The below article about CPN tribal member Laney Baumfalk appeared in the March 29, 2019, edition of the Beatrice Daily Sun newspaper. It has been reprinted here with permission from the editors.
Along with the typical cap and gown, Beatrice High School senior Laney Baumfalk will be graduating with a special stole to celebrate her heritage in the Potawatomi Nation.
“Students that are of Native American descent and can prove that descent are actually citizens that have dual citizenship,” Principal Jason Sutter said. “They are both United States of America citizens — they’re also recognized as a citizen within their nation.”
Sutter said he was approached by the Baumfalk family last fall about allowing Laney to wear a stole.
“We had a good conversation. We talked about what that meant to her and her family — what that means to the Potawatomi Nation when a student goes through a graduation ceremony,” Sutter said. “What we did was we agreed to look into it some more, and to delve into what that would look like and what that could possibly mean if the school would be interested in doing something like that.”
During the Board of Education committee of the whole meeting, Sutter brought an amendment to administrative regulation 5225, which described the graduation dress code.
“It basically says that we recognize the historical significance of the Native American nations within the boundaries of the United States and the state of Nebraska,” Sutter said.
The amendment would allow students to wear “traditional tribal regalia as recognized as a religious or cultural significance as an adornment” during the graduation ceremony.
Sutter said that students would have to present proof of Native American or tribal membership and show what the regalia is and how it is to be worn. Sutter and the administration would then have the ability to approve or disapprove the request.
“In this case, the stole has been requested, and we feel that based on how that’s been described and shown to us through pictures, that would be appropriate,” Sutter said. “It would not be a huge distraction to our graduation ceremony.”
Baumfalk said wearing the stole at graduations means a lot to her.
“It represents who I am, and I’m proud to be a Potawatomi,” Baumfalk said.
Sutter said that this is the first time in the 20 years he’s been at the high school that a request has been made to wear a heritage stole. He said due to the narrow focus of the amendment, it will keep students from making other additions to their caps and gowns.
Students are not allowed to decorate their caps for graduation, but the regulations allow cords for National Honors Society members and a medal for students with a 3.5 or higher GPA.
However, several members urged Sutter to state a deadline for students to make requests to allow enough time to evaluate each case.
“I think what I’ve seen over the years, if there’s going to be anything that gets brought up, it will get brought up before one week out,” Sutter said. “We would still maintain our graduation ceremony to the highest degree, as I know the board members expect us to, and I think it’s the right thing to do.”