On the second Monday of October 2014, Seattle became the third place in the United States to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The process to end the celebration of a genocidal, slave trading, lost navigator was strenuous, but thanks to tireless work by activists like Matt Remle and many others, the proclamation was voted on by the Seattle City Council and signed into law by Mayor Ed Murray in 2013.
“People ask, ‘Why Indigenous Peoples Day and why not American Indian Day or Native American Day?’ It’s only appropriate that we honor the legacy of the work [that’s been done],” explains Remle. “It’s not only honoring legacy, but when we say ‘Indigenous peoples,’ it’s referring to more than just the tribes of colonized United States. We’re talking about all Indigenous peoples who’ve been impacted by settler colonialism around the world. We want to represent and acknowledge the Taíno, they’re the ones that first faced Columbus.”
Over the past four years, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement has spread to over 70 places in the United States, while locally becoming a day to celebrate global Indigenous cultures. On Monday, October 8, Indigenous people and allies from around the Pacific Northwest gathered at Westlake Park, on ancestral Duwamish land, for a march and rally to celebrate the 5th year Seattle has celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day. More than 200 people marched in heavy rain from Westlake Park to Seattle City Hall, where a rally of celebratory song and dance was held.
In the evening, the festivities continued at Daybreak Star Cultural Center with an honoring celebration for Native communities in the Puget Sound Region. Sponsored by Tulalip Tribes community impact funds, the Daybreak Star gathering included hundreds of urban Natives, dancers from a variety of tribal nations, and non-Natives who wanted to share in the memorable event.
“When we have an honoring gathering in our community, it is a way for us to show respect, to listen, and to acknowledge the incredible work our people do for one reason and one reason only – the love of Native people,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, emcee for the Daybreak Star celebration.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) honor song kicked off the evening, followed by Taíno dancers, and then a riveting performance by Indigenous Sisters Resistance. After a short intermission, a truly captivating fire ritual was performed by the Traditional Aztec Fire Dancers. The overflowing crowd was treated to performances by Haida Heritage and a powwow squad as the evening’s finale.
“It’s been a beautiful day to see so many Indigenous people come together and be filled with so much joy,” shared 19-year-old Ayanna Fuentes, a member of Indigenous Sisters Resistance. “Our younger generation is growing up not knowing what Columbus Day is, and that’s an amazing thing.”
“It’s also a celebration of the amazing resiliency of Indigenous peoples, period,” added educator and activist Matt Remle. “Despite the Euro colonizers greatest efforts at mass genocide, disposition, slavery, and assimilation, we as Native peoples are still here. Native communities continue to fight to protect the land, air, and waters. We continue to live traditional roles and responsibilities, which have been passed down from our origins as a peoples since the beginning of creation. We continue to sing our songs, relearn our languages and express ourselves through our dances and cultures.”
A variety of States, cities, towns, counties, community groups, schools, and other institutions observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 8th. They all did so with activities that raised awareness of the rich history, culture, and traditions of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
In 2014, the Seattle City Council unanimously elected to replace the national holiday known as Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday which celebrates Native American culture. It is no secret, in fact the atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus are well-documented. Under the name of colonization, Columbus and his crew raped, murdered and enslaved thousands, if not millions, of the Indigenous People who inhabited his ‘new-found land’.
Even though his crimes are well-documented, the majority of America seems to conveniently forget about his actions, often romanticizing his voyage and ‘discovery’ as the birth of a nation. Although several cities recently followed Seattle by declaring the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day, many Americans refuse to acknowledge the Italian explorer’s dark history and are upset that people are electing to celebrate Indigenous culture instead. This year, a Native American statue in Texas was vandalized with red paint, the vandals left behind a cross with a message that simply read ‘Columbus Day’ next to the statue.
President Donald Trump recently stated, “The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great nation. Therefore, on Columbus Day, we honor the skilled navigator and the man of faith, whose courageous feat brought together continents and has inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions – even in the face of extreme doubt and tremendous adversity.”
Due to schools nationwide inadequately teaching the history of Christopher Columbus, he is perceived by many as a stand-up guy; it may be years before the entire nation collectively agrees otherwise. However, Indigenous Peoples Day promotes awareness and education about Columbus, while celebrating the Native American culture, heritage and traditions.
On October 9, the United Indians of All Tribes gathered at Westlake Center in downtown Seattle and marched to City Hall. Throughout the march traditional songs and dances were on display as tribal members from across the nation, many in full regalia, celebrated being Indigenous. Upon reaching City Hall, local Indigenous leaders shared words of excitement, gratitude and encouragement with fellow marchers.
Following the march attendees were invited to a traditional salmon dinner at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center. Hundreds of local-based Natives attended the celebration at Daybreak, where special performances including songs, dances and poetry were shared. United Indians honored several community leaders with blankets designed by Eighth Generation by Louie Gong. In a Facebook post Hunkpapa Lakota member and local Native American Activist, Matt Remle, shared his feelings regarding this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration.
“I would like to express my deep gratitude to all those I had the opportunity to work with this year on our fourth annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration. We jammed for a good twelve hours from the streets of Seattle to Daybreak Star and it was all beautiful. Much behind the scene work goes into organizing these gatherings and so many are responsible for pulling it off – all for the love of who we are. I seen non-stop smiles, pride, joy and many tears. To all the singers, dancers, cooks, organizers much love, appreciation and gratitude. We’ll keep putting forth that good transformative energy as we live our values, roles and responsibilities daily. We’ll grow stronger, united for our children and grandchildren. They are watching and waiting. Hecetu welo.”
Seattle has become the third major West Coast city to declare that homelessness has reached a state of emergency.
Mayor Ed Murray today declared a state of emergency due to homelessness in Seattle—following similar moves in Los Angeles and Portland—and King County Executive Dow Constantine did the same in the county.
To address the emergency, Murray announced $5.3 million in new one-time money that will go toward homelessness services over the next few months. Constantine also pledged $2 million total toward services like law enforcement diversion, housing vouchers, and shelter beds, though some of that is already included in his budget.
Government officials often declare states of emergency about natural disasters in order to “highlight the gravity of the challenge and make formal requests for assistance from the state and federal governments,” Constantine said at today’s announcement at the downtown YWCA. “Homelessness is not a natural disaster. It is a human-made disaster.”
The crisis is undeniable: During this year’s one-night count, 3,772 people were sleeping outside in King County and 2,813 of them were in Seattle. That was a 21 percent increase in the county and 22 percent increase in the city over last year. According to the mayor’s office, 66 homeless people have died in the county so far in 2015, 47 of whom lived on the streets or in homeless encampments, and 3,000 Seattle Public Schools students are homeless.
Constantine said 35,000 people in King County become “newly homeless” every year.
“Thirty-five thousand,” Constantine repeated. “That is the population of a city the size of Issaquah.”
YWCA CEO Sue Sherbrooke, who spoke in support of the declaration of emergency, said her organization provided case management or shelter for 7,500 people last year. She said homelessness falls “disproportionately [on] women, men, and families of color.”
Murray said he wouldn’t consider an end to the state of emergency until the region sees a “significant reduction in the number of people dying on our streets—and I mean significant—and a significant reduction in school-age homelessness.”
So, what exactly does it mean for the city to declare a state of emergency?
Declaring an emergency—a move usually reserved for “civil unrest, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack,” the mayor said—allows the city to move more quickly to fund homelessness services and is basically a cry for state and federal help in addressing the problem. Service providers and local government officials have criticized the federal government for reducing the amount of money it spends on housing and homelessness services, leaving local government to shoulder those costs. As part of the emergency declaration, the mayor said he would also ask the federal government to make FEMA assistance available for homelessness.
“We must get this issue back on national agenda,” Murray said. “It’s foolish to believe cities alone in isolation can solve [homelessness].”
Both Constantine and Murray cited federal disinvestment along with increasing income inequality, a lack of services for mental illness, and a national heroin epidemic for worsening homelessness.
The new $5.3 million, which is a separate pot of money from the ongoing discussions about the mayor’s budget, will come from the sale of excess city-owned property on Myers Way South, according to the mayor’s office. It will be spent on a slate of servicesmostly focused on case management, outreach to people living on the street or in encampments (including illegal makeshift encampments), and 100 new shelter beds with limited hours for one year. The money will also fund some sanitation needs like Honey Buckets and trash removal, but where those will go remains unclear.
Technically, the property on Myers Way hasn’t yet been sold yet, according to the mayor’s office, so the city’s profit is estimated. That means the city is essentially lending itself the money for these homeless services and plans to repay itself after the sale of the property.
Murray called the declaration “risky” because “the orders you can issue under state of emergency are extensive,” including closing businesses or issuing curfews. He isn’t using those powers here, but did promise to consider bypassing zoning restrictions or speeding up permitting processes to create new shelter space for children.
The state of emergency declaration also allows the city to spend money more quickly by simply directing it toward service providers instead of going through the standard contracting process.
That puts most of the responsibility for figuring out the specifics—like where the Honey Buckets and new shelter beds will go or who will be hired for case management—on the city’s Department of Human Services. HSD Director Catherine Lester said after the mayor’s announcement that the shelter beds will be focused on a population that is currently unable to access already existing shelter, like couples, people with pets, or people with certain criminal histories. (Which population is yet to be decided.)
“We really want to make a dent on those things that are keeping people on the streets,” Lester said.
The city council will have to approve legislation authorizing how the $5.3 million is spent, which Council President Tim Burgess pledged to do quickly. Six council members, including Burgess, stood with the mayor at his announcement today. Council Member Mike O’Brien called homelessness a “tragedy in a city that can create so much wealth.”
The list of funding is largely focused on immediate needs—not that surprising for a state of emergency—rather than long-term preventative services, although both Murray and Constantine emphasized the need to address root causes of homelessness.
Constantine said he and Murray spoke directly with President Barack Obama about the issue when Obama visiting Seattle recently.
“He was very aware and concerned not just with increase of homelessness nationally…but also with the particular increase in homelessness in West coast cities,” Constantine said. “We are joining with other West Coast cities to say this time is different. Something different is going on here.”
“If it be admitted that education affords the true solution to the Indian problem, then it must be admitted that the boarding school is the very key to the situation,” Indian School Superintendent John B. Riley wrote in an 1886 reportto the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
“Only by complete isolation of the Indian child from his savage antecedents can he be satisfactorily educated.”
Such was the prevailing attitude of Indian Affairs agents during the federal boarding-school era: That America’s First Peoples were a problem to be dealt with, that America’s Manifest Destiny required Indigenous Peoples to be remolded and assimilated into the mainstream—even if it meant forcibly removing children from their families.
It wasn’t until 1978—118 years after the establishment of the first American Indian boarding school—that Native American parents gained the legal right, with the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act, to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation schools.
“Some Native American parents saw boarding school education for what it was intended to be—the total destruction of Indian culture,” the American Indian Relief Council reported on its website. “Resentment of the boarding schools was most severe because the schools broke the most sacred and fundamental of all human ties, the parent-child bond.”
On October 12, council members in one of the largest cities in the U.S. took a step toward helping to heal the wounds from the boarding school era.
The City Council of Seattle, Washington, approved a resolution“acknowledging the various harms and ongoing historical and inter-generational traumas impacting American Indian, First Nations, and Alaskan Natives for the forcible removal of Indian children and subsequent abuse and neglect resulting from the United States’ American Indian Boarding School Policy during the 19th and 20th Centuries …”
The resolution calls on the United States to examine its human rights record and to work with American Indian and Alaskan Native peoples “in efforts of reconciliation in addressing the impacts of historical trauma, language and cultural loss, and alleged genocide.”
“The supposed goal [of the boarding schools] was to ‘Kill the Indian, save the man,’ which is tantamount to cultural genocide,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant told LastRealIndians.com. “The resolution will give city officials the opportunity to acknowledge and help heal the deep wounds opened up by the boarding school policy. It is also another step toward getting the city to take real action to address the poverty, oppression, and marginalization that the community faces to this day.”
The resolution was drafted by Matt Remle, Lakota, with support from Seattle lawyer Gabe Galanda, Round Valley Indian Tribes; Seattle Arts Commissioner Tracy Rector, Seminole; the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition; the Native American Rights Fund, and other members of Seattle’s Native community. The resolution was sponsored legislatively by Sawant.
The resolution vote took place on Seattle’s second annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The day included a rally and march to Seattle City Hall, drumming and songs, a keynote address by Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe, and a celebration at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.
During the boarding school era, “roughly 100,000 American Indian children ages 5-18 were stripped from their homes and placed in remote boarding schools,” Remle wrote on LastRealIndians.com. “Native languages, spirituality and customs were outlawed, physical and sexual violence was rampant.”
It’s a subject known all too well by the First Peoples of the Seattle area. Seattle, named for the mid-1800s leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish peoples, is the largest city in a state with 29 federally recognized Native nations. The first American Indian boarding school in the United States was established at the Yakama Nation in eastern Washington in 1860; the Tulalip Mission School, operated by the Catholic Church, was established three years earlier and was the first contract school for Native American children.
In her book, Tulalip, From My Heart, Harriette Shelton Dover (1904-1991) wrote of harsh discipline, poor diet and inadequate care, of tuberculosis and pneumonia and childhood deaths.
Helma Ward, Makah, told Carolyn J. Marr, an anthropologist and photographs librarian at the Museum of History and Industryin Seattle, “Two of our girls ran away … but they got caught. They tied their legs up, tied their hands behind their backs, put them in the middle of the hallway so that if they fell, fell asleep or something, the matron would hear them and she’d get out there and whip them and make them stand up again.”
“They were not allowed to speak their language there,” Inez Bill, Tulalip, told KING 5 News, Seattle, of her grandparents’ boarding school experience. “When you lose your language, you lose your culture. It left our people scarred.”
Fast forward to today: The children and grandchildren of those who were forced to attend boarding schools and were banned from speaking their languages have taken control of their own children’s education, are showing that their culture has an important role in education and that it can build bridges of understanding in communities.
Almost 65,000 students in Washington identify as Native American or Alaskan Native, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. OSPI’s Office of Native Education was created in the mid-1960s to help Native students achieve their education goals and meet state standards. The office provides resources and training to help educators and families meet the needs of Native students, builds curriculum in Native languages and about Native culture and history, and works to increase the number of Native educators.
Eight Native nations operate their own schools in Washington, according to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. School districts near reservations have liaisons to the Native American community and/or partnerships with a local Native nation’s education department. Earlier this year, the state legislature mandated the inclusion of Native American history, culture and governance in the curriculum of local public schools.
During its heyday, the American Indian Heritage Early College High School in Seattle had a 100 percent graduation rate, and all graduates went on to college. The Urban Native Education Alliance is lobbying to have the school reestablished in the new Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, named for the late principal of Indian Heritage and under construction at the site of the former school.
The Suquamish Tribe operates and funds Chief Kitsap Academy, a high-tech, culturally based high school that is part of the Early College High School network. According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, only four of 10 of North Kitsap School District schools and programs met Adequate Yearly Progress goals in reading and math proficiency in 2014—one of those was Chief Kitsap Academy. Students use the latest technology, but are also exposed to cultural teachings and study the Lushootseed language. The school is open to Native and non-Native students.
Northwest Indian Collegehas grown from a school of aquaculture to a four-year college with six satellite campuses in two states. It offers four undergraduate degrees, nine associate’s degrees, three certificate programs, and five other study programs. The University of Washingtonand The Evergreen State Collegehave longhouses that serve as places of gathering and sharing as well as teaching.
A totem at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Washington. (Google Plus/NWIC)
Eaonhawinon Patricia Allen, a University of Washington graduate and community organizer in Seattle, spoke at Seattle City Hall before the City Council’s vote. She later wrote on LastRealIndians.comthat the boarding school era “was one of the last actions made to complete colonization and … to wash the Native identity out of Natives. But I am here to tell you this, and so will my future children: We still survived and are starting the process of healing.”
Canada established a Truth and Reconciliation Commissionto prepare a complete historical record on the policies and operations of residential schools; complete a public report, including recommendations to the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement; and establish a national research center that will be a lasting resource about the Indian Residential Schools legacy in Canada. The commission is reaching out to the public in national and community events, and honoring residential schools survivors in a lasting manner. It is also examining the number and cause of deaths, illnesses, and disappearances of children, and documenting the location of burial sites.
Congress made the second Monday of October a federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus in 1937. To all Indigenous, Native, and Fist Nations people, the commemoration of the man responsible for initiating the European colonization of the Americas, which led to hundreds of years of disease, colonial rule and genocidal extermination following the Italian explorer’s accidental trip to the Americas, is just another reminder of the ‘social silence’ we have had to endure as a culture.
‘Social silence’ is the anthropological term for a phenomenon that occurs in a human society when the subjects that are core to how the society function are exactly the ones that are never mentioned. Because European colonialism of the Americas and the mass genocide of millions of indigenous peoples led to the development of the United States (the beacon of hope, prosperity and freedom of the civilized world), there continues to be ‘social silence’ around the cruel and violent history of the United States, of colonialism, and of one Christopher Columbus.
If we maintain the social silence around colonialism, our past and present will always be bewildering. But if we break the silence, and talk about what truly matters, the confusing swirl of struggle and conflict can suddenly make sense. We become silent no more. We become Idle No More.
Last year, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to change the federal Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, making it the second major U.S. city after Minneapolis to adopt the change. The holiday’s new designation follows a decades-long push by Native American activists in the Coast Salish area to abolish Columbus Day.
Seattle’s decision garnered national media attention and, since then, major cities along the west coast, including Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Oregon, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and San Fernando, California, have passed legislation changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Days. Only days ago, Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed a momentous proclamation declaring the second Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While the state of Alaska is the first to rename the federal holiday, credit must be given to South Dakota, the first state to rename the federal holiday as Native American Day in 1990.
So it was with great pleasure and pride that the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution author Matt Remle, held an all-day celebration in Seattle on the 1st anniversary of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, October 12.
The celebration was comprised of three main events, to which any and all Native community members and supporters were freely invited to. The first event was a celebratory march from Westlake Park in downtown Seattle. Hundreds of people gathered at Westlake Park, most decked out in their Native regalia, and they beat their drums and sang as loud as they could while marching to their Seattle City Hall destination.
The second event took place in the Bertha Knight Landes room of Seattle City Hall, where Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrators were greeted by the Seattle Mayor and Seattle City Councilmembers.
“Last year we took a historic step in the city of Seattle, and today it is an honor to be here and be with all of you to celebrate the 1st anniversary of Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” said Seattle Mayor Edward Murray. “It marks a new history in the city of Seattle and continues our dialogue with the tens of thousands of Native Americans who call Seattle home. It goes without saying that the history of this city is intertwined with the history of our Native peoples. We know we face challenges with the institutional discrimination that remains today, in housing, addiction and education. We will continue to work on these issues in Native communities. If anywhere in the nation we can make progress on these very challenging issues, it’s us. We have an incredible heritage of tribal communities who have been groundbreaking and leading this state long before my ancestors were here. Going forward, we have a lot of healing to do, but today we are here to celebrate. Today we are here to honor. Today we are here to say Indigenous Peoples’ Day is more than just a day, it’s every day.”
Lunch, consisting of salmon chowder, frybread, and a healthy fruit salad, was served to all those in attendance.
Following lunch, a very passionate, keynote speech was given by Winona LaDuke. She is a member of the Anishinaabe nation from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota and is renowned for her activism on behalf of indigenous people and the environment. She is also a two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate.
“What a great day it is. It is so happy, so liberating,” marveled LaDuke. “On our march here I noticed ‘Columbus Day Sale’ signs in the windows of some stores, and I was thinking does that mean I can walk around those stores and take whatever I want?”
“It is so liberating for me to be here and celebrate with you all in just how awesome it is be Indigenous people. You know, it’s always perplexed me how someone can name something as large as a mountain or sea or an entire day after someone as small as a human. It changes how people view things when everything is named after all these white guys. We are just beginning. There is a lot of work ahead in the renaming and recovering and restoration of our homelands. In doing so we remember our ancestors. In doing this we honor all those before us, all those here, and all those yet to come. And we reaffirm our place here as a people who remember, as a people who do not suffer from historic amnesia. We are a people who live today in a civil society who knows where it is exactly and is willing to be healthy, healthy and beautiful.”
“We are living proof that it is possible to live in a worldview that does not include empire, the destruction of our Mother Earth, and being ran by the morally corrupt oil and pharmaceutical companies,” continued LaDuke to a crown of cheering Native community members and supporters. “As we open our minds here I’m really honored to be with you in Seattle, a place that is in process of deconstructing the colonial renaming of our mountains, rivers, and oceans. I have great admiration and respect to y’all out here for standing up in what you know is true and being here to celebrate this great day.”
There was an evening celebration held at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center that consisted in Native and Indigenous people from all over the nation performing their cultural songs and dances, not entertainment, but to celebrate each other. Celebration in recognition of a day that not only provides us with a platform to raise awareness, but it also commemorates a history of survival and perseverance.
Seattle’s newest middle school will be named for the late Robert Eagle Staff, Lakota, principal of American Indian Heritage High School from 1989-1996.
The Seattle School Board voted June 17 in favor of the naming. “The extensive community engagement naming process has resulted in majority support to honor the accomplishments and legacy of a great educator, Robert Eagle Staff,” said Jon Halfaker, executive director of schools for the Seattle School District’s Northwest region.
“It’s huge” for the Native community, said the late principal’s son, Louis Eaglestaff, who spells his name as one word as his father did. Eaglestaff said the district chose to spell Eagle Staff as two words, out of respect for the wishes of family members in South Dakota who spell it that way.
No matter. “Even though he did so much for students, the school name is validation that [his legacy] is always going to be there,” said Eaglestaff, a kindergarten teacher in nearby Bellevue. “I don’t need validation, because what he did was enough for us. But it’s something to be proud of.”
Robert Eagle Staff Middle School will be built at the site of the former Wilson-Pacific School, which housed American Indian Heritage School. The new middle school will have room for 850 students, as well as 150 from the American Indian Heritage School program. It is scheduled to be completed in 2017.
The former Wilson-Pacific School site is important to Seattle’s Native community. It is the site of a spring, called Licton (Liq’tid), which is historically and culturally significant to the Duwamish people. American Indian Heritage hosted powwows and cultural programs for young people, and the buildings featured Native-themed murals by artist Andrew Morrison, Apache/Haida. The walls with the murals are being saved and will be incorporated into the new school buildings.
Getting the school named for Eagle Staff was part of a long effort by the Native community—an effort that continues now in trying to rebuild the American Indian Heritage program.
The school board’s vote “is the culmination of a two-year campaign which included active lobbying, a documentary, online petitions, many phone calls, tons of letters written in support, and community meetings,” wrote Sarah Sense-Wilson, Lakota, chairwoman of the Urban Native Education Alliance.
“The next fight is having a Native-focused high school in [Eagle Staff] school.”
During Eagle Staff’s leadership, American Indian Heritage High School had a 100 percent graduation rate with all graduates going on to college. Eagle Staff, a University of North Dakota Hall of Fame basketball player, passed away unexpectedly at age 43, and enrollment in the school he led started to decline amid changes in funding and program support.
The school buildings fell into disrepair as the district diverted funding to other priorities. By 2012, plans were developed to build a new school to accommodate projected enrollment growth and alleviate overcrowding in three other middle schools. In 2013, voters approved a capital levy to fund construction of several new schools and to modernize others. In 2014, the American Indian Heritage School program was merged with a program from another school, also closed for new construction, renamed Licton Springs, and moved temporarily to another site.
“Licton Springs is going to take another 3-5 years of development to reach a level of Native focus we think is authentic,” Sense-Wilson wrote in an email. “Still no Native staff, no language, no cultural programming at Licton. A majority of the kids are non-Native.”
Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland recommended the school board name the school in honor of Eagle Staff based on input at community meetings and comments from 190 members of the public. Supporters at the final community meeting on May 4 included members of Eagle Staff’s family. Only three people at the meeting spoke in favor of naming the school after another nominee, Dr. Caspar Sharples, an early 20th century Seattle physician and co-founder of Children’s Hospital. Other names considered included Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually (1931-2014), treaty rights activist and environmental leader.
A 660-student elementary school will be built adjacent to Robert Eagle Staff Middle School. The school board voted to name it Cascadia, after the geographic bioregion that includes Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Other names nominated included author-poet-playwright Sherman Alexie, Spokane; author-poet-actor Maya Angelou; Josephine Corliss Preston (1873-1958), the first woman elected to state office in Washington; and Dr. Caspar Sharples.
Several indigenous nations have ties to Seattle, including the Duwamish Tribe, the Muckleshoot Tribe, and the Suquamish Tribe. Of 92 public schools in Seattle, only four have indigenous names: Leschi, the mid-1800s Nisqually leader; Sacajawea, the Lemhi Shoshone interpreter and guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition; Chief Sealth (an anglicization of Si’ahl), the mid-1800s leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish; and Eagle Staff.
For the 2015 edition of Best of Seattle, the Seattle Weekly staff looked back on the past year and selected the five innovations that we feel will do the most to make our city better. This is one of them. To read the rest of Seattle’s Best Ideas, go here.
When I call Matt Remle, he asks me to hold on for a second.
“I’m doing homework with my boy; I just have to tell him he gets a free break for a minute,” he says, chuckling. Remle, a Lakota man and the Native American Liaison at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, is often in the midst of homework, whether he’s helping students or his children or doing it for his own edification. As a Seattle correspondent and editor for the indigenous online news outlet Last Real Indians, he often digs deep into history. He aims to make connections to the present day in an attempt to tell stories that span centuries instead of moments, he says. In his mind, learning and telling stories about one’s ancestors is a necessary pursuit.
It’s a view he sees slowly trickling into the mainstream here in Seattle. “I think non-Natives are looking for a different voice and a different perspective,” he says.
Later today, Remle will visit Seattle City Hall to start planning the 2015 Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration, a very new Seattle holiday he was instrumental in creating. Last September, Remle wrote the resolution and led the campaign to replace Columbus Day in Seattle with Indigenous Peoples’ Day—a motion unanimously passed in October by the Seattle City Council. During the campaign, Remle weathered personal attacks and phone calls from outraged opponents who claimed replacing Columbus Day was “focusing on the negative” and “preposterous.” The most intense opposition came from local Italian-heritage groups.
A drum circle gathered outside City Hall before the first hearing for the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution. GIF by Kelton Sears
During one of the initial September committee hearings on the resolution, Sons of Italy member Tony Anderson told the City Council, “I pray you observe the same courage Columbus did in that summer of 1492.”
The request was a curious one given the grisly history that Remle soon shared with the Council, which came from Columbus’ own journals.
The explorer’s records, along with the writings of the crew and the Spanish friar Bartolomé de las Casas who accompanied Columbus on that fateful voyage, detailed firsthand accounts of their brutal acts. Remle told of the enslavement, rape, torture, and genocide of the Arawak people they encountered in the summer of 1492. Beheadings of young boys “for fun”; lurid blow-by-blow tales of forced sex with 9- and 10-year-old girls, the casual day-to-day dismemberment of dozens of Arawak simply “to test the sharpness of their swords.” The list goes on. By the end of it, 80 percent of the Arawak people had been killed. These clearly were not the stories Anderson had heard.
He, like the rest of Americans who go to public school, was likely taught the cute rhyme most of us know: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The explorer met the “Indians,” “discovered” America, and brought back gold. He was a hero, the father of the great “New World.” As Anderson understood it, Columbus was courageous.
During Remle’s recitation of Columbus’ acts, one man at the committee hearing screamed, threw his hands up, and left the room. “That’s insulting! I’ve had it!” As the meeting adjourned, the same man cornered Remle in the council chambers and told him he should “get some education” and that his comments about Columbus were derogatory to Italians.
“When you question the prevailing narrative, people have this angry reaction,” Remle tells me. “For me, personally, when I started learning these histories that are swept under the rug and not taught, I was kind of pissed. I felt lied to. Maybe bringing the Native history in will open peoples’ eyes that there is another narrative out there.”
In the past year, people in Seattle, and in Washington at large, have also started to realize that, maybe, the stories they’ve heard about the places we live and the people that came before us aren’t the whole picture. Seattle’s historic passage of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a celebrated international victory, making headlines in Europe and Canada—but it was met with some skepticism. A recurring question: Isn’t Columbus Day a trivial holiday anyways? Who cares?
If it actually was trivial, the passage of Indigenous Peoples’ Day probably wouldn’t have set off the wave of outraged and openly racist Internet comments, radio talk, and media coverage that it did. According to Tulalip Senator John McCoy, part of America’s difficulty with confronting its colonial history is that it’s ugly. Listening to indigenous stories is hard for non-Natives.
“A lot of the things that have happened to tribes, since European contact to today, are not pleasant,” McCoy says. “A lot of history books only talk about how the ‘bad’ Indians fought the settlers trying to tame the Wild West. But the Indians had to protect their land, their resources, because these folks were actually invaders. They weren’t explorers or pioneers, they were invading a country, a territory. Granted, there are some tribes that didn’t do nice things. But I always say that when you teach history, you have to teach the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
In 2005, McCoy, a member of the Tulalip tribe and the only Native in the Washington state senate, sponsored a bill mandating that Native history be taught in public schools. To his dismay, at the last minute, the legal language was changed from “mandatory” to “encouraged.” It took him 10 years of educating his fellow senators to muster the votes for a mandatory tribal-history bill—which he finally achieved this March in the landmark SB5433 (passed 42-7), making Washington the only state in the union besides Montana to require such instruction.
“I have a fellow Democrat, I won’t say who, that always fought me over tribal sovereignty,” McCoy says. “I got up to give my floor speech, and about a third of the way through, because he didn’t sit far from me, I actually heard him say ‘Oh, now I understand.’ ”
In addition to authoring legislation, McCoy also helped develop “Since Time Immemorial,” a free tribal-history curriculum with the help of Denny Hurtado, the now-retired director of Indian Education for the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Together, McCoy and Hurtado, who is of the Skokomish people, cover everything from the Coast Salish economies and governance systems before European contact and the early Indian boarding schools that forced cultural assimilation on tribal youth, through treaty-making, treaty-breaking, tribal sovereignty, and Indian relocation, all the way up to today’s urban Native issues, including indigenous activists’ increasingly vital role in environmental actions. In teaching Native history, the hope is that students will start to understand and recognize that there is also a Native present, that indigenous people aren’t just mythic figures in a fuzzy “pilgrims and Indians” past, but active participants alongside non-Natives in the crucial stories we are still writing—stories that directly affect everybody.
The ShellNo protest on May 16 was one of the most visible, widely covered environmental actions in the Pacific Northwest in decades, a feat for an area that’s long characterized itself as an aspiring ecotopia. The vivid pictures of the colorful kayaks rowing out to protest the imposing Shell Polar Pioneer rig set to drill in the Arctic captured the imagination of people from around the world who read headlines about “The Paddle in Seattle.” But it was the juxtaposition of the assembled, mostly white environmental groups with the fleet of traditional wooden canoes of the Lummi and Duwamish that cut the most striking image—a powerful flotilla led by the area’s original inhabitants.
“That’s the way it should go,” Duwamish Tribal Chair Cecile Hansen says. “If [environmental activists] are going to involve the Natives, they should be in the forefront.”
Idle No More, the indigenous activist organization that led the flotilla, gave the ShellNo action the spiritual weight that made it so resonant. Indigenous involvement reframed the discussion from an abstract issue about climate change to a concrete discussion that indigenous people have been trying to start for 500 years: the ongoing pattern of colonization and destruction committed in the name of resource extraction.
To Idle No More’s Washington state director Sweetwater Nannauck, the Tlingit/Haida/Tsimshian woman who organized the ShellNo action, it’s not a coincidence that Shell’s oil rig perched in the sacred Salish Sea was called “the Polar Pioneer.” “I was like, really?” she says, laughing quietly. “That’s what they named it? It continues the same old thing—another ship has come in. So that’s why I say it’s important for us to heal that, my work is as a healer. We’re both active participants in healing, the colonized and the colonizers too. The thing people are starting to see is, the original colonizers have become colonized—now it’s corporate colonization.”
Idle No More has reinvigorated the fight for climate justice in the state by making this very obvious but historically overlooked connection—environmentalists and indigenous activists are essentially fighting the same fight. The problem is that environmentalists have long tokenized Natives in the discussion, painting them as mystical Earth people—archetypal symbols from an imagined past—rather than actively engaging with them as people who exist in the present. Examples abound, from the famous 1970s “Keep America Beautiful” PSA featuring the iconic “crying Indian” (who was portrayed by an Italian actor) to the frequent citation of a moving environmental speech given by Chief Seattle in 1854: a speech that, oddly enough, references trains that wouldn’t be built until years later—perhaps because it was actually written in 1971 by a screenwriter from Texas.
Sweetwater Nannauck at ShellNo. Photo by Alex Garland
“A lot of the times, these organizations think allyship means ‘We’re going to organize everything, and we want you to send a couple of Natives to sing and dance and drum for us,’ ” Nannauck says. “That’s tokenism. I’m about authentically led Native action—we organize it. In the workshops I teach—which a lot of organizers like 350 Seattle, Rising Tide, Greenpeace, and Raging Grannies that participated in ShellNo have taken from me—I teach how to work with Native people, the history of colonization, and how that colonization continues to affect us today.”
“It was always very iffy for tribes to work with environmental organizations because these organizations were arrogant,” says Annette Klapstein, who participated in the ShellNo flotilla as part of the Seattle Raging Grannies. “They would tell tribes what to do, which didn’t go over very well. This new alliance, based on respect and understanding, is so important because these different groups’ goals are much the same, and we are so much more powerful together.”
In late October when the state held a hearing in Olympia to discuss the the impact that oil transport through the Northwest might have, Nannauck contacted the Nisqually, whose land would be most impacted, and organized a rally at the Capitol. After taking her Idle No More education workshops, in which Nannauck teaches non-Native activists how to respectfully work alongside Natives, organizers from the local environmental groups knew to contact the tribes first, asking if Idle No More had organized anything and if they could participate, rather than vice versa. The event was led with Native prayer and drumming that Nannauck and the tribes organized themselves, and Natives made the first testimonies at the rally, which eventually swelled to 350 people.
“I told Sweetwater this later,” Remle says. “ShellNo was one of the first actions of that size where I saw mainstream environmentalists take a back seat and let canoes and local tribes take the lead. It was pretty amazing to see.”
The most important component of Nannauck’s Idle No More workshops is communicating why indigenous activism differs from non-Native activism. Yes, both are fighting for the same goal, but there is a discernible difference in approach. Nannauck doesn’t even call what she does “activism.” Nor does Remle. They call it “protecting the sacred.” The ShellNo story wasn’t the typical angry diatribe pointed at distant oil corporations. As Nannauck puts it, the story that the ShellNo action told was about humanity’s obligation to protect the sacred Salish Sea.
“The work I’m doing is educating both Natives and non-Natives about how the cultural and spiritual work has much more of an impact, not only on the Earth, but because we need to heal ourselves,” Nannauck says. “What people need to understand is that the Earth is just a reflection of us, and that what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves too. I try to educate them about our traditional ways and how that spiritual foundation is what motivates us.”
Nannauck ends her workshops by asking participants about their ancestors. Where did they come from? Did they benefit from the land grabs when they came to America? Were they also oppressed? If you go far back, were they colonized too? These are questions and stories non-Native audiences often haven’t considered. It’s hard to consider stories you didn’t know existed.
“A lot of people start crying because they can feel it,” Nannauck says. “Acknowledging that historical trauma, it’s kind of like a spiritual revival. It’s starting in the Northwest. I believe that’s what’s going on right now. I feel like what we’re doing here, what we’re starting here, could be replicated in other places. It’s not all negative—it’s about healing. It’s about the power of our spirit and our connection.”
On Saturday, July 18, Seattle’s KeyArena was home to the WNBA’s Seattle Storm second annual ‘Native American Heritage Night’, as the Storm hosted the Atlanta Dream and their Native all-star guard Shoni Schimmel. For the second straight year, KeyArena reported a sellout crowd of 9,686 fans against the Atlanta Dream thanks in large part to the growing popularity of Schimmel to urban tribal youth. The sellout crowd was made up primarily of Native American tribes from all over the Pacific Northwest who journeyed to Seattle to root for Schimmel. In fact, every time Shoni “Sho-Time” Schimmel came into the game or had her name announced, the crowd went wild with excitement and joy.
Schimmel, a 5-foot-9 guard, is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and was raised on the reservation just outside Pendleton, Oregon. Many fans in the building wore her image on t-shirts and waved homemade signs celebrating Schimmel. The fan base even helped vote her to next week’s All-Star Game as a starter, but Schimmel is far from the player who last year became the first rookie to win the game’s MVP honor.
Schimmel’s popularity among Native Americans has made her one of the more recognizable names in the WNBA, and nowhere is her popularity on greater display than in her annual trip to Seattle. Fans from as far away as the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana made the journey to Seattle just to watch her play.
Prior to the game, Schimmel spoke on the tremendous outpouring of support she receives on the west coast.
“It’s a bunch of support out there, especially in Seattle. There’s a lot of people coming out there because it’s the closest to home I get to play. My whole family has traveled to Seattle to watch me play, it’s going to be special for me.”
The Tulalip Youth Services department seized the opportunity of ‘Native American Heritage Night’ to provide a fun and exciting activity for our tribal youth. Over one hundred tickets were purchased and given to youth who showed on Saturday afternoon at the Don Hatch Teen Center, where they were then transported via shuttle bus to Seattle’s Key Arena.
According to Shawn Sanchey, Youth Services Activity Specialist, the youth were abuzz all week about the chance to see Shoni play in person.
“The kids all know who Shoni is and the excitement was building all week leading up to the game. A lot of it has to do with her being Native and growing up on a reservation. It helps a lot for the kids to see someone with a similar background succeed on the professional level, she inspires them. They really like her and look up to her,” said Sanchey.
The Storm got off to a scorching start, outscoring the Dream 27-16 in the first quarter. By halftime, the Storm had torched the befuddled Dream for 48 first-half points and took a 48-33 lead to the locker room. All those Shoni fans in attendance were given a very lackluster 1st half performance, as she hadn’t even attempted a field goal.
In keeping with the Native theme of the night, the Storm provided a half-time entertainment consisting of pow-wow dancers and drummers from the Chief Seattle Club, Young Society, and Northwest Tribal Dancers.
After Seattle went ahead by 19 points to start the 4th quarter, Schimmel, who had been held scoreless to that point, finally got in rhythm and displayed why she’s called “Sho-Time”. She recorded all eight of points, two of her three rebounds, and one monstrous block that sent the crowd into a short frenzy during the final quarter. The biggest cheer was when she hit her first 3-pointer with 3:59 left in the game. Her late game efforts come up short though, as the Storm would go onto claim victory after scoring a season high 86 points.
Following the game, many of the fans who came to see Shoni remained in their seats after it was announced she would be addressing the crowd and signing autographs. In her post-game interview, Schimmel took to the mic to talk to the all-Native crowd and thanked them for their support. She was asked about the hundreds of young Native American girls in the stand who idolize her and what message she wanted to send to them.
“I never thought I would be in the WNBA, but here I am. Follow your dreams! Look at me now, this little Native girl from Oregon playing professional basketball.”
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the Port of Seattle can’t host Royal Dutch Shell’s offshore Arctic oil-drilling fleet unless it gets a new land-use permit.
Shell has been hoping to base its fleet at the port’s Terminal 5. Environmentalists have already sued over the plan, saying the port broke state law in February when it signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime, which is working with Shell.
At a breakfast for a clean-energy group on Monday, Murray said city planners reviewed the planned use of Terminal 5 as a base for the drilling fleet and found that it would violate the port’s land-use permit, which allows a cargo terminal on the site.
Shell has argued that its planned activities at the terminal — such as docking, equipment loading and crew changes — are no more environmentally risky than loading or unloading shipping containers.
Dozens of environmental groups including Greenpeace and Climate Solutions have been campaigning against the plan and training for direct action on the water using kayaks and chanting, “Shell No!”
Murray says he thinks the Port of Seattle is in serious trouble, if oil drilling rigs are the only way for it to be competitive.
The oil company wants to base part of its Arctic Drilling fleet at Terminal 5 in West Seattle, before heading to Alaska’s north slope. One rig, the Polar Pioneer, is already in Port Angeles and is waiting for a green light to come to Seattle.
The mayor says the deal is not in line with the region’s values. And the money to upgrade the terminal should be available from other sources.
“This is a city in a region where businesses are developing and choosing to locate here , where international investment is interested in participating. We should be able to build a vigorous port based on other than bringing (drilling) rigs into the city, for just a few years.”
In February, The Port and Foss Maritime signed a two-year contract worth millions of dollars that would be used to upgrade the terminal.