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Celebrating Native American Heritage Month and the deep roots of Indigenous people and culture at the UW

In her poem, “The Frolicsome Crests and Glistening,” Washington State Poet Laureate and member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation Rena Priest wrote,  “I believe the spirit conspires / against our errant belief that we are separate.” As we honor the contributions and experiences of Indigenous people throughout National Native American Heritage Month, her words ring especially true for our University of Washington community, which is deeply connected to the American Indian and Alaska Native people and communities that play a vital role in our past, present and future.

Indigenous voices and accomplishments are a vibrant part of our academic community, and this month, I encourage everyone to take advantage of the many opportunities to explore and celebrate the work of some of the UW’s most accomplished Indigenous faculty, staff, students, alumni and neighbors.

Pay a visit to the UW Native Garden or the Burke Museum’s Northwest native Art Gallery. Watch Professor Tami Hohn’s public discussion of the Lushootseed language, or take the Indigenous Walking Tour of the UW campus in Seattle, developed by UW alumnus Owen Oliver. On November 28th, turn out for the Husky men’s basketball game where we will honor Native students, alumni, faculty, staff and community members. And learn more about how the UW is honoring Native American and Alaska Native heritage this month and year round.

Throughout our community, Indigenous Huskies making an impact on the world, like Rosalie Fish, a student-athlete and activist who was awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship this spring and Alexina Kublu, who received the 2022 Inuit Language Recognition Award for her work teaching the Inuktitut language at the UW Canadian Studies Center. UW faculty have also published new books this year, including Professor Charlotte Coté’s A Drum in one Hand, a Sockeye in the Other: Stories of Indigenous Food Sovereignty from the Northwest Coast, and Professor of English Chad Allen’s Earthworks Rising: Mound Building in Native Literature and Arts.

Across Washington, the UW is also deeply engaged with the Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. The words of our land acknowledgment represent our ongoing commitment to partnership with sovereign Tribes of the Pacific Northwest, through the leadership of our UW Office of Tribal Relations. From the Tribal Enterprise Partnerships led by the Foster School’s Consulting and Business Development Center to the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, which supports Indigenous peoples’ health, the UW is partnering with tribal communities. And we are excited to move into Phase 2 of the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ -Intellectual House as we seek to create additional supports, spaces and resources that will deepen the sense of community and connection for our Indigenous students.

These partnerships and collaborations are especially critical in light of the historical and ongoing injustice and marginalization faced by Indigenous people in Washington and across the nation. One action we can take to redress some of these wrongs is for the state to provide tuition waivers for members of federally recognized Tribes in Washington State, legislation that the UW supports in partnership with Washington’s other public four-year institutions.

In May, we also recognized National Day of Awareness for Murdered and Missing Indigenous People. The epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people is just one facet of the systemic oppression and inequity that affects tribal people and communities. As part of our shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, our University is working to create opportunity, partner with communities and support health and well-being for all Indigenous people in Washington and beyond.

This month, and every month, let’s reflect – and act – on Priest’s suggestion that we are not separate, but rather share a common humanity that connects us and makes us accountable to each other.