Lena’ Black v. Broken Arrow Public Schools

High school graduate Lena’ Black, an enrolled member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and of Osage descent, filed a lawsuit on May 15, 2023, against the Broken Arrow School District for violating her rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. Black seeks restitution for emotional distress caused when school officials singled her out and attempted to take her sacred eagle plume by force, damaging the plume that she received in ceremony when she was three years old.

“My eagle plume has been part of my cultural and spiritual practices since I was three years old. I wore this plume on graduation day in recognition of my academic achievement and to carry the prayers of my Otoe-Missouria community with me,” said Lena’ Black. “The law protects my right to wear this eagle plume at my graduation, and school officials had no authority to forcibly remove it from my cap.”

Governor J. Kevin Stitt recently vetoed Oklahoma Senate Bill 429, passed by the state legislature with near unanimous bipartisan support to prohibit discriminatory graduation dress codes. The bill would have reaffirmed the rights of Native American students like Black to wear tribal regalia at graduations, a critical protection in the state with the second highest concentration of American Indians. Following his veto, Governor Stitt suggested this issue should instead be resolved at the district level.

Black is represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and Pipestem Law, P.C. “We will hold the Broken Arrow School District accountable for its discriminatory actions,” said NARF Staff Attorney Morgan Saunders. “The Broken Arrow School District violated Ms. Black’s rights despite existing laws that should have ensured she was able to wear her eagle plume without incident.”

“This lawsuit demonstrates why these decisions cannot be left up to individual school districts,” said Pipestem Law Partner Wilson Pipestem. “Without clarity from the State, Native students will continue to be forced to seek justice in the courts after their rights have been violated and their graduation ceremonies are long since over.”

“I filed this lawsuit to ensure everyone understands the importance of items like my eagle plume, and to prevent schools from targeting Native students like me in the future. No student should face ignorance and discrimination in their school or their community,” said Black.

While traditions vary, members of many tribal nations wear specific clothing or objects, like eagle plumes, at graduation ceremonies to signify their academic achievement and in recognition of their spiritual and religious beliefs. Schools, school district leaders, educators, parents, students, and allies can learn more about creating inclusive graduation ceremonies and positive change at: https://narf.org/cases/graduation/.

Lawsuit Regarding the Right to Wear a Traditionally-Beaded Graduation Cap and Eagle Plume at High School Graduation

Here is the Complaint in Larissa Waln and Bryan Waln v. Dysart School District et al. in the District of Arizona.

More information and the press release can be seen here.

Federal Court Affirms Oklahoma School’s Refusal to Allow Native High School Graduate to Wear Eagle Feather on Graduation Cap

Here is the order in Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools (N.D. Okla.):

22. Order and Opinion (5-20-15)

Prior materials here.

Magistrate Decision in Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools

In which the student is denied the right to wear an eagle feather on her graduation cap. Her graduation from Caney Valley Public Schools, which is just north of Tulsa, is tomorrow.


The School demonstrated that the graduation ceremony is a formal ceremony and that the unity of the graduating class as a whole is fostered by the uniformity of the caps which are the most prominently visible part of the graduation regalia viewed by the audience to the graduation. Prohibiting decoration of any graduation cap by any student for any purpose serves these legitimate interests. Based on the application of these established principles the undersigned finds that Plaintiff has not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on her First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion claim.

Plaintiff’s Motion and Brief

Defendant’s Motion and Brief

20. Objection to Report and Rec (5-20-15)

21. Defs Resp to Obj to RR (5-20-15)

Letter from NARF, ACLU, and California Indian Legal Services Regarding Wearing Eagle Feathers at Graduation

Regarding the controversy at Lemoore High School initially forbidding graduating students from wearing an eagle feather on their graduation cap (article here). Letter here.

Typically, an eagle feather is given only in times of great honor – for example, eagle feathers are given to mark great personal achievement. The gift of an eagle feather to a youth is a great honor and is typically given to recognize an important transition in his or her life. Many young people are given eagle feathers upon graduation from high school to signify achievement of this important educational journey and the honor the graduate brings to his or her family, community, and tribe.

Bryce is an enrolled member of the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria, a federally recognized tribe. His Indian heritage comes from his father, who passed away when Bryce was three years old. Bryce’s feathers were gifted to him by his family specifically for this important occasion – his graduation from high school.

Finally, in deciding how to press forward in this matter, we ask Lemoore Union High School District to remember that “in our society and in our culture high school graduation is one of life’s most significant occasions.” Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 595, 112 S.Ct. 2649, 2659, 120 L.Ed.2d 467 (1992). “Graduation is a time for family and those closest to the student to celebrate success and express mutual wishes of gratitude and respect, all to the end of impressing upon the young person that role that it is his or her right and duty to assume in the community and all of its diverse parts.” Id. In light of the significance that the eagle feather has to Native American students, especially at graduation, we urge you to permit Native American students like Bryce Baga to express their religious and spiritual beliefs by wearing eagle feathers on their cap or gown.