Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

April 1, 2015

Passion Never Rests: wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House is a Decades-Long Dream Realized

The University of Washington banner that hangs atop a light post next to the newest building on the Seattle campus boasts the words: Passion Never Rests. Its placement is likely a coincidence, but the sentiment is perfect.

wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ - Intellectual House Grand Opening

The exterior of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House. Photo by Kathryn Sauber.

A passionate dream over 40 years in the making fueled the construction of this building – a Native American longhouse-style facility otherwise known as wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House. Its cedar walls could barely contain the hundreds of UW and area tribal community members that came together for a two-day celebration to honor its grand opening, March 12-13.

“This is a historic day, for both the University of Washington and for the Native tribes of our region,” said UW Interim President Ana Mari Cauce prior to the official ribbon cutting ceremony.

Read more coverage in UW Today, Seattle Times and Cauce’s blog.

wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House is a learning and gathering space designed to support the success of Native American students, faculty and staff, and provide a place that fosters connections between the UW and Native American communities. It also serves as a symbol that honors the region’s tribes, including the Duwamish whose land the UW campus occupies.

The building’s name, pronounced “wah-sheb-altuh” (click here for the audio) is the Lushootseed language name for Intellectual House and was gifted by the late Vi Hilbert, a revered Lushootseed linguist and member of the Elders Committee that helped contribute to the project’s conception.

wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, measuring 8,400-square feet, features a gathering hall for 600 and a large kitchen that accommodates teaching space for indigenous food preparation. The outdoor area features a fire pit to be used for cooking as well. The building was designed by the Seattle architectural firm of Jones & Jones according to traditional elements of the Pacific Northwest coastal-longhouse style.

wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ - Intellectual House Grand Opening

Many people contributed to the long process to build wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House. Here members of the project’s working group participate in the ceremonial ribbon cutting. Photo by Emile Pitre.

A housewarming reception kicked off the March 12 festivities and was followed by the Tribal Leadership Summit, an annual meeting during which UW and tribal leaders from across the region gather to discuss issues important to indigenous communities.

Leading off the summit was a ceremonial cutting of a cedar ribbon, symbolizing the official opening of the building. The ribbon was woven by a group of UW students under the tutelage of Elder Theresa Parker of the Makah Nation. Members of the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House working group and Elders committee, as well as Cauce, Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Sheila Edwards Lange, and architect Johnpaul Joes participated in the ribbon-cutting.

As expected, one of the main topics of the summit was the significance of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House.

“How do you define beautiful?” asked Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribe and president of the National Congress of American Indians. “Today.”

wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ - Intellectual House Grand Opening

Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Sheila Edwards Lange offers remarks during the Tribal Leadership Summit. Photo by Emile Pitre.

The community celebration for wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House continued throughout the entire next day and into the evening. The program included special recognitions, performances from several area tribes and two meals prepared at the house – elk stew for lunch and salmon for dinner.

The planning process to build the facility received input and guidance from UW community members, an elders committee and regional tribes. A site blessing was performed on April 10, 2009, and the groundbreaking was held Oct. 25, 2013.

The March festivities marked the opening of what is just the first phase of the project. Fundraising is currently underway for a second building, a Teaching and Learning space. Information on how to support these efforts can be found here.

eNews Button Spring 2015wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House is open during regular business hours from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., unless otherwise reserved. It will offer space for community and campus events such as symposiums and lectures, as well as academic programming. For reservations, email It will also host the annual graduation celebration for American Indian and Alaska Native UW students, Raven’s Feast.

“We have a cultural and intellectual space here on campus that honors us as indigenous people, that recognizes us as indigenous people, a place where we can come where we can feel safe, where we can feel comfortable, we can feel at home and we can be together,” said Charlotte Coté, chair of the project’s advisory committee and American Indian Studies associate professor. “And that’s what wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House represents. That’s what it symbolizes. It’s alive.”

Click through the photos below for a glimpse at the building, as well as the grand opening festivities.

Photos by Emile Pitre

The grand opening of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House was also featured on UW360.