Native American Student Services honors graduating seniors; history made with eagle feather dedication

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Lawrence High School senior Inila Brave is set to give a speech at her school’s commencement ceremony next week, an honor that she said the Lawrence school district’s support program for Native American students helped prepare her for.

“I remember being in NASS (Native American Student Services) when I was in the fifth grade all the way til now,” Brave, Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Lakota, said. “In Lawrence, it’s actually really inclusive. It feels like we have a family, and I know because of my culture, it has pushed me to be more outgoing.”

Nineteeen Lawrence High School and Free State High School graduating seniors were honored on Wednesday evening at the NASS senior banquet. NASS provides representation — to practice their cultures openly — and support for students identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native, who make up approximately 5% of students in the district, according to the district’s website

Brave, who plans to attend the University of Kansas in the fall and major in behavioral science, along with her fellow NASS classmates celebrated their accomplishments on Wednesday with family, friends, district staff members and community supporters surrounding them.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times

Eagle feathers, representing the highest honor for an outstanding accomplishment, were dedicated to each graduate during a special ceremony at the banquet. They were each given a star quilt, also. This is the first year the district has publicly gifted Native American students with eagle feathers to wear for graduation, marking an important historical moment for the city and the state.

Steve Cadue, Elder of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas and community advocate, stressed the importance of knowing history — knowing that Native Americans students have historically been stripped of their freedoms to exercise their traditions openly, he said. Many states still ban Native American students from wearing cultural regalia to graduations. In Kansas, state agencies and municipalities are not allowed to prohibit anyone from wearing traditional regalia at a public event, according to a statute passed in 2021, which a Lawrence student lobbied for.

“Each of you graduates have received a very sacred, special gift — it’s one of the highest gifts our Indian people can give each other,” Cadue said as he led the eagle feather ceremony. “You should place it in a prominent place, and take care of the eagle feather. Use it for guidance and for prayer.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Steve Cadue

Out of the 574 federally recognized tribal nations in the United States, approximately 120 are represented within the Lawrence school district, NASS Coordinator Kenny St. Pierre previously said. NASS this year has held activities for Native American students, including tutoring sessions, basket weaving, dancing, community service, guest speakers, college visit trips to Kansas State University and more.

St. Pierre, Ihanktonwan/Yankton Sioux, gave an emotional speech during the banquet, noting the pride he feels seeing his students prepare to graduate and witnessing the historical significance of the eagle feathers being gifted to Lawrence high school students.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Kenny St. Pierre gives a speech during the NASS senior banquet.

“I think [the emotion] comes from being excited to see them going on their next journey, wherever that is, and then also just there’s a historical piece of Indigenous students having a lot of traumatic events happen, so I think it’s a combination of that and just seeing where we are right now,” St. Pierre said.

“Each student is gonna have their own individual path, and hopefully they have somebody to talk to wherever they’re gonna go, and if they don’t have anybody to come talk to, they could reach back out to NASS. I’m more than happy to help them out, because I’ve been there.”


Guest speakers, including state Rep. Christina Haswood, Diné, and Lawrence school board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood, enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas and affiliated with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe in Kansas, also shared words of wisdom during the banquet. Haswood and Cadue-Blackwood graduated from Lawrence Public Schools in 2012 and 1993, respectively.

“To see this room filled with such unapologetic determination and resiliency is awesome,” Haswood told attendees.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Christina Haswood, left, and Carole Cadue-Blackwood speak during the NASS senior banquet.

Lawrence High senior Leonard Littlejohn, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said his favorite moments in high school came from seeing friends in his school’s hallways and constantly forming new connections, and he was a member of the Intertribal Club. After graduating, Littlejohn plans to work over the summer and then attend Haskell Indian Nations University in the fall, most likely majoring in business. 

“[Graduating] is a lot of fun — kind of exhilarating,” Littlejohn said.

After graduates were recognized, attendees reminisced over a slide show that displayed childhood and current photos of each graduate and listed their post-high school plans. Food made by Jason Champagne, Citizen Red Lake Band of Chippewa, owner of Native Chef LLC, was then served, and attendees took lots of photos throughout the night.

Lawrence High senior Kalea Daboda, Southern Paiute from the Moapa Band in Nevada and Native Hawaiian, is a self-described “choir kid.” She won the outstanding member award at her school’s final choir concert this year. She was also involved in volleyball for one year and was co-president of the Friendship Bracelet Club.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Lawrence High senior Kalea Daboda receives her star quilt during the NASS senior banquet.

Daboda plans to attend KU in the fall and major in art history with a minor in psychology, and she thanked NASS for the love and support it provided throughout her time in the district.

“Being in NASS is so special,” Daboda said. “I remember seeing all of these people here at the ceremony since I was little, and it’s really a welcoming and fun family environment that I am able to have and I feel privileged to have.”

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Note: This post has been corrected from a previous version.

Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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