National Native American Heritage Month
- Culture Appreciation
November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time our district and schools celebrate the significant and countless contributions, rich and diverse ancestry, cultures, traditions, and histories of our nation’s first people.
Federal Way Public Schools acknowledge that our schools are on the traditional homelands of the Puyallup and Muckleshoot Tribes. The Puyallup and Muckleshoot people have lived on and stewarded these lands since the beginning of time and continue to do so today. We recognize that this land acknowledgement is one small step toward true allyship, and we commit to uplifting the voices, experiences, and histories of the Indigenous people of this land and beyond.
We are honored to join together in ensuring a strengthened and meaningful public-tribal relationship with our closest federally recognized tribe, The Puyallup Tribe. FWPS is deeply committed in cultivating relationships with our local tribal community, educating our scholars on Native American history and the ancestral lands we reside on, and supporting our over 400 scholars who identify as Native American, representing well over 100 tribes. Learn more about the FWPS Native Education Program.
Heritage Month is more than just a month. We want our schools to be a mirror of our community – a place where every scholar has a sense of belonging and can be seen, valued, and heard. Our scholars benefit from learning about and celebrating all cultures.
Join FWPS in using this time to raise awareness and share stories, knowledge and resources and about Indigenous histories, cultures, and traditions throughout our yearly curriculum toward honoring and inviting the truth.
Here are additional resources to help you explore Native American Heritage and Culture:
PBS Native American Heritage Month documentaries and videos
View additional recognitions in the FWPS Cultural & Religious Calendar here: www.fwps.org/culturalcalendar
In recognition of National Native American Heritage Month this November, FWPS is spotlighting a new native plant project that sixth-grade scholars at TAF @ Saghalie have been actively engaged in. The Youth Ecology Education Restoration (YEER) six-week long project involves learning about native plants and biodiversity in their area. This hands-on lesson has been made possible through a partnership with the YEER and the Washington Native Plant Society Central Chapter (WNPSCC), and with Illahee Middle School and the Employment and Transition Program (ETP).
The students have been studying these lessons with their teachers and have taken up the challenge to increase the biodiversity in their schoolyard. They have planted 20 different species of native plants to transform a section of the lawn into a food web and a future forest. The plants were sourced from various places, including Illahee Middle School, where scholars planted native plant plugs 1.5 years ago in their CTE Garden STEM class and ETP, where they have been cared for in their on-site native plant nursery. The Washington Native Plant Society Central Chapter also generously donated plants.
Native plants with cultural significance to our local tribes helps create a pathway for our scholars and community to learn and celebrate Native American heritage and culture together. The Federal Way Public Schools Native Education Program is committed to the integration and ongoing development of the Washington State Since Time Immemorial Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum. At the middle school level, the curriculum aims to study how the physical geography affects the distribution, culture, and economic life of local tribes, among other topics (1). This project not only helps students understand the importance of biodiversity but also connects them with the rich history and culture of their local tribes.
Through this project, students have planted a variety of native plants, including red alders, Western red cedars, sword ferns, snowberries, red-flowering currants, and many more types of edible berries. An important part of plant-based teachings includes Northwest Coastal Native knowledge, stories, and plant traditions learning opportunities. Scholars will continue to develop meaningful connections and experiences with plants and thereby build resiliency, health, social/emotional intelligence, and care for the land.
Native scholar Carter Wells (Cowlitz Tribe) highlighted the importance of learning about biodiversity and bringing it to his own school, and shared, “This is good for the environment because the plants that we are planting can naturally grow here without special needs. For me, [as a Native Scholar] it means that I have a connection to our environment, which helps support animal life and people's health. I believe that most people take for granted that they just get to eat food and berries from the store, and don't have the experience of growing and nurturing their own food.”
Scholars will be able to see these plants grow throughout the years and understand its role in the nature’s food web to support local insects and pollinators that have evolved to eat native plants and pollinate them, becoming food for birds, and providing tasty treats and a beautiful growing setting for the community to enjoy.
Brigadoon scholars celebrate Native American Heritage Month through various learning activities including new books from the FWPS Native Education Program
In celebration of National Native American Heritage Month, our schools are building inclusive school communities by amplifying Native voices, history, and cultures. To achieve this, they are integrating various learning activities into the classrooms and libraries, designing art, and promoting presentations of Native culture.
At Brigadoon Elementary, students have been engaging in classroom discussions and studying Native American culture. In Mrs. Beausoleil’s class, fourth graders discussed the resources that Native American tribes use, depending on their location. The class explored natural resources such as animal hide, birch bark, and clay. A guest speaker then came to demonstrate how to make clay pots. Fifth graders in Mrs. Bockoras' class had the wonderful opportunity to learn from their classmate Lillian Wright of the Quinault tribe. She presented a slideshow about her tribe and showed some artifacts to her peers.
Multiple kindergarten classrooms joined Mrs. Jones' kindergarten class to hear from Hailey, Mrs. Jones' daughter and a proud member of the Sun’aq Tribe in Kodiak, Alaska and alumni of Federal Way Public Schools. Hailey excitedly shared insights about her cultural tribal roots. She presented intricate earring beadwork that she personally designed and emphasized her deep connection to her tribal heritage. She proudly showcased a painting by her great aunt, Merle Gundlach, a celebrated watercolor artist capturing a girl adorned in traditional tribal clothing. The artwork reflects her tribe's heritage and upbringing on Kodiak Island. The class also engaged in watching a video featuring the Kodiak Alutiiq dancers and had a hands-on experience creating inukshuks—stone figures traditionally built to communicate across the Arctic. (1)
Over in Brigadoon’s library, third graders have been reading books on Native American heritage and designing a collective bulletin board with drawings of salmon, orcas, bears, eagles, and other local designs of the Puyallup people of the Coast Salish Native American tribe from Western Washington. In addition, new books were distributed to every school library, compliments of the FWPS Native Education Program! Funds for these books came from a grant from the Southwest King County Retirees’ Association and the Native Education budget. Three txʷəlšucid (Twulshootseed) language bilingual books created by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians were gifted to each elementary library and every school library received the book Project 562: Changing the way we see Native America by Matika Wilbur.
Native American Heritage Month is more than just a month and FWPS is committed to empowering our scholars to have a voice and see themselves in their learning by celebrating all cultures all year long. By doing so, schools are adding on to the vibrant and rich diverse environment that values and respects the contributions and traditions of Native Americans.
Lakota Middle School Scholars Honor Native American Heritage Month Through a Cultural Poster Learning Project
Lakota Middle School's eighth-grade scholars in their leadership class are echoing Native voices and drawing inspiration from Native American cultures, both past and present in honor of National Native American Heritage Month. Scholars have been working on a project aimed at building an inclusive school community to ensure scholars are achieving at a high level by feeling a sense of belonging.
To achieve their objective, the scholars have taken to researching biographies and inspirational quotes of important Native American figures and culture, which are shared during morning announcements. Additionally, they designed posters that take the powerful words of Indigenous Peoples and bring them to life in the hallways of their school. Lakota Native scholars are also planning a Native Family Gathering at their school in December.
The posters include phrases in Native languages, including Lushootseed, the language spoken by multiple Puget Sound Salish tribes and some families of our scholars. Another poster featured in the hallways of Lakota is a quote from Tecumeh that reads “A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.” It serves as a reminder to our scholars of the strength of unity and the power we have when we come together and strive for success.
Another poster reads, "We only have one earth, let’s take care of it,” attributed to Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna), the United States Secretary of the Interior and the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.
Scholars shared that they are proud to have the opportunity to embrace, celebrate, and weave learning projects into the culture of their school to create a greater sense of pride. Additionally, these initiatives have helped them connect with other Native scholars in their own school.
Eighth-grader Raihanna (Ahousat/Nuu Chah Nulth) was able to meet more Native scholars through the project and shared, “I got happy that there are other people that are also Native around this school. It surprised me.” The learning opportunity created a pathway for scholars to gain new perspective of the wonderful diversity of our schools.
“It’s cool that there’s people in here that care about Native culture and knowing that they're here to represent it; it makes people from their different cultures feel comfortable at the school,” said eighth-grader Ryan (Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux).
It's inspiring to see the powerful impact and positive outcomes that can result from initiatives that celebrate and honor diverse cultures. This project serves as a testament to our district and scholars' commitment to honoring Native American heritage and promoting inclusivity within their campus community.
Although November is coming to an end, Native American Heritage Month is more than just a month. As the most diverse school district in the state, FWPS celebrates our scholar’s diversity as outlined in our Vision for Excellence and Equity, and we would like to spotlight our Native Clubs in our comprehensive high schools that support this goal. Our student body groups are a great way for scholars to learn about Native American culture, and they also promote a sense of community and belonging among scholars and staff. This has been shown to lead to improved academic performance according to school educators. With the recent addition of Decatur High School's club, all FWPS comprehensive high schools now have their own Native Club.
The Native Club is an essential organization that provides a platform for our Native scholars to be represented and heard. It is a welcoming space where they can voice their concerns, discuss issues that affect them, and receive support from their peers. Additionally, the Native Club plays a crucial role in providing a pathway for scholars to connect and celebrate the diverse cultures, heritage, and traditions of different tribes through cultural events and learning activities in our schools.
Federal Way High School’s Native Club scholars recently led an activity to learn how to make traditional frybread. It is a popular and delicious activity that everyone enjoys throughout the year. Scholars also partnered with the Robotics club and created a fundraiser by selling colored handmade bracelets with 3-D printed feathers to support causes that they were passionate about. The Orange feather bracelet that you can buy supports Residential school awareness, Black for being an ally and support Native people, culture, and the community, and Red for MMIW. These were delivered along with a fact sheet about each cause to learn more.
Earlier in the month our staff and scholars also participated in observing Orange Shirt Day to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation, inviting the truth, creating a safe space to learn and start conversations about residential and boarding schools, and to reaffirm that “Every Child Matters." Scholars and staff wore orange clothing in support and led fundraising drives to build more awareness.
According to Jessikah (Lakota Sioux), a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, the TJ Native American Coalition Club (NACC) is an inclusive community that welcomes everyone. “It's where we talk about Native culture. We have our drums. We harvest plants that we plant, and it's just a great community to feel safe. NACC has definitely helped me feel more involved with my culture.”
The club also helped Jessikah learn about how diverse the Native community is. “It helped me learn that I am who I am, and I'm Native American. Thomas Jefferson makes efforts, so we feel represented. I feel really connected to my culture and I feel very represented because in every single assembly that we have, we have land acknowledgement, and we are highly recognized. I love that.”
Max (Tlingit), another TJHS senior added, “The Native American Coalition Club (at TJHS) really helps me find a place where I can stay and where I can feel myself and express myself as much as I can. Being involved in my culture and teaching culture to other Native students is the most amazing job that I could ever have,” shared senior Max (Tlingit).
Another event that Thomas Jefferson High School NACC scholars were able to participate in was the Washington Native American Education Consortium (WWNAEC) meeting. WWNAEC brings all the those working in Native Education and public school educators throughout Western Washington together to discuss, learn, and collaborate on increasing meaningful pathways to success for Native scholars. This was TJHS’s first time to host the meeting and our NACC scholars had the opportunity to give the land acknowledgement, showcase the drums they created, share their experiences about their club, and provide a tour of the native species garden that our NACC scholars planted at the school and incredibly proud of.
Dr. Dennis Eller (Cherokee Nation), Assistant Principal at Thomas Jefferson, closed the meeting by presenting research that he has done about Native American systems of supports within the schools, in the academic environment. One of the major findings in the research shows the importance of bringing our scholars into the curriculum and giving them opportunities to have their voice heard.
“If we have the ability to show and embrace more Native culture within the curriculum, within the school itself, if we spotlight and share Native culture and people and persona that are part of that, then the scholars start having more role models and they see themselves as being able to be more successful,” shared Dr. Eller.
Federal Way Public Schools is honored to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month in November. We will continue to elevate the voices of our scholars and honor the rich cultural diversity that exists within our community throughout the year. In addition to honoring National Native American Heritage Month, we are dedicated to celebrating and promoting cultural awareness and appreciation throughout the school year.