Christian Titman (Pit River Tribe)
Student wins victory with assistance of NARF attorneys
FRESNO, CALIFORNIA — An American Indian student will be allowed to wear an eagle feather on his cap during his high school graduation ceremony after reaching a settlement agreement with the Clovis Unified School District late Tuesday evening. Christian Titman, a member of the Pit River Tribe, filed a lawsuit and sought an injunction in state court after repeated requests to wear the eagle feather on his cap at graduation were denied by the school district.
Eagle feathers are considered sacred objects in many American Indian religious traditions. They represent honesty, truth, majesty, strength, courage, wisdom, power, and freedom. Many American Indians believe that as eagles roam the sky, they have a special connection with God. Often, American Indians graduates receive an eagle feather from an elder or their community in recognition of educational achievements and wish to wear it during their graduation ceremony in order to honor their tribal religion, community, achievement, and traditions.
In an affidavit submitted to the court, Isidro Gali, Vice Chairperson of the Pit River Tribes said, “[t]he gift of an eagle feather to wear at a ceremony is a great honor given in recognition of an important transition and has great spiritual meaning. When given in honor of a graduation ceremony, the eagle feather is also recognition of academic achievement and school-related success. Eagle feathers are worn with pride and respect.”
“Although school districts across the country recognize the importance of wearing eagle feathers to Native graduates, there remains a minority that persists in erecting undue barriers. However, once the religious and cultural significance of wearing eagle feathers is understood by school districts, it is easy for schools to accommodate the practice at graduation ceremonies,” said Joel West Williams, Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, who represented Titman along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and California Indian Legal Services.
Matthew Campbell, another Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney representing Mr. Titman said, “Importantly, this settlement requires the school district to remain engaged after graduation and discuss with Christian ways that it can improve communications regarding religious accommodations for future graduates. We are hopeful that future Native American graduates will not face the same obstacles.”
NARF has a long history of assisting students who are prohibited from wearing eagle feathers at graduation ceremonies due to narrow graduation dress codes. For more information, please contact Staff Attorney Joel West Williams at (202) 785-4166 or Staff Attorney Matthew Campbell at (303) 447-8760.