Maddy Jeans: fighting for a seat at the table


A Pima Community College student was honored by the college for her pivotal role in changing the graduation policy of Tucson Unified School District, allowing Native American students to wear culturally significant attire at their graduation ceremonies.

Maddy Jeans, a 2017 graduate of Pueblo High School and current Pima student, was instrumental in bringing the issue before TUSD. At a TUSD board meeting on Dec. 11, Jeans and fellow members of the TNYC spoke in support of changing the district’s policy on graduation attire.

“I was the student that emailed and contacted all of you my senior year to be able to have this opportunity for all native youths in your district,” Jeans said at the meeting. “I wanted to do this, because I felt like throughout my life, I did not get to be raised up traditional and I wanted to do this for all the youth that did.”

It all began with Jeans, who worked with another Pueblo student, Lourdes Pereira, to enact the policy change in the largest school district in Tucson. The change allowed students to wear culturally significant attire to their graduation ceremonies without prior approval from the school.

“I got a lot of help from Lourdes Pereira, who joined me in this effort. I got lots of support from Pueblo MEChA my senior year and, eventually, a few members from the Tucson Native Youth Council and the TUSD students in Tribal Images Youth Council,” she said. “The students were able to get signatures from their peers and we gave them to the board.”

Before the policy change, TUSD students had to obtain approval from their school in order to wear tribal attire to their graduation ceremonies. She said this was problematic, as students had to “sneak” in their attire and “hide their shells and then break them out in the middle of walking.”

“That shouldn’t be something we have to do,” Jeans said. “We were here before everyone else was here. It’s not a disrespecting look. We’re not disrespecting anybody. That’s just our uniform. It’s a cultural thing. They worked hard to graduation, so why take that away from them?

“That’s a milestone for our youths, especially because our youths don’t have the best education. Our youth are trying to fit into this Western way of education, and it’s a lot for us to adapt to, sometimes. And I know we’re trying to change that. We’re trying to do a lot for our youths and make them feel like they can do this; they can graduate and they can go to college. But I know for a lot of youth, it’s kind of hard. So that’s like a big milestone.

“That’s a big deal for us to graduate high school. That’s a big deal for us to go to college.”

The board voted unanimously to permanently adopt the policy change.

Jeans is the secretary for the Tucson Native Youth Council, an organization of young Tucson residents who are members of various Southwestern tribes, including the Tohono O’odham, Hia-Ced O’odham, Yaqui, Navajo and Mescalero Apache.

Their goals are to “address local and national issues related to Native Americans and indigenous peoples of the world” and “develop leadership and professional skills of our youth members through hands-on experiences through volunteerism and internships.”

Jeans hopes the graduation policy at Pima is similar to that of TUSD, but “better and more inclusive. It took a lot for TUSD to finalize the policy in the first place.”

“I feel like a lot with American policy that has to do with Native peoples, it’s about language and how you write things out … the language of how people talk about Native people is in the past, like we’re not here,” she said. “We’re right here. Our students are here. And they want to have their own seat at the table.”