Tribal families from all over the Coastal Pacific Northwest gathered on Saturday, April 8 to partake in the Grand Entry that marked the beginning of the University of Washington’s 46th annual Spring PowWow. The yearly UW powwow is hosted by the First Nations @ UW student organization and takes place at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Ed Pavilion.
The purpose of the annual Spring PowWow is to preserve the customs and traditions of the University of Washington Native American community and to promote cultural education and diversity on campus. The powwow is the largest student-run event on campus, attracting over 5,000 people expected to attend throughout the weekend every year.
First Nations @ UW is run by both undergraduate and graduate students of Native and non-Native descent. They hold weekly meetings for Native students to socialize, eat food, and plan events. The First Nations organization often partners up with other Native establishments on campus for field trips and cultural educational activities.
When it comes to cultural activities it doesn’t get any bigger than the coming together of Natives from all across Indian Country to celebrate heritage and pride in the form of a powwow. The indigenous mentality was clearly on display through the traditional regalia, songs, dances, and heartfelt words shared by all those involved.
“It’s just not something you see every day, all these Native people coming together as a community,” said Lyndsey Brollini, a member of the UW student group First Nations and a Haida native. “Powwows have become kind of a pan-Native thing instead of just one tribe.”
Over a dozen Northwestern tribes were represented at the powwow, including the Yakima, Spokane, Quinault, Tulalip and Skokomish Nations. Among this year’s Spring PowWow participants were several Tulalip tribal members (e.g. Myrna Redleaf, Terrell Jack and Jobey Williams) who represented their tribe and heritage proudly on the main stage during the Grand Entry.
The Spring PowWow is a competitive powwow, meaning it includes dance contests according to age (junior, teen, adult, 50 and up) and style. The dancers specialized in a variety of styles: grass, cloth, jingle, fancy, chicken, their regalia reflecting the style. Dancers compete for monetary prizes.
Grand Entry not only opens the powwow, but allows the dancers to showcase their ceremonial regalia for all the spectators in attendance. The MCs announced the Grand Entry in an upbeat, enthusiastic voice, while dancers entered in a line, led by veterans bearing the U.S. and Canadian flags. The arena was filled with Native American dancers of all ages, representing a multitude of styles and regalia. The stage was awash with color and movement, glittering gold and silver, the earth tones of leather and feathers, and all manner of bright colors.
If you had wandered into the UW wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House on Saturday, you would have gotten a taste, quite literally, of ancient tradition. Seal oil, berries, Douglas fir tea, and numerous other plant and animal foods that have nourished traditional Native cultures for millennia were on offer to taste.
The occasion was the third annual summit around indigenous foods held by the UW American Indian Studies department. Panelists invited from across Native North America shared stories, teachings, and insights from their cultures and professional lives.
Michelle Daigle, a coordinator of the summit and Ph.D. candidate in geography at the UW, touched on the sacred place that food holds in indigenous cultures, and how traditional food practices have been threatened historically by logging, mining, the fur trade, and most recently, resource extraction.
Lawrence Curley, a UW master’s student who studies water quality, talked about how in traditional cultures, there is no concept of natural resources; it’s more accurate to talk about natural relationships.
“In our languages, we don’t have a word for resource, or rather, that word is given to relations,” Curley said. If people were to treat natural resources as if they were relatives, it would be a relationship based on love.
Valerie Segrest, Muckleshoot tribal member who works with the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project, drew a connection between food sovereignty and the health problems facing modern society and Native Americans in particular. She said that though food sovereignty is something of a trendy concept, and one that can mean any number of things, the basic ideas are ancient.
“When I look back at our treaties and how they were negotiated here and how my ancestors thought was top priority, it was about access to food, having access to all of the elk, the deer, the salmon, the shellfish, the berries, the roots, medicines and the cedar tree,” Segrest said. “Because we know that when these things cease to exist, then so do we as a people. When we eat our foods, we maintain our identity.”
Hokulani Aikau, professor at the University of Hawai‘i, touched on the inseparable relationship between indigenous self-determination and food in Hawaii, which, in turn, is connected to water quality necessary to support traditional plants.
Aikau brought up taro (kalo in Hawaiian), which in Hawaiian culture is considered the child of the creator of the stars. With rising temperatures, less rainfall and poorer water quality, taro can’t be grown the same way it was.
“We have to restore the water in order to restore our food in order to restore our people,” Aikau said.
Jonathan Betz-Zall, an attendee, said he has heard from many Native Americans about the issues presented at the panel through his work with the American Friends Services Committee, a Quaker organization. He came to the summit to hear more about the issues and sample great food.
“The natives in our area especially have been pioneers, really, in showing people a way to live in harmony with the land that enables you to keep on going through time,” he said.
In the back of the room, attendees could not only learn about indigenous foods, but taste them too, starting with cold Douglas fir tea to drink. One table featured samples of sea life — Northwest fish and shellfish, sea cucumber and seal oil — while on another sat bowls of traditional plants like bitterroot, chokeberry, huckleberry, nettles and sea beans.
Spokane tribal member and traditional foods educator Elizabeth Campbell managed an informational table that displayed examples of Native Northwest foods, many of which she had helped gather. Among them were camas bulbs her grandmother had roasted more than 50 years ago.
Campbell, who teaches at Northwest Indian College, grew up harvesting traditional Native plants, and has extensive knowledge about the nutritional, culinary, and traditional practices surrounding them. For the summit, Campbell had prepared a foam made of bitter soapberries, as well as a chocolate pudding thickened with two local seaweeds.
“One of the things that we talk about a lot is how you don’t need a lot of our traditional foods to build our strength and our spirit,” Campbell said. “They’re pretty nutrient-dense, and so even just getting a small amount of these foods in us can really feed not only our bodies but our spirits as well.”
A lunch of elk and salmon — more indigenous foods — was provided to attendees, many of whom took in the afternoon sun outside while sitting on the wooden benches of the Intellectual House.
Almost a month to the day that the Intellectual House celebrated its grand opening, Ross Braine celebrated a quieter, but no less powerful victory.
On a day that coincided with the First Nations at UW’s annual powwow near Husky Stadium, Braine saw the Intellectual House being used as a gathering place. Students from Lummi Island and Crow powwow dancers met in the large meeting hall, while at the same time students cooked for Native elders in the Intellectual House’s kitchen.
The Intellectual House -— a modern, 8,400 square foot longhouse-style building — had become the gathering place the UW Native community had dreaming about for almost 40 years.
“That was an awesome day,” Braine said. “That’s what this building has already become, and what was needed for all these years.” But, he added, it was just one day out of many.
Braine has been involved in the Intellectual House project since he was an undergraduate in 2007. With two jobs now — director of the Intellectual House and UW tribal liaison — and working toward his masters in information management at the UW all simultaneously, Braine is busy. In the big picture, his job as director is to manage and grow the Intellectual House.
Even though it’s been open for a month, the Intellectual House still has a few finishing touches to go before it’s fully complete, Braine said.
“It seems like we could have used a little more time, because we’re still going through punch lists,” he said.
His punch list is full of needs like paint sanding, making sure the right locks are on the right doors, and ordering microphones. Despite the little challenges, the Intellectual House has been in demand for bookings. It gives priority to events with an indigenous focus, said administrative coordinator Casey Wynecoop.
The space has already been used for a variety of events. On April 16, UW Interim President Ana Mari Cauce spoke about racism and equality before an audience who packed the large hall. The space has been used by a campus alliance for minority students in STEM fields who showcased their research projects. Upcoming bookings include an event focused on indigenous food and ecological knowledge, and a camp for at-risk high school students from migrant families.
The Intellectual House will also host many graduations, said Wynecoop, including the first annual Raven’s Feast graduation appreciation for native students, held for the past 20 years at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Discovery Park. Now that the Intellectual House is open, Wynecoop said, it can be a focus for cultural events on campus.
The Intellectual House has provided a space that has brought the community closer together, said Andrea Fowler, of the First Nations at UW student group.
“We know it’s a privilege to have that space here at such a large university, and it’s really supported the students,” Fowler said. “So far I’ve noticed a change this spring that we’re a lot more community-oriented and together and really getting more grounded in the culture …. I think that’s going to be a great support for them, that’s something that they need to be grounded in to succeed.”
Braine said he would have benefited from a place like the Intellectual House when he was a student.
“I think if I had had a house like this when I was an undergraduate it would have been easier to find where I was,” he said.
Braine was involved in trying to make the Intellectual House a reality as an undergraduate at the UW. Mentors like Julian Argel, who died in 2012, and Marvin Oliver, had tried to do the same in the 1970s. Braine keeps a photo of Argel in his office and credits him with keeping the idea of the Intellectual House alive.
In Braine’s office is also a framed print by Marvin Oliver, a retired professor of American Indian Studies at the UW and Adjunct Curator of Contemporary Native American Art at the Burke Museum, showing longhouses by the water near what is now Husky Stadium, a common sight before European arrival in Seattle.
From the beginning, Braine said, the planners of the Intellectual House project intended for there to be a second longhouse building next to the current one, focused on teaching and learning, which might hold classrooms or conference rooms. Half of the estimated $8 million budget for that second building will need to be raised before planning can start. However, plumbing and electricity are already installed.
Even with phase two of the project in the distant future, the completed building constructed of sturdy cedar has been inspiring people.
On April 24, the Intellectual House was host to Deconstructing Earth Day, a roundtable discussion organized by Sean Schmidt of the UW Sustainability Office. About a dozen people sat in a circle in the large, cedar-scented room to talk about sustainability and how it relates to diversity and social justice.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives member Brian Sims, the first openly gay elected state legislator in Pennsylvania and the first openly gay college football captain in the NCAA, was one of the guests who told his story. He said he struggles sometimes to find authenticity in city life, and wondered how urban Native Americans find authentic spaces in the metropolis.
In answer, Abigail Echo-Hawk, a member of Seattle Women’s Commission and a tribal liaison for UW Partnerships for Native Health, said she thought such authentic places can be created, that the Intellectual House is one of them.
“I sit in a space that’s sacred,” she said. “We’re just at the beginnings of something that can grow bigger.”
On Thursday, March 12, the University of Washington held the open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand new longhouse-style building named Intellectual House. In the Lushootseed language its wəɬəbʔaltxʷ and is phonetically pronounced “wah-sheb-altuh”.
The modern interpretation of a Coast Salish longhouse on the University of Washington Seattle campus fulfills a 45-year-old request by Native Americans to construct a building where Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Indigenous students from around the world can gather and share their unique cultural interests.
wəɬəbʔaltxʷ is the third longhouse-style facility to be built on a Washington State college campus. The other two are located on the Evergreen State College in Olympia and on the Peninsula College in Port Angeles.
Ana Mari Cauce, University of Washington President, stated, “I’m very deeply honored to meet the elected leaders of our region’s tribal governments who have made the journey to join us here today. We stand on traditional Duwamish land and it is very apt that we have wəɬəbʔaltxʷ here. The University of Washington is very, very dedicated to serving the educational needs of our Native American undergraduate and graduate students. This is a historic day for both the University of Washington and for the Native tribes of our region. It’s our sincere hope that this place be a home for indigenous people across the Northwest, the U.S. and indeed around the world.”
Built on university grounds that once belonged to the villages and longhouses of the Duwamish people, the Intellectual House represents a dream over four decades in the making. It will provide a comfortable Native environment to assist and contribute to the cultural comfort level of Native/Indigenous students who attend the prestigious Seattle campus.
The $6 million, 8,400-square-foot longhouse-style building is designed with the architectural elements of a traditional Coast Salish longhouse, including cedar planks and posts. It features a gathering space that can seat 500 people, a large kitchen suitable for teaching about Native foods and medicines, a smaller meeting room, and an outdoor area with a fire pit where salmon can be cooked in the traditional way.
“I don’t want people to walk by and think, ‘That’s where the Indians go,’” said Intellectual House Director Ross Braine, who is Apsáalooke. “I want it to be, ‘That’s our longhouse.’ That’s what I want to hear.”
Intellectual House was designed by Johnpaul Jones, architect and founding partner of Jones & Jones and a Cherokee-Choctaw Indian. The main feature of Intellectual House is a large, open room paneled in cedar, with benches that run along one side.
Hundreds of Native American officials, University of Washington faculty and staff, and casual observers convened at 3:00p.m. on March 12 for the open house of Intellectual House, followed by an annual summit of Native and UW leaders. All those in attendance were treated to a complimentary meal featuring a twist on traditional Native American foods, such as teriyaki Pacific salmon skewers, trio of deviled eggs: fresh herbs, classic and smoked salmon, chipotle grilled sweet corn, and roasted green beans with sea salt.
Native Americans are one of the smallest minority groups on the Seattle campus, with only 394 undergraduates. That’s about 1.3 percent of all undergraduates, a number that is similar to the national percentile of Native American students attending collegiate universities. It’s the Universities hope that with the creation of the wəɬəbʔaltxʷ they can being to see those numbers increase as Native Americans can see the commitment and dedication to their culture. The longhouse will help with recruitment and graduation rates of Native American students.
“We’ve always kept it in our hearts what drove this project,” said Charlotte Coté, a UW American Indian Studies associate professor and member of the Nuu-chah-nulth people. “And that was to have a cultural and intellectual space here on campus that honors us as Indigenous peoples, that recognizes us as Indigenous peoples. A place where we can come and feel safe, we can feel comfortable, we can feel at home, and we can be together. That’s what ωəɬəβʔαλτξʷ represents, that’s what it symbolizes. This place just isn’t a building, it has a spirit. It is alive. wəɬəbʔaltxʷ represents a spirit of sharing, of cooperation, but above all that community. A place where you will see the University committed to Indigenous education, to Indigenous knowledge, and to community here on campus.”
Contact Micheal Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org
SEATTLE – Amidst university buildings with styles ranging from classic to modern, an old style is being resurrected. Wәłәb?altxw, or Intellectual House, is the first permanent longhouse structure to be raised on the University of Washington (UW) campus since its founding in 1861. Native students and faculty celebrated the October 25th groundbreaking of the new longhouse with a feast, hosting many tribal dignitaries from local Indian tribes and Native groups. The new longhouse will be a gathering place for all, and a chance to educate people about the culture of Pacific Northwest tribes.
Charlotte Cote, Professor of American Indian Studies, said, “As a Native, and I’m Native faculty, you come to places like this, these educational institutions, and you don’t see yourself. To have something like this is not only going to be a welcoming space for our students, but a safe place and a comfortable place that will improve their overall educational experience here at UW. It gives me great pride to be a part of this project.
“I want to acknowledge the tribal leaders and elders we have with us today,” Cote continued “I think it is important to note that, collectively, they funded a great deal of this first phase of a two-phase project.”
Forty years in the planning, the longhouse project survived budget cuts and plan changes that prevented the project from moving forward. Funding from local tribes, over the last 5 years, provided the final push to make this dream a reality.
The longhouse design remains traditional with a modern take. It is a two-building concept, in the Coast Salish style, to honor the tribes that remain in the area, though all Native students should feel welcome. The name of the project changed many times, finally returning to its original, Wәłәb?altxw, so named by Vi Hilbert, a member of the Upper Skagit tribe who made it her life’s work to preserve Salish language and culture. The late Hilbert’s contributions to the university, as well as Puget Sound tribes’ efforts on language preservation, will live on and be honored with this house.
Located near the quad, at the heart of campus, next to Lewis Hall, the current plan schedules the longhouse to be open December of next year.
“The University of Washington has a hundred year standard, meaning anything they build has to last at least 100 years. And then we renovate. So this building will stand in this place for more than 100 years, like the spirits of the ancestors upon whose land it stands. There will always be a place for Native students at the University,” said Cote.