Office of the President

November 22, 2021

Celebrating and reflecting on National Native American Heritage Month

Ana Mari Cauce

Our nation’s history is deeply enmeshed with the history of the Native peoples whose nations and culture long predated the arrival of Europeans in North America. That history is complex and often shameful – our nation has much to atone for in its treatment of Native Americans. The establishment of November as National Native American Heritage Month is not only a chance to pay tribute to the past and present contributions of Native Americans, but to reflect honestly on the ways in which our nation has failed to live up to its ideals. As we consider the past, it’s also an opportunity to listen to Native voices and understand what we can do as a society to rectify and redress past wrongs for future generations of Native Americans.

At the University of Washington, and throughout our state and region, American Indian and Alaska Native people and culture are a vibrant and visible part of the community, including the voices and perspectives of Native students, staff and faculty. The Burke Museum collaborates with Pacific Northwest tribes to preserve and celebrate our region’s natural and cultural heritage in ethical and inclusive ways. The Burke’s approach to partnership and consultation with the tribes is an innovative and even radical departure from the way that museums have traditionally related to Indigenous communities and marginalized groups, serving as a model for a more equitable and decolonializing approach to scholarship. If you haven’t visited the Burke recently, it’s well worth a trip to see the Culture is Living, Northwest Native Art, and Our Material World galleries.

Across our campuses, Native American perspectives, voices and culture permeate our classrooms and spaces, from our late alumnus and faculty member Marvin Oliver’s breathtaking works on display at the HUB to the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House. We’re all familiar with the land acknowledgement with which we open most campus gatherings. By acknowledging that we are on the land of the Coast Salish peoples – language that was developed in consultation with regional tribal leaders and partners – we are voicing our values that we work to honor through programming, practices and inclusion of Native students, faculty, staff and leaders.

Throughout our academic community, we nurture rich partnerships with the tribes, both through community engagement and by ensuring that Native students have the resources and support to have excellent Husky Experiences. Each year, we are honored to host the Tribal Leadership Summit, gathering tribal leaders to discuss issues important to their communities. Within UW Medicine, the UW Native American Center for Excellence has established the Indian Health Pathway to help Native medical students stay connected to their communities and prepare physicians to provide more culturally competent care. Through the Information School, we have the nations’ only Native-centered information program, iNative, and the School of Law is home to the Native American Law Center. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the UW’s American Indian Studies department (AIS), which is recognized as one of the best such programs in the nation.

The UW is home to Native faculty like Professor Charlotte Coté, Professor Miranda Belarde-Lewis, and  Professor Tami Hohn who are transforming how Indigenous language, art and culture are preserved and represented. And this fall, Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, became the fist Native person to serve on the Board of Regents.

As we take this month to reflect with intentionality on the past, present and future of Native American contributions to our society, we are fortunate to be so deeply connected to the people, communities and traditions of the tribes that are woven into the fabric of our shared experience. I encourage everyone in our UW community to make the most of these treasured and valuable connections so that together, we can build an inclusive future that reckons honorably with the past.