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Hundreds march in Farmington in solidarity with Lakota graduate

The supporters of Farmington High School graduate Genesis White Bull march and descend down the hill on 20th Street to Dustin Avenue on Saturday. Marchers went from Brookside Park to the high school campus. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)
Navajo Nation officials and American Indian Movement show up

The Farmington Police Department, Navajo Nation Police and New Mexico State Police on Saturday blocked traffic at Dustin Avenue and 20th Street as hundreds of people marched to show solidarity with a Lakota student whose beaded and plumed graduation cap was seized by faculty during commencement.

On Monday, Genesis White Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, graduated from Farmington High School after her cap, which was beaded around the rim of the mortarboard with an aópazan – the Lakota term for a plume or feather worn in the hair – was confiscated by faculty during the national anthem and replaced with a plain cap.

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After seeing the removal of the cap, White Bull’s mother approached the two faculty members and requested that she remove the aópazan herself. That’s when, White Bull’s mother said, the faculty member used scissors to cut the aópazan off the cap.

Navajo Nation first lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren said she learned about the incident as the Tri-City Record article garnered attention on social media and online in the Four Corners. She watched a video of the incident the next day.

Plans for the protest also were announced Friday.

A crowd began to form before noon Saturday, some wearing traditional regalia, graduation cap and gowns in support of the White Bull family. Others wore shirts with messages about Indigenous issues and carried American Indian Movement flags. Signs read “End Bordertown Violence” and “Religious Freedom is Non-Negotiable.”

Amber Crotty, a Navajo Nation Council delegate representing seven chapters, told the Tri-City Record that the families asked the community to rally for Genesis White Bull and her ability to express herself as a Lakota woman.

Supporters of Genesis White Bull (standing at right), a Hunkpapa of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, gather Saturday at Brookside Park in Farmington. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)
Francis Mitchell (right), U.S. Marine Corps veteran, gives a brief overview of injustices Native Americans have overcome in the United States. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)
Navajo Nation first lady Jasmin Blackwater-Nygren speaks with Genesis White Bull and her mother, Brenda White Bull, during the rally. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)
Marchers in support of Farmington High School graduate Genesis White Bull carry a tribal flag for the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Tribal. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)
Supporters of graduate Genesis White Bull march from Brookside Park to Farmington High School on Saturday. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)
Graduates Ciara Francis (Bloomfield High School), Tiara Scott (Charlie Y. Brown High School) and Aakiyah Gonzalez (Northern Arizona University) wear their caps and gowns and stand with Farmington High School graduate Genesis White Bull after the rally Saturday. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)
Brenda White Bull, a Hunkpapa of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, speaks during a rally in support of her daughter Genesis, who was forced to remove her beaded cap and eagle feather during the commencement ceremony Monday at Hutchison Stadium. (Curtis Ray Benally/Special to the Tri-City Record)

“We believe they're violating our New Mexico law, Indian Education Act, and then some of the findings of the Yazzie/Martinez versus State of New Mexico case, which really highlighted the type of discrimination that our Native Americans are facing. It’s not going away,” Crotty said.

She said the schools are trying to say the issue has been addressed by an Equity Council.

“We wouldn't be here today if these systemic issues were being addressed. … We would have proper protocols and reviewing all of these policies to make sure that it was in the best interest of our Native Americans students,” she said.

According to Crotty, Genesis White Bull was being honored through her regalia and was bestowed the eagle feather because she earned it. The beadwork on her cap was bestowed by her family.

“That's why we need them to look at their policies and procedures and then follow New Mexico law and also federal laws that provide freedom for our children,” Crotty said.

Shortly after 3 p.m., John Franklin, American Indian Movement president based in Shiprock, opened the proceedings by uplifting the crowd, as they responded with hoots, hollers and cheering.

He advised everyone to drink water as the temperature rose into the mid-80s.

During the proceedings, a man fell to the ground and appeared unconscious. He was quickly attended to by people nearby who checked his breathing and pulse and administered CPR.

A San Juan Regional Medical Center ambulance and Farmington Fire Department engine arrived within 10 minutes, and paramedics placed him on a gurney and took him away for treatment.

Ruth Buffalo of North Dakota said she and Brenda White Bull were among five women who jumped a fence to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“We come from Sitting Bull’s people, and we stand up for others, and we're so honored that all of you are here today to stand with us,” she said.

Blackwater-Nygren said the purpose of the march was to stand in solidarity with Genesis White Bull. Acknowledging the frustration and anger, she advised everyone to remain peaceful and strong and to not escalate the situation.

“Let's remember how we celebrate identity of people, and that means sometimes wearing a regalia, wearing feathers, eagle plumes and beaded graduation caps,” Blackwater-Nygren said.

Police Chief Steve Hebbe was posted in the intersection of 20th Street and Sunset Avenue as the crowd gathered at Farmington High School.

“I’m pleased with it. I thought it was a good day. Folks had a chance to come out and you know, make their feelings known, but it was orderly, and our officers were out here to make sure everybody stayed safe,” Hebbe said.

Participants represent segments of society

A diverse crowd took part in the rally and march – educators and students, protesters and health providers, family and friends.

Clifford Jack, AIM member from Shiprock, said he took part in demonstrations in Farmington when he was 7 years old.

Clifford Jack, American Indian Movement, said he was on hand to assist with security. (David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record)

“Its unfair, ongoing colonial settler mindset … brings back a lot of stuff that happened in 1974,” Jack said.

He said he was there also to provide security.

Michael J. Roy, AIM member from Shiprock, followed marchers up the hill on 20th Street toward Farmington High School. He said up to 50 AIM members provided security.

Christine Bennally of Shiprock said, “I just strongly feel that, you know, education is a place where everyone is unique. You're supposed to help students, youths grow individually.”

Mallory Owen, a student from University of New Mexico, said, “People should be able to represent themselves however they want, and we should not be forcing everyone into our colonialist frame of reference.”

Red Dawn of Shiprock said it was traumatizing to see the video of what happened to White Bull, and it reminded her of how her ancestors were victimized.

Anya Ashley, mental health therapist with Farmington Municipal Schools, came out to support Native youths.

“Unfortunately this has to happen, but at the same time I’m so glad that the community is here in support,” she said. “But in no way this whole situation should have happened.”

Gary Montoya, Central Consolidated School District board member, showed support of Indigenous students after seeing the incident on social media. He said it weighed on his conscience.

“It literally made me sick,” he said. “Because of what I do and championing for these kids, at CCSD 95% of our student population are Indigenous students.”

Considering the large Native population in Farmington schools and in the city of Farmington, Montoya questioned why this would happen.

“To the people, to the families, to the students – do not surrender your identity,” he said. “Be proud of who you are.”

Aaliyah Gonzalez of Farmington marched to support the resistance of colonial institutions and policies.

Gonzalez graduated this month from Northern Arizona University with a bachelor’s degree in women and gender studies and a minor in Spanish. At commencement, she walked with a beaded cap made by a community member and with an eagle feather. She said she didn’t remember seeing other Indigenous representation.

“It felt great but also did kind of feel lonely being the only Indigenous person,” she said. “But luckily it was protected by Arizona policies.”

At Friday’s march, Gonzalez wore her jingle dress regalia along with the cap, gown and institutional stoles. Her stoles designated her inclusion to the Indigenous convocation ceremony, the LGBTQ+ ceremony and the Mexican American community.

Her jingle has a significance in the Lakota tribe of healing, Gonzalez’s mother said.