Oklahoma law aims to protect tribal regalia at graduation
DURANT, Okla. (KTEN) — Every year, Sonya Frazier and her nonprofit Regalia Making Relatives help graduating seniors incorporate their heritage into their caps and gowns.
"It's a rite of passage for them, and it's just something that we're trying to restore to our young people," Frazier said.
If Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs Senate Bill 429 into law, Oklahoma high schools may see more graduates crossing the stage in traditional regalia.
"I'm still of the opinion that it's already something that's law under the Constitution with free expression," said the bill's co-author, Sen. Trey Caldwell (R-District 63). "But at the same point in time, I wanted to make sure that by adding it to the statute of the state of Oklahoma, there's no ambiguity."
The bill passed through the legislature with only one dissenting vote, Rep. Jim Olsen (R-District 2). The law makes allowances for objects that are of cultural and religious significance to federally-recognized tribes.
Frazier sees it as a partial revival of practices that were taken away or banned in the past by the U.S. government
"A lot of our tribes, we had what they called 'coming of age' ceremonies, or just 'honoring ceremonies' as our young people became young adults, and there was always a celebration," she said.
The impact goes beyond just the students.
"I think a lot of it is the healing, allowing our people to heal from historical trauma and bring pride and honor back to our people — especially our young people — to learn about their history," Frazier said.
Some schools, like Tishomingo Public Schools, already make allowances for traditional garb at graduation.
Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma released a statement in favor of the bill:
"This bill, which would allow all Native American students in Oklahoma to wear tribal regalia at school ceremonies, is not controversial. It allows the students to honor their native culture and traditions. In fact, only one member of the Legislature voted against it. This is a popular, common-sense measure with no costs for the state or schools. We encourage Gov. Stitt to sign this bill and provide more freedom for Oklahoma students who want to honor their heritage."
If signed by Gov. Stitt, the the bill will go into effect on June 1.