For the first time in school history, Native American students at Salamanca Junior-Senior High School in upstate New York wore traditional regalia instead of graduation gowns during the school’s 131st commencement on June 23, 2017.
The Salamanca Press reported that the ceremony opened with Ganö:nyö:k, the Seneca welcome, by J.W. Bova, “which seemed even more poignant this year with Native American students dressed in their traditional regalia for the first time in school history.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution in April granting the Native American students the option to wear their traditional regalia instead of caps and gown, reported The Salamanca Press.
“This started out in February. Students came to me wanting to wear traditional regalia at graduation,” Jerry Musial, a history teacher who also teaches Seneca history, told The Salamanca Press. “There were some inquiries and it grew from there. They have gone through a long process and talked to a lot of different people along the way.”
In March, a group of Native American students presented their request to wear regalia at a Board of Education meeting and shared their reasons why it is important to them.
“It is our most formal way of dressing. We wear it to our ceremonies and other formal activities,” senior Adrianne Cook told The Salamanca Press after the presentation in March. “I always hear about the school wanting to promote the diversity within everyone who attends here and what they believe in. I think it would be great for us to wear our regalia at graduation because it is promoting diversity and our cultural heritage. It shows we have pride in who we are and what our formal attire is to everyone.”
As listed by The Salamanca Press, the Native American students said they wanted to wear their regalia for a number of reasons including to heal historical trauma related to boarding schools; to create unity through diversity and reduced discrimination; to honor their elders and previous Native American graduates; and to inspire younger Native American students to continue with school and to one day wear their regalia at graduation.
“Something for the little kids to look up to. What else is there?” board member Kerry John told The Salamanca Press. “If you’re going to graduate wearing your traditional outfits and these kids see that, it may be enough to keep them in school. I love it.”
Watch the Native American students give their presentation to the Board of Education in the video below: