School Won't Allow Teen to Wear Native American Regalia to Graduation

Tvli Birdshead is set to graduate in May.
Toloa Birdshead

Tvli Birdshead wants to wear a few important pieces to celebrate his culture. But his school won't let him.

An Oklahoma high school student is disappointed that his school won't allow him to wear regalia honoring his Native American heritage to graduation. 

Taloa Birdshead and her son, 18-year-old Tvli Birdshead, are both Chickasaw Nation members and Tvli planned to don a few pieces — an honor cord from his tribe, a beaded cap and a feather — to represent his culture at the upcoming Latta High School graduation ceremony in May.

Birdshead, however, said when she submitted the form for permission, she received an email from the principal saying it would be against school policy for Tvli to wear the regalia and he could wear it to baccalaureate services but not graduation.

“We really didn’t think his regalia would be a problem,” Birdshead told “I emailed him [the principal] saying I would be scheduling a meeting with the superintendent.”

Birdshead said she met with the superintendent and explained that although she understood there was a policy in place, she wanted to know if an exception could be made for Tvli.

“I expressed what it meant to my son.... Our culture is not a costume.” Birdshead said. “It wasn’t even considered.” 

The district said if they made an exception for Tvli, they would have to make open the door for everyone to do so, Birdshead said.

“It should have been a simple matter. I did not think it would turn out this way,” Birdshead said. “So many things were stripped from us [Native Americans] and we hold on to what we have and we teach our kids."

Now, the mom said the school’s superintendent has agreed to meet with her again about the issue.

Latta Public Schools superintendent Cliff Johnson told "Today" that only school-issued honor cords are allowed at the graduation ceremony but added that he wants to “work with” the Birdshead family.

“We are in the process of making arrangements for them to be able to present their views and concerns to the board concerning the district’s procedures for graduation," Johnson said.