • Bluejacket Public Schools’ Amy Rogers for “Beginning Robotics and Coding for 4th-5th Grades,” • Afton Public Schools’ Jason Gibson for “Building Better Bridges,” • Cleora Public School’s Deanna Gordon for “STEM Activities with a Basis in Literature,” • Sallisaw Public Schools’ Christina Magie and Tara Mendrola for “Building Brains with a Maker’s Space,” • Justus-Tiawah Public School’s Desiree Matheson for “STEM in the Library,” • Wagoner Public Schools’ Stephanie Rexwinkle for “From Text to Film,” and • Cleora Public School’s Guy Matzenbacher for “Coding is Fun!”
06/09/2017 04:00 PM
NORMAN, Okla. – Two Cherokee Nation citizens are part of the 10 student journalists selected as members of the 2017 Native American Journalist Fellowship class by the Native American Journalists Association. CN citizens Kaitlin Boyse, a University of Central Oklahoma student, and Shea Smith, a University of Oklahoma student, will join eight other student journalists Sept. 4-10 at the National Native Media Conference as part of the Excellence In Journalism 17 Conference in Anaheim, California. According to a NAJA release, the NAJF is an opportunity for Native students to deepen their reporting and multimedia skills while learning from tribal journalists and industry professionals from across the country. “We are very excited for our incoming NAJF class and look forward to covering issues that matter to NAJA as well as Indian Country,” Victoria LaPoe, NAJA education chairwoman, said. “We look forward to our mentees learning not only from mentors, but from all members attending the conference.” The other student journalists selected are: • A.J. Earl, Portland State University, Comanche Nation, • Aliyah Chavez, Stanford University, Santo Domingo Pueblo, • Jaida Grey Eagle, Institute of American Indian Arts, Oglala Lakota Nation, • Jorge Martínez, Brown University, Jñatro/Ñuu Sau, • Kathleen Flynn, City University of New York, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, • Priestess Bearstops, Minneapolis, Oglala Lakota Nation, • Sarah Liese, University of Mississippi, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and • Tyler Jones, University of Kansas, Choctaw Nation. Under the direction of Val Hoeppner, digital media consultant, and LaPoe, students will work with mentors Tristan Ahtone, 2018 Nieman Fellow and Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma citizen; Graham Brewer, a journalist with The Oklahoman and CN citizen; Khloe Keeler, a reporter based in Colorado with KKTV 11 News and Ponca Tribe of Nebraska citizen; and Mark Fogarty, a correspondent with Indian Country Today Media Network. According to the release, NAJA serves and empowers Native journalists through programs and actions designed to enrich journalism and promote Native cultures. “NAJA’s most important role in Indian Country is to create the next generation of storytellers. This exemplary class of student fellows, mentored by our experienced professionals, will soon find their paths into tribal and mainstream newsrooms where they will have a voice in a more fair and accurate portrayal of our communities and cultures,” NAJA President and former Cherokee Phoenix Executive Editor Bryan Pollard said. “I look forward to meeting them at the conference and would encourage our members to stop by the student newsroom to offer encouragement.”