The Cherokee Nation may cut off funding to school districts that refuse to honor Native American cultural practices, and that certainly seems like a justifiable move.
For some Oklahoma school districts, Cherokee car tag revenue has become an important source of funding. Cherokee Nation gives 38% of its car tag revenue to qualifying districts and charter schools — those with Cherokee students and inside the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. In 2019, the tribe distributed $5.7 million to 108 districts and charter schools.
But some schools refuse to allow simple cultural practices, such as wearing regalia during graduations. The kindest reading of those choices is that they are motivated by excessive devotion to discipline and uniformity.
Under unanimously approved legislation, the nation’s principal chief is authorized to cut off tag money to schools that resist tribal efforts to allow students to express their cultural pride. The legislation urges engagement and counseling first, but allows the chief to take necessary steps against schools that resist.
That’s a reasonable process that recognizes that the tribe’s first interest is in better schools for its children, but insists that the goal can be accomplished at the same time that Native American traditions are respected — and they can.
As we’ve asked when the issue rose before, what possible damage could be caused by allowing young Oklahomans to celebrate their academic accomplishments, their beliefs and their diversity?
The tribe’s money gives it leverage over the schools, which would be well advised to listen.
But the better reason for allowing for modest cultural expressions of Cherokee heritage is because it’s the right thing to do.