On May 16, 2019, Larissa Waln (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) walked towards the auditorium with her fellow seniors, her deep purple graduation cap adorned with intricate bead work done by her father, Bryan Waln (Rosebud Sioux). Her cap was adorned by an eagle plume gifted to her by family to honor the achievement of her high school graduation. However, instead of celebrating, Larissa was turned away at the door by a school official who told her she could not enter with her cap adorned and would have to trade it for a blank one. She declined and walked back past her fellow graduates, devastated that she could not celebrate her Native American culture and religious beliefs with her family.
Hearing her story, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and Rothstein Donatelli LLP were moved to take action. Together NARF and Rothstein filed a lawsuit against the Dysart School District to protect the right of students like Larissa to celebrate their religious beliefs and their academic achievements, exercising their right to do so, a right protected by the Constitution. After several years of litigation, including a successful Ninth Circuit Appeal, on April 18, 2023, Larissa and Bryan Waln announced their agreement to settle their lawsuit against the Dysart School District.
“We commend the Walns for standing up for their rights and cultural practices. While Larissa cannot go back in time to attend her graduation ceremony, she can take comfort in the knowledge that future students will be able to celebrate their religious beliefs and their academic achievements,” said Rothstein Donatelli Partner April Olson.
Read more about Larissa's story here:
Native Religious Freedom Lawsuit Settles After Raising Awareness - Native American Rights Fund (narf.org)
Indigenous student settles lawsuit against Arizona school district (azmirror.com)