The 2023 Salem-Keizer Native Education graduation celebration was similar to many others in the sense that the McNary High School auditorium was filled with happy families waiting for their graduate to walk, and graduates making last minute adjustments to outfits and hair while waiting to proceed in. There, the similarity ended.
The graduates did not wear gowns, and although every graduate dressed according to personal taste, tribal regalia was prevalent and proudly worn by many of the students. Many of the graduates also wore ribbon skirts or shirts and other tribal apparel. Graduates sported long braids wrapped with tribally significant materials. Beaded moccasins were seen peeping out from underneath skirts.
After lots of happy chattering and laughing, Native Education staff began to herd the 52 graduates into a line to proceed into the auditorium from the cafeteria behind the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde Color Guard who led them into the auditorium. Then, the drum circle Turquoise sang and drummed a song for the graduates, and the ceremony commenced with all present swelling with pride to see the young graduates lined up before them, their futures bright.
As each graduate crossed the stage, they were presented with a Pendleton wool stole, and were given a beaded simulation eagle feather (real eagle feathers cannot legally be given unless inherited or possessed by the graduate’s family) and were able to shake the hand of the two school board members that were present.
Afterwards, the cafeteria was loud with the sound of happy families relaxing with the graduates, snapping pictures, laughing, eating cake, and consuming heaping piles of delicious fry bread and a chili bar for all to enjoy and socialize.
Laura Tesler has lived in Salem, Oregon for 20 years and is originally from Flint, MI. Laura has been an underwater photographer for 15 years, and is an avid scuba diver. Topside, she has been taking photographs since age 12, and currently works on assignment for the Salem Reporter, and full time purchasing land for fish and wildlife habitat in the Willamette Valley. Laura attended Oregon State University, and has traveled extensively all over the world and the United States.