Native American culture has flourished in our region for thousands of years. Tribes in Washington are working to ensure native culture continues to be an integral part of our regional identity. One way Tribes are accomplishing this is through tribal language programs. Language is at the heart of tribal identity. It is the foundation of religious and ceremonial practices and cultural heritage, and it’s an irreplaceable part of Tribes’ self-preservation, self-determination, and sovereignty.
Here are a few of the many programs across the state that are preserving and revitalizing tribal languages and dialects:
Puyallup Tribal Language Program
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ Tribal Language Program was created to revitalize the Twulshootseed language by incorporating it into daily conversation. The program cultivates Twulshootseed language usage in school—it’s taught in the K-12 Chief Leschi School, at the University of Washington, and online—as well as at home, at work, in social settings, and through media and storytelling. Learn more on the program’s website, explore their youtube channel, or find them on social media.
Kalispel Language Program
The Kalispel Tribe of Indians developed the Kalispel Language Program to reclaim and preserve their Salish language and create a new generation of native language speakers. The program includes a curriculum that spans all age groups, learning materials like workbooks, songbooks, language software, and the Kalispel Language Immersion School for grades K-5. Salish is also taught to Junior High and High School students in the area. Learn more on the program’s website.
Kalispel Language Program founder and Language Director JR Bluff with a Kalispel Language Immersion School student.
Cowlitz Coast Salish Language Revitalization
In 2020, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe launched a partnership with The Language Conservancy to revitalize the use of the Cowlitz Coast Salish Language, which had been extinct for nearly 50 years. After reconstructing the language from old documents and recordings, the Tribe has developed a collection of learning tools, including an alphabet book, two picture books, an online dictionary, and a “Cowlitz Vocab Builder” app. Learn more on the Tribe’s website or in this recent article in Big Country News.
Meet and Greet: Squaxin Island Tribe Chairman Kris Peters
Squaxin Island Tribe Chairman Kristopher (Kris) Klabsch Peters has served the Squaxin community for over 20 years, including four years as Police Chief and three years as Tribal Administrator. He is an adjunct professor in the Native Education Program at Evergreen State College and was appointed to Evergreen’s Board of Trustees by Governor Inslee in 2021. Kris has dedicated his career to understanding and addressing Tribes’ history and generational trauma, and advocating the rights and sovereignty of Tribes across Washington.
Squaxin Island Tribe Chairman Kris Peters (Photo credit Squaxin Island Tribe)
We asked Kris to answer a few questions about his work and being a leader. Here’s what he told us:
Q: What are your responsibilities as Tribal Chairman?
The Tribe is governed by a seven-person council elected by the adult citizens of the Squaxin Island Tribe. As the Council chair, I am tasked with providing leadership to our Tribal Council and our Executive staff. We create laws and policy to better the way of life for Squaxin Island Tribal citizens and the greater Squaxin community, today and for our future. It is my goal to enhance our Tribes’ sovereignty and protect our inherent Treaty rights. I work collaboratively with local and federal government agencies to protect our natural resources and keep Squaxin at the forefront in any consultation and decision making.
I take pride in my ability as a communicator. Someone who really listens. I embrace difficult discussions, listen to all sides of an issue and work really hard to keep my own biases and each council members’ biases out of our policy-making decisions.
I provide leadership to our business leaders, promote the diversification of our economic holdings, and take pride in our Tribe for being a forerunner in business and providing jobs for tribal people.
Most importantly, I cherish our history and work to maintain our heritage and culture in everything we do. We strive to move our Tribe forward in today’s society and grow economically while not only holding on to our identity but truly embracing it and infusing it into everything we do. This is paramount in maintaining a seven generations mindset and providing a future for our children.
Q: You grew up on Eld Inlet, listening to your great-grandmother share stories of her life on Squaxin Island and fishing with your father. How do your experiences from a childhood spent on the beaches and the water inform the work you do today?
The greatest lessons I have learned from my father and my grandmother are less about tangible, technical skills and more about emotional intelligence and the importance of family, connection, spirituality and a true love and connection with the water and surrounding environment. These lessons have carried me in everything I do. When I teach, I am all about connecting and creating a bond with the students. In every job I have had, every leadership position, I have always valued interpersonal relationships; creating a culture of family and trust and a bond with my co-workers, employees and the community I serve.
It is also important to believe in what you do. If you are lucky enough you will find a job that you are passionate about. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then it is not going to work and the people you are working with or leading may not truly gel with you. I do things that I am passionate about and I am guided by my strong moral compass and a connection to my people, our culture and the environment. This is engrained.
Q: When Governor Inslee named you to the Evergreen Board of Trustees, he called you, “a true leader.” What do you think makes an effective leader?
A good leader needs to communicate effectively with their colleagues, employees, outside entities and most importantly the community. You must have the ability to listen to differences without dismissing those who don’t agree with you. The ability to grow and learn from others and recognize your own biases is a sign of high emotional intelligence and strong leadership. This is just a little of what I expect from myself as a leader.
I never forget that I am a public servant. Being on Council is not about me. It is not about being in charge; it is not about the title or the recognition; it is not about pay or benefits. It is about service. True compassion, empathy and sincerity is within. If you don’t have these things, then you won’t truly be able to become kinder, helpful or healing. Some people are in leadership positions for the wrong reasons. I have chosen this path because I am Squaxin. That means so much to me. The love I have for our people is indescribable.
I also love to teach and I have a great affinity for the Evergreen State College. I would never have applied for the Board of Trustees at Evergreen had I not had a lifetime of connection to the college through my family, the location and my own educational journey. I choose to be a leader in organizations that I care about and hopefully can impact in a good way and provide a service.
Q: Bonus Round! What’s something fun about you that people might be surprised to learn?
I take pride in some of my family calling me Clark Griswold for my love of family vacations, road trips, and a love for holidays and Christmas decorations. My family and I have many stories from these family trips over the years (ups and downs, scary, funny, and even a little dangerous at times). Broken down vehicle, a hospital trip, scary hotel room, just to name a few and all seemed to occur in the middle of nowhere and hundreds of miles from what seemed like civilization. In retrospect, we share great laughs and memories from these trips. Next time you see me, feel free to ask for details!
Tribes Recognize Problem Gambling Awareness Month
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, dedicated to helping people better recognize and understand the issue of problem gambling and get the resources they need.
Tribes throughout Washington are recognizing Problem Gambling Awareness Month with events, campaigns, and outreach to connect with people who may be struggling with gambling addiction. The Tulalip Tribe’s Problem Gambling Program, for example, has teamed up with Tulalip News to produce a series called Walking Through My Story, in which participants who’ve found success with program share how the program helped them in their recovery journey.
Gambling addiction is a diagnosable and treatable mental health disorder, and that help and hope are available. If gambling is creating problems for you or your family, help is available: Washington State Problem Gambling Helpline: 1-800-547-6133 or at WAtribescare.org.
Washington Tribes are leaders in supporting responsible gaming and work on multiple fronts year-round to proactively address problem gambling. On average, Tribes contribute more than $3 million per year to support responsible gambling education, prevention, treatment, and wellness programs. Tribes also tackle problem gambling through self-help programs, awareness-building campaigns, casino self-exclusions, and ban requests. Additional information and resources can be found on the Washington Indian Gaming Association website.
WIGA Scholarship – There’s Still Time to Apply!
There’s still time to apply to the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA) Scholarship Program! The WIGA Scholarship will be awarded to students pursuing degrees from community and technical colleges, and bachelor’s and graduate college or university degrees.
WIGA will award multiple scholarships totaling up to $70,000 for Native American and Alaska Native students for the 2022-23 academic school year. Applicants must be students who are enrolled members of one of Washington’s 29 federally recognized tribes, or American Indian/Alaska Native students enrolled in a federally recognized tribe who are attending school in Washington State.
Online applications opened in January. The deadline for applications is March 31, 2022. Visit WIGA’s scholarship webpage for more information and to apply.
Olympia Watch: Session Update
The 2022 Washington Legislative Session ended on March 10. Here is an update on some of the important bills that passed this session:
HB 1725, concerning the creation of an endangered mission person advisory designation for missing indigenous persons.
SB 5619, concerning conserving and restoring kelp forests and eelgrass meadows in Washington state.
SB 5252, concerning school district consultation with local tribes.
SB 5866, concerning medicaid long-term services and supports eligibility determinations completed by federally recognized Indian tribes.
HB 1571, Concerning protections and services for indigenous persons who are missing, murdered, or survivors of human trafficking.
HB 1753, concerning tribal consultation regarding the use of certain funding authorized by the climate commitment act.
HB 1717, concerning tribal participation in planning under the Growth Management Act.
HB 1934, allowing tribal governments to participate in exchange agreements without certain restrictions.
SB 5694, recognizing Indian tribes as among the governmental entities with which the department of corrections may enter into agreements on matters to include the housing of inmates convicted in tribal court.
Social Media Highlight
Here’s one of our favorite recent Facebook posts (visit Washington Tribes on Facebook to read the whole post and see what else we’ve shared lately).