Editor’s Note: This was guest commentary was written by Yareya Keiialani San Nicolas Garcia, a June 2014 high graduate. It tells the story of fighting the “system” so that Native graduates could wear an eagle feather along their tassle on their graduation caps. Family and friends involved the California Legal Services and the ACLU in order to change the rule.
FEATHER IN THE CAP
The day I received confirmation, that I met all state requirements to participate in the Lemoore High commencement ceremony, I was honored with an eagle feather from my parents, John and Carol Plenty Wolf.
My name is Yareya Keiialani San Nicolas Garcia, nim inyana huyowus Ha’yali (my Taatsi name). Being both Taatsi Yokut & Chamoru Pacific islander, I have always been proud of who I am and where I come from.
Most people don’t understand what an honor it is to receive a feather.
All the hard work that I put in for the past 12 years, all my accomplishments, all my defeats, everything finally paid off, I earned this feather. To me it’s as important, as the physical diploma I was about to receive and I wanted to show it off.
But our school policy states, anyone who participates in the graduation ceremony cannot alter their cap or gown in anyway, but to me this isn’t right. It wasn’t like I was going to bead my gown and wear a full bonnet.
Maybe, since this policy is old and no one has ever asked before, the principal would change his mind.
So, I decided to approach Mr.Brumit and get permission to wear my feather on my cap. At first, he was hesitant, because rules are rules. Then after a lot of explaining, on my part, he happily said he can tape my feather to the podium and as I walked up to receive my diploma I could quickly place it on my cap right before my picture was taken. To me he was basically saying that I would have to “hide” it from everyone. The only people who were going to see it was, my family, when they receive my pictures in a few weeks.
To me, this was a big slap in the face, so I told him, nope you’re not even Indian, you can’t touch my sacred feather. I doubt he liked this, his tone changed quickly and he said he’d have to rethink about this one over the weekend. The following Monday, I asked again and was told I could wear it, but under my gown (around my neck) and when the time came, I could put it on real quick, but would have to take it right off.
Again, a slap in the face, but what could I do, graduation day was in a few days, so I agreed. The only thing was, I wasn’t going to hide my feather, and I was going to wear it with pride throughout the whole ceremony!
I discussed this plan with my cousin Bryce Baga and the word went out to all Taatsi graduates. We had permission to have our feathers with us, that’s all we needed. I also told my mom what was agreed on and what was about to take place. Soon the word spread fast throughout the tribe. It was then that a letter from an outsider was sent to Mr. Brumit demanding we wear our feathers. This made him furious and he then changed his mind all together. Even the thought of holding on to our feathers at the podium was thrown out the window.
He basically wanted no existence of it. That was that, his final decision……but not for Bryce and me.
We’re descendants of the Manuel clan, we come from strong people, we we’re not going to give up on something we strongly believed in! Both of us knew the consequences of wearing our feather without permission. When other students opted out, we decided we would make the stand for them. We were going to protest and wear our feathers, even if this meant we would be pulled from the graduating line. I can’t say I wasn’t scared, shoot my great grandma, my grandma, my parents, my younger siblings were going to be in the stands expecting to see me receive my diploma.
But, the fight was on.
This is when my aunt Anita and her partner Dez started making phone calls and got the right people involved. With only a few hours left, the right people changed Mr. Brumit’s mind and the rules were changed!
What? We did it? We can wear our feathers? We made a stand and we changed the rules!!!!
I KNEW WHEN I WALKED THAT LINE, WITH MY FEATHER ON MY CAP, ALL MY LOVED ONES AND ANCESTORS WERE GOING TO BE WATCHING. I WALKED FOR THE ONES WHO WALKED THE SAME LINE BEFORE ME, THE ONES WHO WERE DENIED THIS RIGHT.
Because of the class of 2014′s Taatsi Iyana graduates, all future native American LHS graduates can proudly wear what they earned…….their feather!
It didn’t hit me until after we graduated and my family took the field. I hugged my mom and my younger siblings and realized, 20 years ago my mom received her LHS diploma but couldn’t wear her plume and in a few years my siblings will walk the same line, but can.
Wow, what a difference a stand, a few calls, and persistence can make……by then I couldn’t hold it in anymore, my tears were nonstop. We all cried tears of happiness. I am proud of my accomplishments, I’m proud of what I stood up for, I’m proud to be Taatsi Yokut/Chamoru……I am Yareya! (na Ha’yali!)