Gov. Stitt vetoes bill allowing students to wear tribal regalia at graduation (Capitol Update)

It was disappointing to see that the governor vetoed Senate Bill 429 which allows students to wear tribal regalia at official graduation ceremonies. The bill defines “tribal regalia” narrowly as “traditional garments, jewelry, other adornments such as an eagle feather, an eagle plume, a beaded cap, a stole, or similar objects of cultural and religious significance worn by members of a federally recognized Indian tribe or the tribe of another country.”  

In addition, the bill specifically provides that tribal regalia does not include any firearm or other weapon. It also includes a provision that nothing in the law would limit or alter the authority of school personnel to regulate student behavior pursuant to the School Safety and Bullying Prevention Act.

As the bill progressed through committees and floor action in the Senate and House several legislators expressed surprise that wearing tribal regalia would even be an issue in Oklahoma. There are 38 federally recognized tribes in the state and Oklahoma has the second largest Native American population (321,687) second only to California with 362,801. Rep. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton, House author of the measure, likened wearing tribal regalia to his wearing of a cross during his high school graduation.

However, there are a few school districts that, for whatever reason, prohibit students from wearing a symbol that’s meaningful to them, celebrating their religion or culture during an important milestone in their life. In fact, it is known that, since the governor’s veto, one Oklahoma school district is prohibiting a student from wearing her beaded cap, feather, and tribal stole at graduation. For many people, the freedom to honor their culture on important occasions takes on special meaning.

In addition to stating in his veto message that graduation attire should be solely up to the school district, the governor said allowing the wearing of tribal regalia would be a “special law” in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution because it singles out “one person or class of persons.” Constitutionally, SB 429 seems worth the risk since Oklahoma has several statutes singling out the treatment of Native Americans, such as the creation of Indian Housing Authorities, the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Act, the American Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act of 1974, and others. 

The governor has not been shy about signing bills affecting single classes of persons when it aligned with his agenda. Think transgender kids. Allowing the wearing of tribal regalia costs nothing and hurts no one. Prohibiting it is hurtful to some. The choice seems apparent. Hopefully, the Legislature will override this veto. 


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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