Navajo fam­ily awaits school sys­tem de­ci­sion on moc­casins for grad­u­a­tion

North Point se­nior ar­gues footwear, dress have cul­tural, reli­gious sig­nif­i­cance

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

A North Point se­nior and her fam­ily are await­ing an ap­peals de­ci­sion from Charles County Pub­lic Schools re­gard­ing the wear­ing of gar­ments of sig­nif­i­cance to her Navajo her­itage.

Dy­lan McCabe, 18, and her fam­ily met with school sys­tem of­fi­cials to seek a reli­gious and cul­tural ex­emp­tion to the grad­u­a­tion dress codes that would al­low her to wear her moc­casins and leg wrap­pings, along with her Navajo dress, which has al­ready been ap­proved. A de­ci­sion was ex­pected late Tues­day af­ter press time.

“There was no res­o­lu­tion as of yet,” her mother Jac­quetta Swift said fol­low­ing the meet­ing Tues­day af­ter­noon. “It doesn’t seem like such an is­sue, but it has be­come an is­sue.”

CCPS spokes­woman Katie O’Mal­ley-Simp­son said Tues­day that if the ap­peal is re­jected, the fam­ily can make a fur­ther ap­peal to the board of ed­u­ca­tion, which would be heard Wed­nes­day.

McCabe, a se­nior at North Point High School, said the dress and moc­casins are an ex­pres­sion of her cul­tural and reli­gious iden­tity.

McCabe said she had ini­tially planned to wear her cer­e­mo­nial dress and moc­casins on grad­u­a­tion with­out seek­ing per­mis­sion, but af­ter read­ing sto­ries of other peo­ple across the coun­try who had run into dif­fi­cul­ties at grad­u­a­tion un­der sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, in­clud­ing a 2005 in­ci­dent in Charles County, McCabe said she de­cided last week to speak with her prin­ci­pal first.

“I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal,” McCabe said. “I thought North Point

was dif­fer­ent in the way they em­brace so many dif­fer­ent cul­tures and di­verse view­points.”

The school’s grad­u­a­tion dress code states that fe­males must wear black dress shoes, ei­ther flats or heels no higher than two inches.

Swift said she was told that her daugh­ter’s re­quest to wear the dress un­der her grad­u­a­tion gown would be granted, but her re­quest to wear the moc­casins and leg­gings that go with it was de­nied.

“It would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to wear just one as­pect of the out­fit. They com­ple­ment each other, and they are in­ter­re­lated. It is im­por­tant that they be pre­sented to­gether,” Swift said.

“They were bought by my grand­par­ents,” McCabe said. “I know how much they helped me and how much strength they gave me.”

Swift said she be­gan the ap­peal process Fri­day, sub­mit­ting a writ­ten re­quest to Sylvia Law­son, as­sis­tant

su­per­in­ten­dent of school ad­min­is­tra­tion.

On Sun­day, McCabe said she de­cided to start an on­line pe­ti­tion on Change. org. She said she didn’t ex­pect such a huge re­sponse over the Memo­rial Day week­end, but by af­ter­noon Tues­day the pe­ti­tion had gar­nered 4,919 sig­na­tures.

“We were try­ing to keep up with all of the com­ments, and like ev­ery sin­gle one, be­cause they were all pos­i­tive, but peo­ple were com­ment­ing ev­ery few sec­onds,” McCabe said.

As a Navajo, McCabe said she wore the dress and the moc­casins for her Ki­naalda, a four-day reli­gious comin­gof-age cer­e­mony for Navajo girls.

The four-day cer­e­mony in­volves per­form­ing a num­ber of tra­di­tional tasks, in­clud­ing grind­ing corn and

run­ning three times a day, to sig­nify the change from a girl to a young woman, McCabe said.

“It’s to per­son­ify and ex­em­plify the strength and en­durance of a young Navajo woman,” McCabe said.

On the last day, af­ter stay­ing up 24 hours, she ran 3 miles in the Ari­zona desert, she said.

“It is def­i­nitely the hard­est thing I’ve ever done,” she said.

The cer­e­mony draws from the Navajo story of Chang­ing Woman, the pro­gen­i­tor of the Navajo peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to their cre­ation story. McCabe said that dur­ing the Ki­naalda, the young girl rep­re­sents Chang­ing Woman and is con­sid­ered sa­cred. The out­fit and moc­casins are meant to re­flect what Chang­ing Woman wore.

“She is con­sid­ered holy dur­ing that time, she is the em­bod­i­ment of Chang­ing Woman. Peo­ple come to her for bless­ings, and she is able to be­stow that on peo­ple at that time,” Swift said.

“Navajo cul­ture and re­li­gion are one and the same,” added McCabe. “This is not just my cul­tural and tra­di­tional cloth­ing, it is also my reli­gious cloth­ing. Deny­ing me the right to wear this is deny­ing my reli­gious free­dom.”

She said it has been dif­fi­cult be­ing Navajo in an area with such a small Amer­i­can In­dian pop­u­la­tion.

“Be­ing a Na­tive per­son in a pre­dom­i­nantly non-Na­tive com­mu­nity, ex­press­ing my­self and my tra­di­tion and cul­ture and fam­ily way of life is a lot harder. I’ve met a ton of peo­ple who’ve never met a Na­tive Amer­i­can be­fore, who didn’t think Na­tive peo­ple still ex­isted, or who say ig­no­rant things,” McCabe said. “Be­ing able to walk across that stage in some­thing that in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to me, cul­tur­ally, tra­di­tion­ally, re­li­giously, that’ll be a big mo­ment for me, be­ing able to wear some­thing that has car­ried me through other rites of pas­sage.”

McCabe said she hoped the event would be a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the school sys­tem and the pub­lic about Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture and be­liefs.

“Hope­fully, it will change some­thing and get peo­ple to see Na­tive peo­ples in a dif­fer­ent light, ed­u­cate peo­ple on Na­tive cul­tures and maybe get peo­ple to see things dif­fer­ently,” McCabe said.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

North Point High School se­nior Dy­lan McCabe shows the moc­casins she was de­nied per­mis­sion to wear to grad­u­a­tion this week.

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