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Politics & Government

‘This is about who they are’: Utah lawmakers push for Native students to be able to wear tribal regalia at graduations

Photo of a the back of a person with long black hair in a graduation cap looking at the sky.
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“It's a little bit different than somebody trying to wear shorts or something to that effect — this is about who they are and their communities,” said Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City.

Utah schools could soon be banned from stopping Native American students from wearing tribal regalia during their high school graduation under a proposed state bill.

According to the legislation, tribal regalia can include traditional dress and items of cultural significance like symbols, beads and feathers.

Bill sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said a Utah tribe told her one of its members was told they couldn’t have tribal beads and feathers on their graduation cap.

“It's a little bit different than somebody trying to wear shorts or something to that effect — this is about who they are and their communities,” Romero said. “That's why we felt it was important that we, one of the states that has a large Indigenous community, respect and honor tradition.”

Chuck Foster, the American Indian Education Specialist at the Utah State Board of Education, was a principal at a school on the Navajo Nation. He called the bill a “very significant move in terms of the preserving of culture.”

Foster said the state should take this concept even further than what’s in the bill right now.

“It has to be disseminated among all those schools that don't understand the significance of the symbols that are displayed during graduation,” he said.

A legislative committee did not take action on the bill Monday, but may vote on it in an upcoming meeting. Committee Chair Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, said she supported the legislation.

“I have a Navajo son and I went to his daughter's graduation ... on the reservation in Arizona,” she said. “Everyone was decked out … in their beautiful outfits. I mean, it was glorious. So I'm surprised to hear that someone would not allow them something that is part of their culture.”

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