There are various state and federal laws that protect public school students’ rights to wear tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies.
Fourteen states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington) have laws that specifically protect the right to wear tribal regalia. Unfortunately, some of these protections apply only to certain items of cultural regalia or only to certain Indigenous students (e.g., those enrolled in a federally recognized tribe).
Religious freedom laws in many states may offer another source of legal protection for public school Indigenous students who believe that wearing tribal regalia is an important part of their religious or spiritual practice.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may also provide protections, especially where public schools allow other types of adornment for graduation caps and gowns but prohibit tribal regalia.
In addition, a federal law known as Title VI prohibits federally funded schools (whether public or private) from discriminating based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. Even if schools do not intend to discriminate, if their policies disproportionately and negatively affect students of a particular race, ethnicity, or national origin, the policies will likely be considered discriminatory. School policies that prevent Indigenous students from wearing tribal regalia may violate this law.