LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Students identifying as indigenous people would be permitted to wear indigenous clothing and bring traditional objects to school and school graduation ceremonies under new house bills. 

House Bill 4854 defines an indigenous person as “an individual who identifies as an original or first person of a region or country.”

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“I was kind of surprised that this wasn’t already in law,” Representative Samantha Steckloff  (D-Farmington Hills) said before the committee, “Just a basic overlook is that making sure that we cannot discriminate against [wearing] regalia for graduations.” 

Rep. Steckloff deferred to the following speakers when asked about the history of the practice of discrimination but did share how she had been personally affected.

“There have been many instances In my background in my history of being forced to take off my Star of David necklace at many events and so when I found out that there was still legal discrimination against regalia, it was more of a heart-string issue for me,” Rep. Steckloff said. 

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Representative Helena Scott (D-Detroit) also brought forward a similar bill, HB 4854 which would permit students to wear traditional regalia and bring traditional objects into a school building. 

“This bills recognizes and supports religious, historical, and ethnographical importance of both regalia and traditional objects to indigenous people,” Rep. Scott said, “Indigenous regalia such as headdress and or a ceremonial mask would be allowed at a graduation ceremony, and likewise a feather or beaded sash or cloth would be worn at ceremonies on school property.” 

She also drew attention to the fact Michigan is home to 12 federally recognized tribes, and according to the MI Department of Education, estimates 27,000 students identify as indigenous or tribal affiliation.  A representative from one of the tribes, Nat Spurr, Vice Chair of the Anishinaabek Caucus through the Michigan Democratic party spoke in favor of the bills. 

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“This bill would make non-native students more aware of our culture, of our traditions, it would also I think make life easier for American Indian students at all levels of school,” said Spurr, also a citizen of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, “It would basically facilitate the relationship between American Indian and non-American Indian students for a more positive, successful learning experience for these students.” 

Representative Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) inquired about the scope of the bills. 

“Is this limited to indigenous tribal traditions of the 12 federally recognized tribes or is it more broadly for various ethnic traditions, these bills, do they only speak to indigenous regalia or is it broader?” Rep. Coffia asked. 

According to Rep. Scott, the bills only apply to indigenous people.  HB 4853 applies to both Kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond, while HB 4854 applies to only Kindergarten through 12th grade according to Rep. Scott.  

“I think this is something that is so simple that we can do that would just be incredibly powerful in so many ways, and meaningful to the Native American community here in the state of Michigan and begin to recognize our history here and what we put them through, and again to just shine a light on the pride and honor, and history and culture of folks that we share our land – we share their land [with],” Chair and Representative Carol Glanville (D-Walker) said in closing.

According to Rep. Glanville, the committee intends to vote on the bills next week.