Seal skin and Alaska Native culture adorn high school caps at graduations

Published: Apr. 29, 2019 at 2:53 PM AKDT
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When Jacqueline Morris watched her son walk across the stage during the Service High School graduation, she didn't take any pictures. She was too excited.

"It was an amazing feeling to watch my son walk across the stage in his seal skin cap and his mukluks," Morris said. "It gave me goosebumps."

Morris has lobbied the Anchorage School District through the Native Advisory Committee for about a year to allow changes to be made to the traditional cap and gowns. In her case, ASD allowed her to have a cap made out of sealskin for her son Tigran who at the time was a senior at Service High School.

It's part of a national movement to acknowledge heritage and culture during graduations across the country, with Anchorage among the most recent to sign on.

In Montana, Senate Bill 319 prohibits local governments — including school districts — from barring tribal members and others from wearing items of cultural significance at certain events like high school graduations. Morris would like to see a similar law in Alaska.

"The Anchorage School District is thrilled to announce that ASD graduates will now be able to adorn their customary graduation cap and gown with traditional objects of tribal regalia or recognized objects of cultural significance," ASD wrote on its website. "ASD recognizes the importance of allowing students to celebrate their tribal identity or cultural heritage when participating in their high school graduation ceremonies. While students cannot replace their cap and gown, they will be able to attach something to or wear something with the customary graduation attire."

Morris says she's now working to replace the cap with traditional Yup'ik headdresses.

"This one is sealskin, beaver and wolf," Morris said holding a headdress. "It's a traditional Yup'ik headdress with beads and trim."

She wants her youngest child to be able to wear the headdress when she graduates in 2021 from Service High School. She also wants certain circumstances to allow the gown be replaced, such as when a service member graduates and wants to wear their Dress Blues.

"It just means a lot. We want to identify with our culture and our heritage, and we want to honor that and celebrate that while we're celebrating such an important accomplishment," Morris said, "and by doing this we're hoping we can encourage other Native youth to do the same, to make that goal to graduate from high school."

Students wanting to make alterations to their cap and gown need to submit a

by May 1.

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