Regarding regalia

Two Native graduates question school staff’s actions at graduation ceremony
Thursday, June 6, 2019
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Photo by Jim Eshleman

Keely Milda said once she reached her seat in the gymnasium she removed the black robe she was given by staff before the ceremony started.

Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Jim Eshleman

Before Deidra Don’t Mix gave her speech she said took off the black robe she was given by staff before the ceremony started.

Two Hardin High School students took to social media last week after graduation alleging several school faculty and staff members violated state law by insisting they cover their traditional tribal regalia or be unable to participate in the ceremony.

According to a law passed during the 2017 Montana legislative session state entities “may not prohibit an individual from wearing tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at a public event.”

Keely Milda and Deidra Don’t Mix were both dressed in red elk tooth dresses at the ceremony on May 26.

“Today as i (sic) entered HHS as a Student for the very last time. I was told I couldn’t use only my Elk Tooth during the Graduation Ceremony. If I was, I had to use the ugly black gown over it. I was devastated, and disagreed. I told the staff who tried not to let me use it, it was my RIGHT by law,” Don’t Mix wrote on her facebook page a few hours after the ceremony.

Don’t Mix told the News three employees told her she had to put a black graduation robe on over her regalia.

“I told them it was my right to wear my regalia,” she said.

Don’t Mix added that she was told by staff that HHS policy states she was required to wear the graduation robe in order to participate in the ceremony.

Hardin Public Schools policy handbook makes no mention of graduation robes, but it does state “the school district will permit students to honor their American Indian heritage through the display of culturally significant tribal regalia at commencement ceremonies” in a policy adopted August 2007.

Both Don’t Mix and Milda said they were given a gown to wear as they walked into the gymnasium. Don’t Mixed called her mother.

Tanya Don’t Mix said she received a phone call from a crying Deidra across the hall in the high school cafeteria.

“I went down there with her gown and was told if she wants to walk in the ceremony she has to wear a gown,” she said. “I’m upset with the way staff treated my daughter. She’s always been a good ambassador for the school.”

Milda addressed the issue on her facebook account on May 29, writing:

“They told us that we CANT (sic) walk the stage to receive our diplomas without our gowns on. So when we first walked into the graduation ceremony they made sure we had our gowns on over our regalia. I even left my gown at home because I wasn’t intending on wearing it at all.”

Midla said she removed her gown as soon as she reached her seat, while Don’t Mix said she removed her gown shortly before she was called up to the stage to give her speech.

Both students said there were no announcements in school regarding the use of regalia at the ceremony and Don’t Mix said she emailed the school registrar, Jean Marshall, about her intention to wear her regalia, but she didn’t receive a response.

“We didn’t tell anyone at the school Keely was going to wear regalia, because we knew that policy had already been made,” said Milda’s mother Sharon Whiteman Runs Him, a teacher at Crow Agency Public School.

Don’t Mix and Milda both said Marshall was the first person to tell them they had to wear a cap and gown to participate in the ceremony.

Marshall sent Don’t Mix an apology via facebook messenger after seeing Don’t Mix’s facebook post.

“After reading your Facebook post and how you reacted I felt horrible as I was the first one to have told you that it would not be allowed. I noticed in one of the comments that it had been passed years ago by the Hardin School Board that Native Americans were allowed to wear their regalia. That person was correct. I am so sorry that I was unaware this policy existed until I researched it this morning. Your actions at Graduation will ensure that this does not occur again,” she wrote.

Marshall also included a link to the school district’s policy handbook.

The grads said they have not heard from the other staffers involved or the superintendent.

Hardin School District Superintendent Eldon “Chad” Johnson told the News in a phone interview Monday he is researching school policy regarding use of regalia at graduation.

Later, in an email send to the News Johnson said, “On behalf of Hardin School District 17H & 1 District Administration regarding the matter of student graduates wanting to display their American Indian heritage through the display of culturally significant regalia at commencement exercises, Hardin School District 17H & 1 takes seriously the laws that protect and award all citizens of Montana through our state constitution. At no point do we intentionally disregard the matters of protection and rights allowed to us by state statute… striving to protect our students, staff, families and community members. In matters pertaining to Hardin High School graduation on May 26th, 2019… information is still being collected so that an appropriate course of action and correspondence can and will be taken in the immediate future.”

The issue he said will be discussed at the next school board meeting scheduled for 5:30 pm. on June 18 at the school district office located at 401 Park Road in Hardin. School board meetings are public. To place an item on the agenda a written request with reasoning must submitted to the superintendent at least ten days before the board meeting.