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Navajo student told to remove feathers at Lehi graduation

Posted at 9:56 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 09:07:06-04

LEHI, Utah — A young Native American woman is sharing her frustration after she was forced to remove a symbol of her culture during her graduation ceremony at Lehi High School last month.

High school graduation is a major milestone, but for Tasheena Savala, something important was missing from the moment.

“This is how I was expressing myself. To me, my eagle feathers were just as important as my cap and gown,” says Savala.

Savala intended to wear three brown eagle feathers on her graduation cap.

“In my culture the elders say that the eagle is the highest-flying bird and so when you see an eagle, you’re supposed to say a prayer so that the eagle can take it to the creator,” says Savala.

It’s an honor that you have to earn in her Navajo Native American culture, and she earned it, by graduating high school. However, while waiting in line to walk across the stage, she was ordered to remove it.

“A teacher walked by and was like hey you can’t have that on your cap,” says Savala.

Obedeiently, Savala removed the feathers from her cap.

“He walked by again and he was like oh thank you for taking that off. I appreciate that, but I was kind of upset because it’s part of my identity,” says Savala.

Savala says Lehi High School administrators were clear, telling students they couldn't decorate their caps.

“We just had to dress nice and keep it formal like we couldn’t have crazy leis. The only leis we were allowed to have were real flower leis,” says Savala.

The Alpine School District sent this statement to Fox 13:

Despite the setback, Savala says she still enjoyed her graduation and hopes by sharing her experience, it may change for other Native American students.

“My brother is actually a year younger than me so for him to share his cultural identity in the way that he wants to when he graduates so if he wants to wear eagle feathers, he would be allowed to,” says Savala.