Graduating High School student Leticia Gonzales has been told she will not be allowed to wear her beaded graduation cap to her graduation ceremony by school officials at Bishop Union High School in Bishop, California. The graduation cap, which was purchased by Gonzales and beaded by her grandmother, is considered a violation of school policy. According to the policy, Gonzales would not be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony if she wears the beaded cap.
Gonzales says she simply wants to show pride for her culture as a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe. “I don’t think this is hurting anyone and my grandmother made this out of love, respect and honor. We didn’t think there would be an issue as we got this cap two months ago and we had to buy it. The school allows us to attach feathers to our tassels,” said Gonzales.
Family friend and former Bishop Union High School graduate Tahvooche Saulque, Utu Utu Gwaitu Benton Paiute Tribe, says since she was allowed to wear a feather in her tassel when she graduated the school should allow the decorated graduation cap.
“The school makes us buy the caps and gowns, and I don’t see the problem, there is a big Native population that goes to this school. My daughter is the NASA [Native American Student Association] princess and they let her wear her beaded crown when other princesses wore tiaras. What is the difference?” asks Saulque.
Gonzales’s mother, Carrie Jones, says her daughter is a good student and agrees with Saulque. Jones doesn’t understand the problem since students are allowed to wear feathers in their tassels.
“She should be able to wear her cap and gown in whatever way she wants to represent her nationality,” says Jones.
According to the family, word of mouth was most likely responsible for the sudden enforcement of rules by the school. Soon after Gonzales told people she would be wearing her graduation cap that was beaded in school colors, she saw a notice written on a school whiteboard.
“I told some friends and teachers, but nobody is owning up to it,” says Gonzales.
Jones also contacted the California Indian Education Association who told Jones that the school was simply enforcing an “invisible rule.”
In a letter from the CIEA to the Bishop Unified School District, President Willie Carrillo writes that Native students who suffer from high dropout rates and high disparities want to honor their families and cultures with an important cultural symbol.
“We stand in support of the families who wish to honor their cultural heritage in combination with their significant educational achievement of graduating,” Carrillo wrote in the letter.
Though no school officials have told Gonzales who wrote the whiteboard message, Bishop Unified School District Superintendent Barry Simpson did respond to ICTMN on behalf of the school. Simpson says a possible solution is currently in process.
“It has long been a school tradition that Native students can wear eagle feathers in their tassels. However, we do send out information each year in which we ask students not to alter their caps and gowns,” says Simpson.
Though Simpson says the policy asking students not to alter their caps and gowns is in place, he is willing to discuss possible options.
“We are currently meeting with tribal leaders and we are discussing a possible resolution that we all can be happy with,” Simpson says.
According to Gonzales, the entire situation has left her a bit soured. “It feels like they are telling us ‘no’ all over again. The way they told us we could not speak our languages when non-Natives made us go to boarding schools. The cap decoration is not big or flashy, it is in our school colors. I’ve always appreciated our school and I have school pride as I am a cheerleader. I’ve always appreciated our school. But this situation makes we want to get out of here sooner.”
As of the printing of this article, no official announcement has been made regarding Gonzales’s permission to wear her decorated cap on June 10.