- By Darren Thompson
OKLAHOMA CITY— Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, vetoed a bill yesterday that would have allowed students to wear tribal regalia at school functions.
Senate Bill 429 passed the Oklahoma legislature last Monday, April 24, 90 to 1, and would have ensured Native students in all schools are allowed to wear tribal regalia at high school graduations and other ceremonies throughout the state.
“With this legislation, Governor Stitt had an opportunity to support religious freedom and families honoring their kids’ high school accomplishments,” Chuck Hoskin Jr., Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, told Native News Online. “Instead, he’s chosen more division and insults to his Native American constituents.”
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Stitt wrote of his decision that if the bill became law, it would open up additional efforts by other groups to push for their agendas.
“Should this bill become law, the proverbial Pandora’s box will be opened for other groups to go over the heads of local superintendents and demand special favor to wear whatever they please at a formal ceremony,” Stitt wrote in his veto message.
Stitt added that the decision to allow students to wear traditional items such as eagle feathers or regalia rests with local school districts and not the state government.
“To be clear, Oklahoma law protects the right of Native American students to wear tribal regalia and other culturally significant items during graduation ceremonies,” Hoskin said. “This bill would have simply made those rights more clear so public school administrators do not mistakenly violate them. That’s why the Legislature approved this bill, along with other bills supported by tribes, with nearly unanimous, bipartisan votes.”
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gary Batton also issued the following statement regarding Stitt’s veto of SB 429.
“This bill, which would have allowed 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,” Batton said. “This is a popular, common-sense measure with no costs for the state or schools. We hope the House and the Senate will quickly override the veto to provide more freedom for Oklahoma students who want to honor their heritage.”
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), in 2020, there were approximately 156,000 American Indian students who were enrolled in at least one of the 39 Tribal Nations of Oklahoma.
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