New Arizona Law Allows Indigenous Students To Wear Traditional Regalia At Graduation Ceremonies

Sep 3, 2021

Governor Doug Ducey this week signed a bill into law that guarantees students the right to wear tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies. Some students in Arizona say they’ve been prevented from wearing such items because of school district dress codes. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Traditional bead work and a feather adorn a graduation cap at a commencement.
Credit American Indian College Fund

Under Arizona law, schools were already barred from preventing students from wearing religious or cultural objects or dress during extracurricular activities. But the new measure expands state law to include items of Indigenous importance.

"When we wear our traditional regalia it really allows us to celebrate who we are as our full selves, right, not just who we are as a student, but who we are as Native students," says state Rep. and Navajo tribal member Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, who sponsored the bipartisan bill. 

Blackwater-Nygren, who herself wore traditional regalia to her high school, college and law school commencements, points out that Native Americans have the lowest graduation rates of any group in the nation. The ceremonies are particularly important for Indigenous graduates, their families and their communities.

A school district in Maricopa County was sued last year after a Native American student was denied entry to her graduation ceremony because she was wearing a traditionally beaded cap with a sacred eagle plume.