Maryland School Bans Use of Native American Headdress

Photo by Dan Gross Students of Linganore High School in Frederick, Md. cheer at the beginning of a home game against Oakdale High School on Oct. 7, 2016.

FREDERICK, Md. — A headdress worn by the leader of the student section during athletic events at a Maryland high school has been banned.

Nancy Doll, principal of Linganore High School in Frederick, Md., confirmed this week that the school would not allow the Native American headdress to be worn by students as it has been in years past. The decision came after increased complaints had been made to school administrators about the headdress being offensive to Native Americans.

“We want our school to be a welcoming environment to all students and we felt this was the best way to make sure all students felt welcome at school,” Doll said. “After researching what [Native American] headdresses mean to this culture, we felt it was best to get rid of it.”

Two petitions have been created – one to encourage the ban on the headdress and another to oppose it – and have each garnered more than 1,500 signatures. As of Thursday evening, the petition to bring back the headdress had garnered 1,948 signatures — most of which were from community members and alumni.

The majority of the signatures supporting the ban of the headdress came from people who were spread across the country or throughout the world.

“I understand that some people find it offensive,” said Linganore senior Jacob Garwood, who was recently elected chief.

“We never meant to offend anyone, but we take a lot of pride in this tradition and it means a lot to us. I hope there is a way we can work something out so we can keep the tradition but allow everyone to feel welcome.”

Each year, students vote on an incoming senior to become the “chief” of the student section, which is dubbed “the tribe.” That students dons the headdress for each football and basketball game.

Native American regalia has been a hot-button issue nationwide, with much of the talk revolving around the use of the Washington Redskins team name and logo. Last week, the Bethesda Beat reported that Green Acres School, a private school in Montgomery County, Md., will not allow students or staff to wear Redskins gear to school.

Frederick County Public Schools Communications Director Michael Doerrer said the school system is not banning Redskins gear at its schools, nor is it getting involved in this particular issue at Linganore.

“This does not violate the FCPS dress code and is being handled as a school issue,” Doerrer said.

The Linganore mascot and logo have been subjects of local debate for years. Most recently, in 2002, a Montgomery County resident tried to get the logo changed because he said it was offensive to Native Americans.

In 2013, a Linganore journalism student, Noah Ismael, published a column examining the racial implications of the school’s mascot and logo.

Doll said Wednesday that the school will not ban the mascot or logo, or abandon the team name “Lancers.” The headdress will be the only thing removed.

Headdresses in Native American culture were often designated for the chief of a tribe. They often consisted of many feathers, which, depending on the bird or circumstance, were often considered sacred. Feathers were often accumulated in battle.

“We see feathers as gifts from the creator,” said Juan Boston, vice chairman of the board of directors at the Baltimore American Indian Center.

Receiving an eagle feather is seen as sacred, and one of the highest honors one can receive, said Boston, who is the uncle of a Linganore graduate. To earn enough feathers to fill a headdress like the ones often seen in popular culture, one would have dedicated years of service and battle to the Native American community.

“I’m 58, and in my life, I have received one eagle feather,” Boston said. “When you see some people wearing one jumping around like a monkey yelling like an idiot, it is disrespectful to our culture. It’s like if someone were to wear an Army general’s uniform and parade around jumping and yelling making a mockery of it. The outcry would be incredible.”

The school is exploring possible alternatives, including the use of a spear for the student leader, Doll said. The school is also considering putting the headdress in a display case with an explanation of the heritage and Linganore’s relationship with Native American culture to make a “Heritage Room,” Doll said.

Boston said if the headdress were authentic, he would expect Native Americans would be pleased to see the headdress displayed in a protective enclosure.

But many members of the Linganore community believe the tradition should be able to continue because it enhances school spirit.

Harry Rasmussen, who was the chief last year, said wearing the school headdress was one of the main factors that helped him acclimate to a new county when he started at Linganore as a freshman.

“I understand that it may be offensive to some people but it has been, in my opinion at least, the biggest tradition Linganore has,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been passed down for more years than I know. It’s not meant to be demeaning or have bad intentions. It symbolizes the school as one. We are all one tribe at Linganore, and I think the headdress just sort of completes that. We all respect the headdress and who’s wearing it. We understand it means something.”