Summer Institute at the Paddle to Lummi 2019 gathering

In July, nearly 100 canoe families came ashore at the Lummi Nation’s Stommish Grounds as part of the Paddle to Lummi Tribal Canoe Journey 2019. This year’s event was called “Sqweshenet Tse Schelangen /Honoring our Way of Life.” Several staff members from Bellingham Public Schools attended the arrival of canoes as part of the Study Canada Summer Institute (SCSI) 2019 hosted by the Canada House at Western Washington University.

In addition to the Lummi event, the summer institute attendees also traveled to Victoria, British Columbia, visiting the Royal BC Museum’s First Peoples galleries (see photos above and video below) and the “Our Living Languages” exhibit. They also visited the University of Victoria First People’s Learning Center.


Video above: Scale model of Skedans, a Haida Gwaii village as it was in the 1870s; Totem Hall in background: BC Royal Museum

Institute attendees (shown in photo one) were Patty Keene (recently retired teacher from Silver Beach Elementary), Cynthia Wilson (Lummi partner), Anna Lees (WWU faculty), Susan Davis (Columbia Elementary teacher), Charisse Berner (director of teaching and learning), Susan Pevonak (Columbia Elementary teacher), Sharece Steinkamp (Geneva Elementary principal) and Jennifer Wilkinson (Alderwood Elementary teacher.)

Several staff members who attended the summer training shared how this summer learning informs their work as educators, especially in light of the state of Washington’s recent adoption of new social studies k-12 learning standards. These updated standards include more opportunities for thoughtful civic engagement and also incorporate the “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State” curriculum.

To deepen our understanding of the “Since Time Immemorial” curriculum, school board directors plan to invite Lummi Nation representatives to a board linkage. Linkages are a way for school board members to connect with families and the community to listen and learn.

Reflections from educators attending the summer professional development follow:

Jennifer Wilkinson (Alderwood teacher): This summer I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the Study Canada Summer Institute. For me, the highlight of this experience was the opportunity to visit the Lummi Nation and to learn directly from their educators, tribal leaders and elders. The Lummi community was extraordinarily generous to us, sharing their time and stories, all in the midst of the Paddle to Lummi canoe landing, which they were hosting that week.  I was able to learn about the reemergence of tribal languages and the ongoing impact of treaties dating back to the 1700’s. I learned about resilience in the face of economic and cultural destruction. I learned about a rich and complex culture that is deeply connected to the land and water. It helped me to recognize the power of place and story in all of our lives and challenged many of my own historical understandings. It was clear that the tribal leadership views education as a central part of their efforts to promote responsible stewardship of the environment and an ongoing link to their history and culture.

As a result of attending the Institute, I am now committed to using the resources of the “Since Time Immemorial” curriculum to be sure that my present second graders understand what the Lummi Nation is, where the Lummi Nation is, and how  Lummi tribal sovereignty predates settlement of Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest. I want my students to know that the Lummi Nation governs itself in order to keep and support their cultural ways of life. I want them to know that we have much we can learn from the Lummi Nation about environmental stewardship and sustainable practices. In order to achieve this, I will need to continue to cultivate connections that I was able to make during this learning experience. I am grateful to our Lummi Nation partners for their willingness to help and guide me in my efforts to portray their story with the accuracy and respect that it deserves.


Sharece Steinkamp (Geneva principal): The Study Canada course was an incredible opportunity to learn more about the Salish Sea and indigenous ways of knowing. We share native legends and stories in our classrooms, but may or may not know the wisdom behind our neighboring tribal traditions. Many celebrations and stories about salmon are actually a way to conserve the healthiest stocks of fish and game. For example, once the King Salmon is caught, everyone would go to shore and honor the salmon and give thanks. This tradition is as much about conservation as it is about community. The fisherman knew that the salmon would run for a length of time, and intentionally let the first half of the run pass through without being fished to ensure the healthiest stock would be able to reproduce and return. The last half of the run is what the fisherman fished.

While in Victoria, we visited the Royal BC Museum where we heard over and over again that indigenous communities make decisions based on what is best for the most important members of their community — those not yet born.  As an educator, this really resonated with me. Taking a long view of our work and conserving resources for our children is critical to building healthy, connected and lasting communities.

With our district focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, the work around “Truth and Reconciliation” in Canada is an area where we all can learn from those taking the first steps. Teaching students about indigenous technology and about treaty rights is important. It is the responsibility of all of us to honor these agreements and recognize the wisdom of our neighbors since time immemorial. The state of Washington recently published curriculum to support this work in our classrooms. It can feel overwhelming to begin to teach about painful episodes in our history, but there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.


Charisse Berner (director of Teaching and Learning):  I had the incredible opportunity to participate in weeklong deep learning experience with a team of about 30 educators who hailed from Bellingham and across the USA. Western Washington University’s Canada House staff co-created this amazing week of learning called the Study Canada Summer Institute: Transboundary Learning Along the Canoe Journey with elders from Lummi Nation.  

Our first day was at the Lummi Nation School, learning from tribal leaders and elders including the development of the Since Time Immemorial curriculum. We heard personal history timelines and stories of Lummi ways of knowing. Our Lummi neighbors taught us how they consider the needs of future generations as essential. This approach shapes their thinking about conservation of resources and many decisions made in the present.  

The second day found us on the beach during the landing for the 100+ canoes that participated in the Canoe Journey 2019: Paddle to Lummi. The pride and emotion of the elders who greeted the young people who requested permission to land was evident in the thickness of their voices and sparkling eyes. We all were amazed by the determination of the paddlers and the hospitality of the Lummi people. Placing cedar wreaths on the canoes as they landed, the Lummi welcomed the exhausted paddlers to come enjoy food, stories, dancing and singing together for several days following the landing.  

The next day, we traveled to Victoria where our learning continued at the University of Victoria’s First People’s Learning Center, the incredible Royal BC Museum including the First Peoples languages exhibit and a personal tour of their indigenous collections. Later we learned from a public-school educator who is part of a team that is indigenizing their school space and curricula as part of the Truth and Reconciliation work underway in British Columbia.  

As a result of this immersive professional learning experience we are continuing to invest in and develop a relationship with our Lummi neighbors to deepen our commitment to decolonizing our curriculum and honoring indigenous ways of knowing.  We also have plans to reach out to our Nooksack neighbors to continue our local implementation of Since Time Immemorial with them.  

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