Watchlist: ‘Farmington High School graduate told to remove Native American beaded graduation cap’

05.31.2024 Kamiah Koch Watchlist


By Kamiah Koch

Social media/digital journalist

An Indigenous high school graduate’s story was picked up by news channels all over the country after school staff removed her graduation cap adorned with traditional Native beading and a feather instead of a tassel.

According to KRQE, a local New Mexico news channel, the Farmington High School staff deemed the cap broke the ceremony dress code, which did not allow personalization of cap and gowns.

A viral video of the incident shows staff asking the teen, Genesis White Bull, to remove her beaded cap during the national anthem and handing her a plain cap to wear.

Photos from the ceremony are included in the video showing other students with decorated caps who were not asked to remove them.

“We are not going to ask anymore how to be Hunkpapa Lakota,” White Bull’s mother Brenda White Bull said. “They don’t have the right to tell me or my daughter how to dress, how to adorn ourselves. All that was put into that beadwork, everything that symbolizes, was done with prayer from my family to give to her.”

KRQE reports that the school put out a statement justifying the removal of the cap due to the school policy that cap and gowns can’t be altered.

However, the school did acknowledge the situation could have been handled better.

“White Bull says the law supersedes school policy and says in taking the cap away the staffers violated New Mexico law which is similar to the Federal Crown Act but also includes headdresses,” KRQE reported.

New Mexico Senator Harold Pope Jr. sponsored the legislations and was interviewed by KRQE.

“The intent was to make sure something like this didn’t happen,” Pope said. “I understand there are rules, there are things that happen at schools, but we also have New Mexico law and we want to protect folks from being discriminated and being harmed on their cultural and religious beliefs.”

Farmington High School sits at the border of the Navajo Nation Reservation and is surrounded by several other reservations in New Mexico.

Bordering the Grand Ronde reservation is Willamina School District, where most Tribal students living on the reservation attend school.

Smoke Signals reached out the Willamina High School Principal Jami Fluke to ask what their policy is for graduation caps.

“One of the things I really love about graduation is it is a very formal ceremony, yet each student is allowed to decorate their caps to make it very personal.” Fluke said in an email. “Some students wear other decorations (weaves, flowers, sashes, etc.) that reflect their heritage or represent something that their family gave them for the ceremony. Our Native students (especially) start coming in early to see if they can get their caps so they can have them beaded, which takes extra time.”

You can watch the entire video “Farmington High School graduate told to remove Native American beaded graduation cap” from KRQE at