Social distancing permitting, Wellpinit students will take field trips to places of cultural significance for their Tribe. Community members will visit classrooms to share Tribal-specific knowledge, melding academic standards to cultural practices like harvesting and weaving traditional tule mats, the lifecycle of salmon and the interdependencies of local ecosystems.
“We wanted to strengthen our culturally responsive and culturally relevant teaching,” said Apolonio Hernandez, Wellpinit’s demonstration grant project director, who, along with Jennifer LeBret (Spokane), director of the Spokane Tribes Native Youth Community Project and Wellpinit's Indigenous curriculum director, contributed to the new Spokane Tribal Lifeways curricula. “We were looking for a partner to help center us and to help us think critically about what that really meant and looked like.”
That partner was the UW College of Education’s Native Education Certificate program — the centerpiece of the College’s recently formed Indigenous Education Initiatives (IEI), comprised by Associate Professor Filiberto Barajas-López (P’urhépecha) and fellow faculty members Dawn Hardison-Stevens (Omushkeg Cree, Ojibway, Cowlitz, Steilacoom), Anthony Craig (Yakama), Emma Elliott-Groves (Cowichan) and Dana Arviso (Diné).
Centering Tribal knowledge
Wellpinit enrolled a total of 29 educators in the very first cohort of the two-year certificate program — comprising more than 50 percent of the first cohort’s participants. The group started their studies in 2016 and received their certificates in 2018.
“The team was composed of many different folks and system partners,” Hernandez said. “We had non-Native teachers from the school district, community elders, community members, Tribal department staff, and educators from the early learning center — it really was a well-rounded group of people brought together to better center Spokane practices into their learning environments.”
Barajas-López said a prime focus of the certificate program is to help educators on all levels, like Wellpinit’s team, learn how to connect and engage with local Native communities. Another focus is changing the conversation about where and how learning should happen for Native kids.
"IEI is taking an approach of true partnership and solidarity. Rather than what can be a common western approach of the academy being seen as the carriers and transmitters of knowledge, IEI believes that for us to be of service to communities, we have to listen, learn and flex to approaches that are centered in the community."
Anthony Craig (Yakama)
Director and Professor of Practice
Leadership for Learning, EdD program
“There’s a history of engaging with western school systems that hasn’t produced very positive outcomes and experiences for Native communities,” Barajas-López said. “We know Native youth confront immense pressure to conform to a western system — but how about we center Native perspectives and amplify the role of Native culture, language and identity in the work?”
Hernandez said that, besides the new curricula, the Wellpinit District added another significant element to its system after the certificate program.
“One really great thing that happened is that now our instructors are out there working with the community and a position was created after the certificate program to support centering Spokane Tribal ways of knowing,” Hernandez said.
“It has really helped our teachers and other educators in the system partner with community differently.”
"It is my hope that the IEI can continue to develop and strengthen the relationships that the College of Education has with Tribal communities in the area. In order to do this, we need to collaboratively develop agendas that serve the needs of our Indigenous communities from their own perspectives."
Emma Elliott-Groves (Cowichan)
Building on momentum
“It’s important to note that all the momentum for this work that we’re now calling the IEI is built on previous work by Native faculty members here at the College — Megan Bang and Beth West,” Barajas-López said. “They, along with Dr. Dawn Hardison-Stevens and Dr. Emma Elliot-Groves, spent a lot of time building important relationships with different Tribal communities and Native education leaders throughout the state and country.”
Their departure from the College left a big vacuum, Barajas-López said. But the momentum they’d created got a boost when the College’s 2018 faculty retreat was led by Native educators from all over Washington, who taught faculty in an immersive setting about Native issues and history.
“That was a very powerful experience that helped faculty members — and everyone in the College — to begin to think about our collective responsibility to the original inhabitants of these lands,” Barajas-López said. “It helped reframe how folks think about their work in education.”
The commitment to centering Native education and connecting it to the College’s mission, he noted, has opened up other kinds of very powerful conversations and actions.
“And it’s not just a few folks. It’s science education, math education, climate change education,” Barajas-López said. “I know there are faculty members here who are engaged in all that work directly with Tribal communities — which is something that didn’t exist 10 years ago.”