On June 14th 2012 Native students, family members, and community gathered at Indian Heritage cafeteria to honor our Native graduates in our 5th Annual Rites of Passage Native Graduation Ceremony. The Urban AI/AN Education Alliance served as hosts for this event, with the generous fiscal support of the Puyallup Tribe. Our Rite of Passage ceremony holds special meaning given the plethora of challenges experienced by our Native learners. These challenges range from lack of culturally responsive materials and instruction, limited academic resources, inadequate social/ cultural support, and most impactful an educational system which excludes or diminishes and devalues our Native worldview, experience, perspective and sadly our ‘voice’. Institutionalized racism is commonly experienced in many forms sometimes in the form of micro aggressions and micro assaults and other times through district neglect of our unique cultural and academic needs. In addition, Native students must contend with overcoming the pressures to conform to mainstream values, attitudes, and beliefs. In spite of the cultural barriers our Native graduates overcame the challenges and have succeeded in attaining their high School diplomas, and our 8th graders are successful in transitioning into high school.
There were over 130 participants sharing in a bountiful traditional feast consisting of delectable soups ranging from Nettle Soup, Pazole, Elk Stew, Clam Chowder, and Chili. Numerous community members donated their time to prepare and serve for this spectacular demonstration of Indigenous culinary splendor.
The evening began with the melodic voices of lead singer Lorraine Bayes and the Seattle Clear Sky Youth singing the Cherokee morning song. In following protocol elder Alice Tu shared a beautiful blessing. Following our dinner feast Coin twins (Southern Express Drum group) sang a traditional welcome song followed by Master of Ceremony Robert Fredrickson who artfully orchestrated the graduation ceremony. Student selected speaker Julia Wilson-Peltier captured the audience’s attention with her inspiring activism and enthusiasm for community Service as co-founder of Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council, and founder of Native Club at Nathan Hale H.S. Miss Indian Nation Shanoa Pinkham conveyed a powerful message about Tribal identity, volunteerism and finding your passion while pursuing higher education. Finally Key Note Speaker Gyassi Ross shared a compelling speech inspired by Martin Luther’s belief in ‘Doing what is right because it is the right thing to do’ This approach to life and the journey each graduate is embarking on invoked deep reflection on choices we make and importance of the past generation’s sacrifices made for the opportunities students have in today. Students today benefit from our ancestors sacrifices. And ‘pay it forward’ is their responsibility, because ‘It is the right thing to do.’
In addition to honoring our Native 8th and 12th grade graduates we also recognized Outstanding Educators/Ally’s, and ‘Exceptional Community Service’ award.
The 8th grade and 12 grade honorees each received a gift bag with various items which represent cultural/traditional significance such as: abalone shell, sage bundle, sweet grass braid, Coast Salish and/or contemporary Native prints, ‘Good Road to Life’ t-shirt, scarf, certificate, and gift cards.
We would like to thank our volunteer supporters who made this event a success; Pam Nason, Blaine Parce, Michael Desante, Jessica V, Karen Elliott, Fern Renville, Vicki and Scotti Pinkham, Labateya Youth Home, SIHB, Robin Wilson and Daryl, Mark Peltier, Michael Tulee, and Florence Kay Fiddler, Ravi and Jeff Smith, UAI/ANEA Board members, Linda Hill, PAL, John and Jill LaPointe, and Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth and SACNAS members.