The Cherokee Nation is considering legislation to create a right to withhold funding it gives public schools if they are not "proactive in addressing anti-native issues."
That includes instances where schools prohibit native students from wearing cultural or religious regalia at graduation.
"This language was added to address those situations where we have had schools either try to make a student cut their hair or not allow them to wear eagle feather, not allow them to wear their Cherokee stole," said Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Ross Nimmo.
The proposal could also affect schools that refuse to address issues of native mascots and logos. Cherokee Nation earmarks 38% of its car tag revenues for public schools with tribal citizens enrolled. This year, that's totaled $5.7 million across 108 schools.
Nimmo said the tribe can't take back money once it's been granted.
"But what we can tell them is, 'If you don’t fix this policy within your school, then next year, you’re not going to get this money because you’re not allowing Cherokee students to exercise their cultural and religious practices,'" Nimmo said.
The tribe petitioned the school board in Vian last year over its decision not to allow students to wear eagle feathers at graduation. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sent the school board a letter supporting Cherokee Nation's position.
The proposed law includes any federally recognized tribe. Nimmo said that’s an important distinction.
"Because we don’t want someone arguing that because they are a member of the Missouri United Cherokee that they should be able to wear an eagle feather at graduation. We — and eagle feathers are specifically limited to members of federally recognized tribes," Nimmo said.
In addition to granting the tribe power to withhold funds, the proposed legislation broadens the use of the 5% of the tribe's education funds earmarked for science, technology, engineering and math instruction. It would allow those funds to also be used for teaching Cherokee language, culture, and history, or for truancy programs.
The Council of the Cherokee Nation may vote on the legislation next week.