Administrators at schools in the Cherokee Nation's 14-county jurisdiction may have been a little surprised by a Tribal Council action that allows Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. to withhold funds from institutions that aren't sensitive to cultural, religious and historical elements, or that shrug off anti-Native issues.
But to use an ages-old expression that's somewhat crude but pithy: They were asking for it.
For years now, the Cherokee Nation has been propping up schools in the 14 counties, and tribal officials were happy to do it. After all, many students in these schools are Cherokee, especially in this county. The Cherokee Nation wants to make sure its young people get the best education possible, and if non-Native students benefit from the extra money put into the tills, that's a good deal for everyone.
And it's a good thing the tribe has been generous with its money, too, since the state of Oklahoma has steadily trimmed its education budgets, leaving many school districts starved for funding. Time after time, teachers have explained how if it weren't for the Cherokee Nation, critical programs would have been trimmed or eliminated altogether.
But the ongoing brouhaha over whether graduating seniors can wear eagle feathers with their caps and gowns, along with a number of other issues, apparently spurred Cherokee leaders into action. To put it bluntly, school administrators who don't respect Native traditions shouldn't have their hands out for Native money.
Thus, the council agreed this week to modify the Motor Vehicle Licensing and Tax Code, which will give the Hoskin administration more control over which schools get the annual infusion of cash. Although he hastened to add that no "egregious" situations have occurred thus far, there's no guarantee that won't happen.
Examples were given of such situations: "Schools that prohibit native students from wearing cultural or religious regalia during graduation or other milestone events; schools that refuse to address issues regarding native mascots and logos; and/or schools that refuse to properly address other issues affecting Cherokee students."
Every spring, high-profile cases are in the news when a public school's administrators are so rigid that they refuse to allow Native students to alter their graduation garb in any way. Every student's outfit should look the same, they insist - even though honor students, athletes and others are allowed to wear ropes, belts, and special tassels. Why shouldn't Native students be able to express pride in who they are?
The bottom line is, schools that receive funding from the Cherokee Nation or other tribes should make reasonable accommodations for Native students. In fact, even schools that don't benefit financially should do the same. There are times for unity and collective behavior, but there are also times when individual choices should take precedence. Showcasing the symbols of a heritage that is far older than any school policy falls into the latter realm.