Friday

As high schools prepare for graduation ceremonies across Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a bill allowing Native American students to wear traditional regalia while marching to get their diplomas.

The bill signed Friday prohibits schools and government agencies from interfering with students who wish to wear eagle feathers, beads and other items of cultural significance.

In the past, some Native American students expressed disappointment and outrage after being told they couldn't wear beaded mortar boards at graduation.

Not all Montana schools banned the practice but it was left to school boards and campus officials to decide whether to allow Native American regalia.

The bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jen Gross of Billings and supported by the Legislature's Native American caucus sought to bring uniformity to the rules.

"I'm very proud of where I came from and my name," she said. "As Native people, it's important we have an opportunity to represent ourselves with regalia. For many Native Americans, graduation from high school is huge because of so many challenges in life."

 Photo Latonia Andy

Tia Welzenbach, who graduates in May from Sidney High School in Montana, sought approval from her principal before classes last fall if she could bead her cap. The principal turned down her request. So her mother took it up with the superintendent, who then took it up with the school board. In the end, the school board decided to allow the senior to march with a beaded mortar board.

Principal Sue Anderson said it was the first such request she had ever gotten. Welzenbach and her mother were told that students weren't allowed to make changes to graduation attire.
 Source
Photo: Tom Bauer

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