On the Terrell Mall, dozens of students, faculty and staff listened to the Nez Perce Flag Song, then joined hands in a circle dance. The Student Diversity Center in Spokane hosted a showing of the film Columbus Day Legacy followed by a discussion. Meanwhile in Vancouver, the Cowlitz Indian tribe sponsored an invocation, drumming, snacks and a presentation by Udall Scholar Emma Johnson.
Celebrations continued throughout the day on October 14 as the WSU system observed Indigenous Peoples Day for the second time. President Kirk Schulz signed a proclamation in 2018 declaring the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The day’s activities are designed to educate the community and celebrate the culture and contributions of Native Americans and other Indigenous people.
“To have that acknowledgement that there’s a different story, a different history is significant,” says Zoe Higheagle Strong, executive director of Tribal Relations and director of the Plateau Center for Native American Research and Collaborations. “It’s not discounting what other folks may see, but up until this time, our story and our experiences have been discounted. I think having that public acknowledgement from our leaders brought a lot of emotion last year, and I would say was one step toward healing.”
There are 851 undergraduate and graduate students of Native American descent in the WSU system. Strong and her office are aiming to boost that number by further engaging with high school students and building connections between the University and their communities.
Indigenous Peoples Day is one of many ways the WSU system is engaging the Native American communities in our state.
WSU Pullman welcomed more than a dozen students from Inchelium High School on the Colville Reservation to join Monday’s celebration and get a taste of life on the WSU campus. In Vancouver, the University community was invited to meet members of the WSU Vancouver Native American Community Advisory Board. Along with the film screening, the WSU Spokane community took part in a potluck dinner and a presentation on the History of the Spokane Tribe of Indians at nearby Gonzaga University.
November is Native American Heritage Month, and WSU Tri-Cities has several events planned at the newly opened Mosaic Diversity Center. WSU Pullman will host the Exploring College Emerging Leaders (EXCEL) program in early November, hosting high school juniors and seniors for college orientation, STEM-focused workshops and an introduction to WSU’s resources for students.
Native American Programs is a key component of WSU’s land grant mission. Faculty and staff are getting involved and making a difference.
More than 30 faculty members took part in the initial Center for Native American Research and Collaboration Affiliates and Associates retreat in September. Many of those faculty members are engaged in projects that benefit regional tribal communities and the program is designed to help participants identify funding opportunities and establish community partnerships.
“These are faculty that are going above and beyond to get additional training to improve their collaborations with tribal communities,” Strong says. “Our office has always provided that, but we’ve been more intentional about reaching out to faculty and being vibrant in grant activity and research.”
For more information on WSU’s Native American programs, visit native.wsu.edu.