Bill allows Indigenous students to wear cultural clothing upon graduation

High school graduation is a ceremony that most young adults look forward to each spring.

Madeline Jeans was one of those students in 2017 at Pueblo High School. She wore her aunt’s Navajo insignia for the ceremony – a black Pendleton dress with red accents.

“So it was very emotional. I was just very proud to have graduated and to wear my badges that day – just to represent my people,” she said.

But she had to ask the Tucson Unified School District for permission for that honor – permission to be herself as a Navajo woman, Pascua Yaqui, and Otoe.

“It was just a little heartbreaking like when I was accepted but my other peers didn’t get permission. It was just for me, like on my own, so few of my peers had to slip their feathers in or their badges, ”she said. noted.

In December 2018, she was one of the students who advocated for TUSD to allow people to wear their badges at the next graduation ceremony.

They won, but it wasn’t until the following spring that the district permanently changed its policy to allow students from all walks of life to wear culturally meaningful graduation badges.


SEE MORE Maddy Jeans on her graduation ceremony in 2017.

Courtesy Madeleine Jeans

After a year of racial justice protests, former Arizona State Representative Arlando Teller introduced a bill allowing Indigenous students to wear their badges upon graduation.

State Representative Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, who replaced Teller earlier this year, footed the bill. As a member of the Navajo Nation, she personally knows why this is important.

“At a time when we feel like we are losing our language and our culture, this is something that will allow students to be proud of who they are and what they wear, and not face any challenge, ”she said.

When she graduated from Stanford University, she wore a Navajo red carpet dress that told part of Creation’s story, her grandmother’s jewelry, and her moccasins.

“They say that when you wear your moccasins you are in a sacred state of being and you are directly connected to Mother Earth,” she said.


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Governor Doug Ducey signed the bill in April 2021 banning public or charter schools from preventing students from wearing culturally significant badges.

Kelsey Dayle John is Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in Native American Studies. She’s also Navajo and says it’s important to remember that Native Americans across the country were taken from their families and forced to give up their culture and language in the name of schooling.

“Having a policy that says, ‘Hey you don’t have to feel like you have to ask permission to be yourself’, it shows that schools support that Indigenous people are Indigenous and at the same time succeed in their studies, ”she said. noted.

John said black and indigenous communities know what it is like to see their dress, cultures and hair criminalized through the racial systems put in place by colonization.

In the Tucson City Code, the city prohibits discrimination based on sex, age and more, including race. The Tucson mayor and council passed a city ordinance the same day the badge bill was passed to include textures and hair types and certain styles under these racial protections.

“It’s really important not to make being a black person or being an indigenous person in schools something that is against the rules,” she said.

She said these measures are a step towards dismantling school policies that enforce racial hierarchies.