President Elson S. Floyd

Perspectives

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 11/28/07

Native American Heritage Month

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of a significant event in the life of the university and its relationship with Native American tribes in the region.

In November 1997, Washington State University entered a Memorandum of Understanding with six tribes including the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Colville Confederated Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Yakama Nation.  Since that date, three other tribes have become signatory to this MOU including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

The memorandum recognized the government status of Indian Nations, created a Native American Advisory Board to the President, and a Native American Advisory Council to the Provost and committed to increase educational opportunities for Native Americans.

That effort is ongoing. As Washington’s land-grant university, we reach into every community of the state. And wherever WSU is in this state -- our campuses, learning centers, research centers, or extension offices -- we are located on traditional homelands of American Indian people.

Since signing the memorandum, the university has created the Plateau Center for American Indian Studies, and has hosted several roundtables and conferences that were well attended by tribal elders and leaders.  We have established a strong relationship with the traditional people based on respect and service.

For more than two years, as a result of an agreement that returned Camp Roger Larson on Lake Coeur d’Alene to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the tribe and the university have been engaged in a series of cooperative educational programs designed to target the educational needs in the tribal community.

This work is vital. In truth, we have more work to do to raise the enrollment numbers of Native American students at our university.

Along with being the anniversary of WSU’s agreement with the tribes, November also is designated as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. I am pleased to join in recognizing the many contributions made by American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians to the cultural, social, political, and economic fabric of the state and country.

One such contributor is Sherman Alexie who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, came to WSU to earn his degree and became one of the nation’s outstanding writers. When he was awarded WSU’s highest honor -- the Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award -- in 2003, I am told that he spoke movingly of how his education helped change his life.

“I had no idea how big the world is, and it was here at WSU that I learned that,” Alexie told the audience on that day.

Earlier this month, Alexie earned another award, the National Book Award for young people's literature.

Our university’s achievements in working with the Native American tribes in the region should be judged by how many more such success stories that we can help create.

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