Tucson High School graduate meets with administrators after traditional feather was taken

Published: May. 31, 2023 at 6:31 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A recent Tucson High Magnet School graduate was met with school officials taking away his cultural eagle feather just moments before he walked the stage at graduation last week.

Today, the student, Jeffrey Sisk, and his parents, Anita and Bruce Sisk, finally had a meeting with school administrators to find out why.

Just 15 minutes before walking out to the football field to graduate from high school, Sisk was stopped by an administrator who said his eagle feather, a traditional and cultural garment worn by Native Americans when they celebrate a life achievement, was not allowed.

Sisk had to leave his feather in an administrator’s office and was able to retrieve it after. However, for Jeffrey Sisk, he was disappointed he could not represent his family or his culture.

“It just made me mad inside just because of the way he took my feather and my cap,” Sisk said. “I even had a picture of my grandparents who were there for me all these years, pushed me to do my best, and they were in there… I just wanted my cap back.”

The eagle feather represents an extension of the individual, according to Bruce Sisk, Jeffrey’s father.

“The feather is everything to us: we pray to our feathers, we talk to our feathers,” he says.

“When they take feathers away from us and we don’t have access to our feathers, we lose that part of us.”

The Sisk family says the school violated several federal government regulations that allow traditional indigenous wear to be allowed in graduation ceremonies.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service even offers members of federally recognized tribes the chance to request an eagle feather for their graduation ceremonies.

Tucson Unified School District also includes a non-discrimination policy in the code of conduct, stating the district “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion/religious beliefs … or family, social, or cultural background in admission or access to, or treatment or employment in, its educational programs or activities.”

Since the graduation ceremony, Bruce Sisk has been in contact with district administrators like Assistant Superintendent Mark Alvarez.

In an email to Sisk, Alvarez wrote, “We value our enduring relationship with our tribes … and are always open to learn and educate ourselves so that this never happens again.”

During the meeting, the Sisk family was joined by the district’s equity officer, Kinisha Brown, and the chief financial officer, Ricky Hernandez, to discuss the matter. The actual administrator who took Sisk’s feather was not in the meeting.

The Sisk family says they are planning another meeting with the Principal of Tucson High and Assistant Superintendent Alvarez to find out why the feather was taken and to discuss steps to ensure this never happens again.

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