RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — State leaders are looking to protect the rights of American Indian graduates to wear feathers, beads, and anything culturally-significant to high school graduations.  

House Bill 166 and Senate Bill 139, also known as the American Indians Graduating with Honors Act, would create more uniform protections for indigenous graduates of public schools to wear cultural regalia.

Sandon Jacobs, a Waccamaw Siouan Tribe member and father, said he had a beaded graduation cap made for his daughter graduating from Wakefield High School last year.

But Jacobs said the school declined, citing the request was made too close to graduation a few weeks ahead.

“I don’t think we should have to ask for permission to be proud of who we are, to wear our traditional regalia or to wear elements that, elements that we’ve earned or elements that we’ve been gifted,” Jacobs said. “In various ways, all of us have gone through the same thing with our kids throughout the generations of having to ask for permission.”

With eight different tribes across North Carolina, Department of Public Instruction data shows nearly 16,000 American Indian students are enrolled in public schools.

Jacobs said the graduation honor represents far more than just a feather, necklace or beadwork.

“My daughter is standing on the shoulders of people who couldn’t get the education that she got like my grandfather. He went to another place 80 miles from home just to get a high school education at the East Carolina Indian School,” Jacobs said.