Native Graduate wins case; walks with feathers
For Corey Bird, graduation marked the end of the hard work of high school. But it also marked the end of a battle to wear the feathers that represent his family and his Native American heritage.
FAYETTEVILLE – For every high school senior, graduation is a day they’ve anticipated for years. It’s a day when they’re surrounded by family members to celebrate and remember their accomplishments. For Purnell Swett senior Corey Bird, it was a chance to remember family members who are no longer with him. That’s why he wore two feathers on his robe when he walked across the stage.
It means a lot,” he said. “It’s in remembrance of my mother and my grandfather, and it allows them to be here with me.”
For Bird, graduation marked the end of the hard work of high school. But it also marked the end of a battle to wear the feathers that represent his family and his Native American heritage. Last month, principals told him he could be pulled from the graduation if he wore the feathers. Corey, supported by his father and family, choose instead to take a stand for the right to wear his feathers.
The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on June 5th sent a letter to Robeson County school officials expressing their concerns about a policy that would have prevented Corey Bird from wearing two eagle feathers on his graduation gown or cap.
Katherine Parker, legal director with ACLU North Carolina, said that school’s ” policy is bad and violates the rights of Corey and his father, Samuel Bird.
Steve Moore, senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo., said other schools have struggled with this issue and have understood that permitting the wearing of the eagle feathers at graduation is not only good policy, “but the right thing to do from a human perspective.”
Both NARF and the ACLU urged the school district to allow Corey to wear his feathers. Corey’s cousin Olivia also was battling for her right to wear three small eagle feathers on her graduation outfit. On June 13th, the Board of Education granted Corey and his cousin permission to wear them.
“I’m just so proud of my son that he stood up for what he believed in,” Corey’s father Samuel said after the graduation. Bird graduated from Purnell Swett with honors.
NARF has created a “resource kit” for Native students and their families that will provide information and resources to aide other students like Corey who run into struggles with wearing their eagle feathers and/or traditional regalia at their graduation ceremonies.