UW Tacoma partnership with Puyallup Tribe taps ancient wisdom for innovations in learning

University of Washington


TACOMA, WASH. — The Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the University of Washington Tacoma are launching a pathbreaking collaboration that aims to infuse Native ways of knowing into UW Tacoma teaching, learning and research.

The effort will be funded initially by a $275,000 grant from the Puyallup Tribe. During a four-year period, the funding will support curriculum transformation, research activity, community engagement and student enrichment.

Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud said that the collaboration highlights the unique opportunity to “meld into academia in a public sphere” the contemporary experience of Native Americans, rooted in an ancient heritage and infused with a cutting-edge entrepreneurialism.

“With an immense amount of pride, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians has committed to spearheading this program as it is essential to educate students about indigenous ways of knowing, modernity of tribal business, and tribal government. We hope that the impact of our funding will cultivate additional support from our fellow Tribes to ensure a sustainable program that will enrich the lives of many students,” said Sterud.

“We as a society have a responsibility: our unseen future must be unified with our past and our present. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians recognizes this responsibility by our support of higher education and our charitable giving. This is how we build bridges toward community success,” said Sterud.

The idea for the collaboration has emerged at a time of increased focus on the importance of sustainability: in business, government, and individual livelihoods. There is a growing awareness that the practice of sustainability can benefit from the insights offered by indigenous knowledge, with its deep place-based roots (often referred to as “traditional ecological knowledge”). UW Tacoma’s 25-year commitment to community engagement is seen by both the university and the Tribe as an opportunity to establish deep and lasting connections among Tribal and non-Indian communities throughout the Northwest.

“The heart of the collaboration between UW Tacoma and the Puyallup Tribe will be the interaction between the tribal communities and the campus community. We hope all our faculty, staff and students will gain a wider perspective on ways of interacting with the world, and we are incredibly grateful to the Puyallup Tribe for supporting this transformational vision,” said UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark A. Pagano.

The grant is intended to amplify the teaching, research and service of a growing cluster of Native American faculty and staff at UW Tacoma. The university recently hired Danica Miller (Puyallup) and Michelle Montgomery (Eastern Band Cherokee; Haliwa Saponi) as assistant professors of Native American studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences; and Michael Tulee (Yakama) as Native American educator in the Office of Equity & Diversity.

The grant will tap into a growing awareness of the parallel and complementary role that traditional ecological knowledge can play alongside “scientific ecological knowledge.” Examples of how the melding of these two approaches has led to better understanding include forest fire management, water resources management, endangered species protection and fisheries management.

“This grant from the Puyallup Tribe will help address one of the greatest barriers faced by Native people today: the lack of information, and the abundance of misinformation, the general public has about tribes and tribal people. As the work of this grant ripples out, our students, faculty and staff will share in a great communal experience with roots much deeper than the 25-year history of UW Tacoma,” said Sharon Parker, UW Tacoma assistant chancellor for equity and diversity.

The Puyallup Tribe has been providing ongoing support to UW Tacoma and the University of Washington overall for many years, including to the UW School of Law, and events at UW Tacoma such as the annual Martin Luther King., Jr., Unity Breakfast and Convocation. This new grant is, by far, the Tribe’s largest investment in the relationship with the university.