Native regalia bill gets full support from Polis 

Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum

The State of Colorado has taken steps to insure that Native American students are allowed to don traditional regalia, such as eagle plumes, beadwork and other culturally important items during formal graduation ceremonies. In recent years, many Native students have had pushback from their respective schools, citing policy violations and dress code. For students in Colorado, that is about to change.  

Colorado Senate Bill 202: Wearing of Native American Traditional Regalia was signed by Governor Jared Polis on Thursday, May 4. The bill requires preschools, K-12 schools, public colleges and universities to allow Native American students to wear and display traditional Native American regalia at a graduation ceremony. 

Southern Ute Chairman Melvin Baker is pleased the rights to practice culture and honor tradition are now recognized and protected for all Native American students across Colorado under SB 202. Baker has testified to the Colorado State Legislature on numerous occasions in support of the bill. The Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe are the two federally recognized tribes in Colorado, key voices in the state when it comes to tribal matters.  

“Graduation is an important day in our student’s lives, as they celebrate their accomplishments,” Baker said. “They should not have to choose between honoring their tradition or violating dress code guidelines. In wearing their regalia, they also honor their traditions, elders, and ancestors.”  

The Ignacio School District has long been ahead of the curve in recognizing the importance and symbolism of Native regalia for their graduating seniors. “Ignacio School District, I feel, has recognized the desire of Native American students to wear regalia and cultural items during graduation,” Ignacio High School Principal, Barb Fjerstad said.  

“It is important for all students to be able to honor their cultures and show pride in who they are,” she added. “Graduation is a perfect place for students to demonstrate that pride.”  

Sentiments echoed by Ignacio School District Superintendent, Chris deKay, “In our community it is important to recognize the diversity of culture, and that decision makes a lot of sense to us as a district.” 

The town of Ignacio, boasting a population of roughly 869 residents, is home to the Tribal Government at the heart of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The Reservation was checkerboarded around 1895, when surplus Ute lands were homesteaded and sold to non-Indians. What makes Ignacio unique today is its history as a Tri-Ethnic community, with Native, Anglo, and Spanish roots, where diversity of culture is a point of pride for most residents. The students who graduate from Ignacio High School are both culturally and ethnically diverse. 

“I am happy that Governor Polis has taken the steps to ensure that Native American students may wear regalia that reflects their culture and their identity,” Fjerstad said.  

The Senate Bill 202 summary states, “The bill requires a school or school district to allow a qualified student to wear and display traditional Native American regalia at a school graduation ceremony. The bill requires public colleges and universities to allow a qualified student to wear and display traditional Native American regalia at a college graduation ceremony.” 

Principal sponsors of the bill include Senator Jessie Danielson, Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis, Representative Barbara McLachlan, and Representative Elizabeth Velasco. 

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