Bill to allow Indigenous students to wear tribal regalia at graduations advances

If the bill passes, Utah will join several states that allow tribal regalia during graduations.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Herman Schildt, member of the Blackfeet Tribe, right, greets Damon Polk, member of the San Carlos Apache and Quechan Indian Tribe at the 41st Annual Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Gathering, Aug. 13, 2021 in Cedar City, Utah.

A bill to ensure that Indigenous students across Utah can wear their tribal regalia during high school graduations unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring HB30, known as the Student Tribal Regalia Use Amendments.

Last week, the bill unanimously passed the House and now goes before the Senate for consideration. If it passes, it will go to the desk of Gov. Spencer Cox to become law. The bill would stop any local school agency, such as a school board or school, from preventing Indigenous students from wearing a feather, beaded cultural attire, traditional dress or moccasins during their graduation ceremonies.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill by a vote of 6 to 0, with one abstention Monday afternoon.

Rep. Romero sees no opposition to the bill, especially after the committee heard from Corrina Bow, chairwoman for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah on Monday afternoon. Bow talked about how important it is that children from Utah’s eight sovereign tribal nations be able to celebrate their cultural identities at their educational milestones.

“The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah supports the efforts of all Native Americans to honor their culture, religious and heritage, particularly during graduation and other celebratory ceremonies,” Bow told the committee.

Bow said that Indigenous students are the least likely to graduate from high school of any racial population in the U.S. Data from 2020 shows that Native American students in Utah had a drop in high school graduation rates by 6.4% from 79.3% in 2019 to 72.9% in 2020.

If the bill passes, Utah will join several states that allow tribal regalia during graduations. Some of those states include California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington, Bow said.

“This bill has passed in other states where we have a Native American community,” Romero said. “And so this is specifically to our Native American community in honoring their religious and their cultural practices when graduating from high school.”

At the committee hearing, Sen. Kathleen A. Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, said that supporting HB30 allows for high school seniors to celebrate their achievements with younger students who will see someone who looks like them graduate and further inspire these same students.

“I think this is just another piece of really identifying partners in your community that are graduating so I really support this bill,” Riebe said.

Along with Rep. Romero, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holiday, is the other co-sponsor to HB30.

Correction Jan. 26, 2022 • This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Sen. Jani Iwamoto’s name.