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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 14, 2003 - Issue 89


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Grad Will Wear Cultural Symbol

by Virginia de Leon Spokesman Review

FeatherThe eagle feather was among her most prized possessions -- a symbol of her cultural heritage, a display of Native American pride.

Magen Lozeau wanted to wear it on her graduation cap as she marched down the aisle to receive her diploma. But the principal of North Central High School -- whose mascot is the Indian -- wouldn't allow it at first.

On Thursday, after further conversations with Lozeau's family, Spokane Public Schools changed its mind.

"It's a connection to my heritage," said Lozeau, an enrolled member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

The 18-year-old received the feather four years ago after writing an essay on the use of Native Americans as school mascots. She was honored with the prize during a leadership camp sponsored by the Native Project.

The initial decision had nothing to do with banning the student from expressing her culture, said Mike Dunn, the district's northwest area director.

"We've tried to make graduation a time to honor the class as a whole, not focus on one student," Dunn said. "The thinking was, if one kid does that, what will other kids do? ... Where do you draw the line?"

After additional conversations with Lozeau's family, the district has a better understanding of the feather's relevance, he said.

North Central Principal Mike McGuire did not return phone calls seeking comment. "McGuire deeply honors every kid at his school," Dunn said. "He wanted to honor all the kids and not make one feel more special than the others."

Lozeau asked administrators if she could adorn her cap on Wednesday morning, shortly after seeing a notice requiring pre-approval of items worn by students on their caps and gowns.

Lozeau said Assistant Principal Ed Fisher gave her the thumbs up and told her it was a good idea. She said McGuire told her that if he allowed her to wear the feather, he would be forced to approve requests from other students.

Lozeau left the principal's office in tears. Her grandmother, Terry Cochran, talked to administrators about the issue. She also contacted the district's Equity Office, other Native Americans in the community and a lawyer.

"I was very upset," said Cochran, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe.

Eagle feathers, she said, are no different from crucifixes and other religious items worn by other students around their necks. "They're a spiritual symbol," she said. "The eagle feather means a lot to my granddaughter."

The district doesn't have a policy on what graduates can display on their rented caps and gowns. Dunn said they plan to look at the issue "so that none of our high schools are doing something that would unintentionally be perceived as disrespectful."

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