San Antonio’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy

Tried to Deny Afro-Indigneous Senior, Kayla Price Graduation Ceremony

By: - Jun 07, 2022

San Antonio, TX- On Friday June 3rd, the Dean of Schools and Principal at San Antonio’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy tried to deny Afro-Indigneous senior, Kayla Price, from walking in her ceremony because of the eagle feather beaded onto her graduation cap. The Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA), part of the San Antonio Independent School District, ranks in the top 20 high schools in the United States. Per their Non-discrimination Statement,

“It is the policy of San Antonio ISD not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or disability in its vocational programs, services or activities as required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and SAISD's board policies DIA, FFH, and FFI.”

Eagle feathers are gifted to Indigenous leaders to mark and honor significant accomplishments, such as a graduation. Price, an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux tribal nation, was gifted eagle feathers to honor her graduation from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

School staff pulled Price out of her graduation practice, singling her out in front of all of her classmates, to demand that she remove her eagle feather. YWLA Head of Schools, Delia McLerran, told Price she could not wear her eagle feathers because they didn’t fit in with the specs of the graduation being 3-D and didn’t fit the theme of relating to the school or thanking the school. McLerran spoke to Price’s mother, Jennifer K. Falcon, by phone, only an hour and half before the graduation ceremony. The YWLA Head of Schools insisted that Price and her mother needed to prove that feathers were a part of “their culture”, while also holding that she didn’t have time for this, as she was trying to throw a graduation. McLarren stated all this as Price and her mother tried explaining the cultural importance of eagle feathers in their Lakota and Nakoda traditions.

“I wore feathers gifted by my family, a necklace of garnets and sweetgrass my great-grandmother gathered in our homelands in Montana, and beaded moccasins gifted to me by my aunt to celebrate the hard work it took to graduate despite the hardships I overcame the last four years,” said Price. “This is not the first time the administration has dismissed racism when it was brought to their attention by students and families. In the last year alone, my family has raised concern when white students were allowed to dress as Native Americans on Disney day. We were told we were overreacting when research has shown that harmful stereotypes of Native Americans creates low self-esteem and higher suicide rates than any other race. When the school hosted a team whose mascot is the “cottonpickers” for a volleyball game, other Black students, like myself, were uncomfortable with the racist connotation and brought this to our principal's attention. We were dismissed and told they were honoring’ immigrant workers.’”

When the YWLA Head of Schools refused to listen to Price’s mother, she and Price’s father, Joaquin Gonzalez, a civil rights attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, headed to the graduation practice to speak to the school’s administration in-person. Price’s mother has long worked in local, state, and national politics and Price continues building on that matriarchal legacy, getting arrested while fighting for Indigenous rights in Washington D.C. in October and speaking at Black Lives Matter protests honoring George Floyd in the summer of 2020. Price hopes to bring awareness to what happened to her and to work with elected leaders to craft legislation ensuring that no other families have to fight for their cultural practices to be respected. She also hopes YWLA will require anti-racism and anti-bias training for their entire staff.

“It was only after my parents kept pushing them that they were violating the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and the Texas and federal religious freedom restoration acts, that the school relented in letting me wear my regalia. If my dad was not an attorney, I would not have been able to honor my culture,” said Price.

“My graduation day was totally ruined by this anti-Indigenous racism. This was supposed to be a special day for me and my family. I did not feel like I belonged at my own graduation. My hope in speaking up is that this never happens to another Native student in Texas who is not as privileged as me to have a dad who is a civil rights attorney. Our culture and ways have been purposely erased from this country. My great-grandparents were beaten to stop them from practicing our culture in the US boarding school system, which highlights the importance of youth like myself, reclaiming and honoring our ways after the horrors they endured uplifts our community and allows us to honor our elders and ourselves.”