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Edmonds School District launches new initiative aimed at honoring tribal lands


Last updated 4/11/2019 at Noon

Edmonds School District, with support from U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, recently started a new initiative honoring tribal lands the district is on.

Led by Edmonds School District Family and Community Engagement and Indian Education Program (IEP), this new policy for the district is a small step toward equity and inclusion goals, said Laura Wong-Whitebear, the IEP specialist.

According to the Edmonds School District website, a statement will be read to honor the land at school and community meetings: “We respectfully acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of Duwamish, Skokomish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Suquamish and other Coast Salish Tribes.”

Acknowledging land is a small gesture that can open greater public consciousness and awareness, which is a step toward equitable relationships and reconciliation, according to the Honor Native Land guide by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.

Edmonds School District is on the land of many Coast Salish tribes, given to the U.S. government in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855 (ratified in 1859), signed by Isaac Stevens, the governor of Washington Territory, Duwamish Chief Seattle, and 81 other tribal leaders.

The treaty gave the U.S. government most of their tribal land in return for reservations, government aid, and hunting, gathering and fishing rights in traditional territories.

Now that Edmonds School District started this policy to honor tribal lands, conversations about the truth in history are beginning to spark change, educators say.

Ashley Tiedeman, family engagement liaison for Edmonds School District for Meadowdale and Lynndale elementaries, worked with Wong-Whitebear on this policy, mostly behind the scenes, to get the policy passed.

Laura Wong-Whitebear invited Tiedeman to a meeting with Kristine McDuffy, superintendent of Edmonds School District, where Tiedeman expressed the need for an initiative of land acknowledgment for the district.

“At the meeting, I laid it out there. This is already happening in Canada and New Zealand and other parts of the world,” Tiedeman said. “Edmonds School District wants to have this equity focus, so it’s the starting point if you work in equity work to acknowledge indigenous people of this land before you do anything else.

“When I started this, I was getting a lot of pushback, and I’m thankful for Laura Wong-Whitebear to be able to go with her and meet with the superintendent about this issue.

“My whole job is getting underrepresented families into the schools, making them feel welcome and it includes an equity component with families and students of color.”

Tiedeman is a Filipina and Alaska native who went through the Edmonds School District as a student and said she never felt represented in school, her identity was never validated and she didn’t learn about her history and culture.

“This land acknowledgment policy started with a conversation with one of my coworkers and me talking about what we wanted to do in our schools,” said Tiedeman. “I thought, I’m native and I would love to see a land acknowledgment policy done districtwide.”

Before working as a family engagement liaison for the district, Tiedeman worked with students in Tulalip Tribes. Looking like the students helped her connect with them, she said.

“When our students feel seen and loved, they’re going to be successful in school.

“To actually acknowledge the Coast Salish natives that exist and say the names of each tribal nation here, regardless of acknowledgement of the federal government, is important.”

Tiedeman has seen change little by little in the district, but said she is hopeful for the future.

“The kids are always open to learn the real history, and I definitely feel like it’s shifted with people asking for more information and books to read,” she said. “That’s lovely right there – starting the conversation and the shift to get indigenous history in the classroom, exactly where it should be.”

A few teachers started land acknowledgement before the policy was adopted, said Wong-Whitebear.

Many teachers have taken Since Time Immemorial workshops, which focus on tribal sovereignty curriculum and is something Wong-Whitebear said she is working on to get the curriculum into all schools.

“In addition, we have gone into elementary schools in the past three years and done cultural competency curriculum kits with arts and crafts to talk about the art, history and land where we are standing with the students,” she said.

For future goals, teachers are working on Native Indian education curriculum for middle and high schools in the district that should start in the fall of next year, Wong-Whitebear said.

“Finally we are able to recognize that the land that we are on was inhabited and is still inhabited by tribes,” she said. “For instance, the Tulalip Tribes are only an hour away.

“I try to be inclusive by saying Coast Salish and in the official policy we named several important tribes, even though Snohomish Tribe is a non-federally recognized tribe, they have tribal land right here.”

Wong-Whitebear said she’s please that the district has adopted land acknowledgement. “I’ve even received thank you notes from people not even in our district.”

Honoring indigenous lands in this way is a great way to respect people who were here first, Tiedeman said.

“Language acknowledgment seems like a simple thing, and it’s a small step that is so meaningful and important not only for our native students to feel validated, but also for students to learn about the true history about lands and that native people aren’t just a part of history, and that we exist today.”


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