New Native Education Certificate Program Launched at University of Washington

I’ve spent seven years hustling across the UW’s iconic, cherry-tree-lined “Quad” on my way to teach journalism classes. But it wasn’t until this week that I learned those red brick pathways zigzag over what was once a Duwamish village.

“Are you sure you know where you are standing?” asks Professor Megan Bang, co-director of the new Native Education Certificate Program at the University of Washington. She’s speaking to roughly 30 educators — some Native, some non-Native — from across Washington who crowd around her for this walk focused on “coming to know the land” of the UW campus. They’ve joined the program’s first cohort — 69 in total — to learn how to better teach Native issues in their schools, as well as better work with Native youth and families in their communities.

“Just think about what has changed in 250 years on this site,” Bang adds, before the group moves on, occasionally parting to allow a student to bustle past, face buried in a phone. This is what Bang, and the Native Education Certificate Program, call “land-based” or “place-based” learning, and it’s one of the pedagogical approaches these educators will learn over the course of the next two years.

One of the first field trips of the program will be to a series of locations Spokane Tribal elders have identified as important places for a child of the Spokane Tribe to know. Program participants will then “backward map” issues related to their classroom learning goals. For example, a traditional harvest location can lend itself to learning about science, the environment and history.

“Thinking about place and land is central to education,” says Bang, who believes this approach can be applied to every subject. “We didn’t always only learn in buildings. And that’s not only true in Native communities.”

In addition to discovering new approaches to teaching, program participants will also address cultural insensitivity, racism and bias in existing curricula — issues Bang says her own two children have experienced in school all too often.

“I think learning about the Oregon Trail is very important, but it’s almost always learned from the perspective of settlers,” she says, explaining how her own daughter, who is Native, struggled to identify as a pioneer when studying the Oregon Trail in school. “(The curriculum) didn’t ask what were the long-term consequences for Native kids and Native people.”

Experiences like that can make relationships between educators and Native students and families challenging. In response, the program hopes to help educators learn more about the cultural and historical context of the communities they work in.

“I think building trust with the community is Number One,” says Mark Jacobson, principal and superintendent for the Quileute Tribal School in La Push, Clallam County.

Jacobson, a non-Native, says he joined the Native Education Certificate Program because he wants to be able to better communicate and work with Native families.

“If you look at the relationship between Natives, the state of Washington and the federal government, we’ve created so much mistrust,” says Jacobson, referencing historical policies of forced cultural assimilation through government-run schools. “Some of our grandparents were in boarding schools. It’s going to take some time to build those relationships.”

Bang says the program was a result of decades of requests to the UW from tribal leaders who were concerned about academic achievement gaps, inadequate education and a lack of Native teachers in their communities. But she is quick to add that these approaches are good for everyone.

“We happen to think that a lot of the pedagogy we teach is good for all kids,” says Bang, citing the universal importance of education that is culturally relevant, historically sensitive and respectful of students and families. “The principles are just good teaching.”

After just a couple hours of land-based learning, I know I’ll never look at the UW campus the same way again.

Sarah Stuteville is a multimedia journalist and co-founder of The Seattle Globalist,, a news site covering Seattle’s international connections. Sarah Stuteville: Twitter @SeaStute

Navajo Nation Sues EPA Over Animus River Heavy Metals Spill

Before and after photos of Animus River ( 

Navajo Nation Sues EPA Over Animus River Heavy Metals Spill

The Navajo Nation has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the EPA has failed to adequately remediate the disaster a year after the dispersal of 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animus river watershed near Silverton, Colorado. The chemicals flowed from the Animas, along some 200 miles of the San Juan River in New Mexico, which runs through the Navajo Nation and continues into Utah.

“After one of the most significant environmental catastrophes in history, the Nation and the Navajo people have yet to have their waterways cleaned, their losses compensated, their health protected or their way of life restored,” the complaint filed by the Navajo Nation in US District Court for the District of New Mexico alleges. “Despite repeatedly conceding responsibility for the action that caused millions of dollars of harm to the Nation and the Navajo people, the U.S. EPA has yet to provide any meaningful recovery. Efforts to be made whole over the past year have been met with resistance, delays, and second-guessing. Unfortunately this is consistent with a long history of neglect and disregard for the well-being of the Navajo,” the lawsuit says. The lawsuit alleges that the EPA, its contractors and the mining companies, who are also named in the lawsuit, ignored the buildup of contaminants over many years, failed to follow “reasonable and necessary precautions” to avoid the spill when they began the mine cleanup operation in August 2015.

“The river has always been a source of life, of purification, and of healing,” said Ethel Branch, the Attorney General of the Navajo Nation, who noted that the Navajo people harvest minerals from the banks of the river for use in their religious ceremonies. “Now it’s been transformed into something that’s a threat. It’s been pretty traumatic in changing the role of the river in the lives of the people who rely on it.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Gold King Mine spill, one water sample showed that the level of lead in the Animas River was 12,000 times higher than normal. The river was also contaminated with high levels of arsenic, beryllium, cadmium and mercury. Branch said the spill has created a stigma of fear around the organic and heirloom crops grown by the Navajo in the San Juan watershed and that health concerns have made it more difficult for Navajo farmers to sell their produce. “We’re not going to know the health impacts of the exposure to the water for five to 10 years — maybe more,” Branch said. “And it’s not just direct exposure, the community is also concerned about eating food that’s been watered with contaminated water, or eating livestock that has consumed the water.”

Native American Political Participation Rising For 2016 Elections

2016 is shaping up to be a record year for Native American electoral participation.   Eight indigenous candidates are running for Congress, up from two in 2014. Over 90 are running for state legislatures, again exceeding previous years. “This is the best campaign ever in Indian Country,” says Nicole Willis, member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla and former advisor to Bernie Sanders. “There’s no question about that.”

“Tribes are organised entities that tend to vote as a group,” says John Dossett, General Counsel within the National Congress of American Indians. “When they turn up and vote in one block, they can have a huge impact at a state level.”  Many Native American commentators point to President Barack Obama’s efforts to improve relations with the country’s tribal nations. In the course of his two terms in office, he has settled hundreds of legal disputes with indigenous communities, passed favourable legislation, like the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and established an annual conference for tribal leaders to meet at the White House.

With close to 32% of Native Americans under the age of 18, a particular drive to get young people involved in political action is underway. Government-funded programmes like Generation Indigenous, which seeks to empower native millennials, have been working to inspire this age group for years. “The US political system was not designed for us,” says Jaynie Parrish, an original member of the Native Vote Initiative, which seeks to encourage indigenous political participation. “Getting young people involved is incredibly difficult. But we are learning to play the game.” Of the 94 indigenous candidates running for office this year, 75 are Democrats, 14 are Republicans and four are independent.

Congress Eliminates Dollar-Match Requirement for Native CDFIs

In a significant action that will assist Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Congress has moved to waive the non-federal dollar-for-dollar match requirement for the Native American CDFI Assistance (NACA) program in the FY 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, now Public Law 113-235. The law appropriates $15 million in funding to NACA for financial and technical assistance, training, and outreach programs without the obligation of meeting the match requirement found in 12 U.S.C. 4707(e).

The removal of the dollar-for-dollar match requirement is an important boost for economic and community development in Tribal communities, as it should provide an easier path for Native CDFIs in raising private capital for investment in Tribal businesses and projects.

Washington Tribes Seek Econometric Adjustments for Gaming Machine Allocations

Washington Tribes Seek Econometric Adjustments for Gaming Machine Allocations

Video gaming machines are among the most profitable elements of most Tribal casinos, and the number of machines in a casino can significantly impact the profit potential for the Tribe. In Washington state, gaming Tribes are currently negotiating new compacts with the state government that would provide for growth in the number of authorized machines based on factors indicating market demand.

The number of gambling machines allowed in Tribal casinos in the state of Washington — currently about 28,000 — has been set over the years through negotiations. If the proposed deal is approved, the slot-style machines would multiply based on supply and demand — not bargaining. If approved by the state gaming commission, the Governor, and Tribal and federal officials, the new compacts would increase the statewide cap by 2,700 machines immediately.

The limit would go up by another 1,350 statewide if the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in southwest Washington moves forward with a planned casino. In any year that tribes come close to maxing out their new cap, the limit could rise again by another 1,350 statewide. The state gaming commission would review the market and verify there are fewer than 500 unused machines for lease before an increase would be enacted. Another increase of 1,350 machines could happen any year a new casino opens, such as the Cowlitz tribe’s facility.

The only limit on the number of increases over the years would be existing caps on what individual Tribes can own and lease, which would keep the statewide number of machines from ever going past 90,000. Other conditions could keep the number far smaller. Many small tribes in far-flung parts of the state aren’t likely to open a casino, and Tribal leaders say there isn’t enough demand for a major expansion. “I think it can only go so big anyway, and then the market is full,” said Mel Tonasket, Vice Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.