Tribal council members meet with school board


Last updated 3/16/2022 at 11:54am

Clockwise from left, Charissa Eichman, CBC Councilmembers Alison Ball and Jarred Erickson, Chairman Andy Joseph Jr, Councilmember Karen Condon, board Directors Butch Stanger, Shannon Nicholson, Alex Tufts, and Superintendent Paul Turner meet Monday in the school board meeting.

Communication between the Colville Tribes and the Grand Coulee Dam School District should be prioritized, officials from both groups say.

At their meeting Monday night, GCDSD School Board directors hosted the chairman and other members of the Colville Business Council, the governing body of the Colville Confederated Tribes. 

With 37.8% of students in the district being enrolled tribal members, and more being of tribal descent, the school board has spoken frequently in recent years about wanting to increase communication with the tribes.

The importance of communication was a common talking point during the meeting, which included CBC Chairman Andy Joseph Jr, CBC members Jarred Erickson, Alison Ball, and Karen Condon, and tribal attorney Charissa Eichman, as well as school board directors Butch Stanger, Alex Tufts, and Shannon Nicholson, and Superintendent Paul Turner.

In addition to talking about racial issues, detailed in another article in this issue, the group talked on a variety of topics, including COVID-19, cultural sensitivity, and language.

Regarding Covid, Erickson voiced the concern that many tribal students live with their grandparents who may be at higher risk of vulnerability to the disease and not wanting students to bring it home to them.

Joseph noted how previous diseases have affected native populations more than other races.

"The way things look in the state don't really compare to what the tribe deals with," Joseph said. "We have to face people that we bury, their families; it's really hard losing anyone. A lot of the children here are probably impacted."

Ball said it was good the group was meeting, as different groups and departments often have different policies related to Covid and should work together more on those policies to come to common agreements.

Superintendent Paul Turner spoke about how lots of students, as well as staff, missed school maybe just because of exposure to someone with Covid, rather than having it themselves. He said there had been "hard discussions" with parents to explain why their children couldn't come to school.

Since mask mandates have lifted in the states, he noted, some students and staff are still choosing to wear them.

Karen Condon noted new strains of the disease being talked about on the news. "We'll see how it goes," she said.

The group also discussed the importance of having a plan for communicating more often, which is something that ultimately benefits the children as it can address the unique needs of tribal students.

"We're all interested in the success of our students in a global kind of way," Ball said. "What is the vision for our families, our youth? Where are they going and how will they get there and be successful in life? Sometimes there's a cultural aspect to what we think about what success is."

"If there is a lot of cooperation between the school district and the tribes, I think we can succeed in getting some of these things done," Condon said.

Regarding the history of the Colville peoples, Joseph spoke about some of the hurt caused by boarding schools that often physically beat the traditional language out of students, and the need for healing from that, "mending the broken hearts and brains."

"Schools owe [the language] back to us," he said. "Language is going to be a big part of [healing]."

Joseph noted that his own children had studied Spanish or French to qualify to get into a four-year college, when Salish, the traditional language of the Colville peoples, would have qualified as an option.

The group also discussed whether a Salish teacher should have to be state-certificated as a teacher. Erickson noted that with only so many elders fluent or semi-fluent in the language, the district shouldn't disallow them from teaching the language only because they weren't certified or working towards certification.

While acknowledging points Turner made about teachers needing to know how to run a classroom and form a lesson plan, Erickson told him, "You're thinking of the traditional way of learning, the colonial way of learning."

Joseph spoke in Salish, then translated what he'd said into English.

It was a math equation, and Joseph made the point that the language can be used to teach math and science. He said bilingual students often go on to great success.

Joseph noted a healthy diet as another thing that should be stressed by schools.

"A lot of the foods we see make our immune systems so weak,"he said. "That's why we got impacted by the virus so bad. We have so many sugars, flours that are bad for our body chemistry."

Ball said what being a "competent Colville" means is something that needs to be communicated, saying that people should be physically and intellectually healthy. 

"A competent Colville can be successful in all areas of life, whatever they choose," she said, whether that is on or off the reservation, or whatever career they may end up in.

The group also discussed how to have better communication between the school district and tribal police in case of an emergency.

Turner explained that if he called 911, the county dispatch office would contact Coulee Dam Police, who could then contact tribal police.

Erickson suggested having the county contact tribal police at the same time so that everyone is alerted at the same time.

"What's really important is we can help on issues," Ball said. "We're really neighbors, we aren't busy bodies. We want to contribute and make sure all our kids are safe."

Regarding cultural sensitivity, Turner told the group about sensitivity training that staff undertook last year on Fridays for six weeks in collaboration with Braided Consultants from the Spokane Tribe.

"We want to continue that type of training," Turner said. "It's recognized that sensitivity training is needed."

Ball said that simply recognizing contributions from Native Americans can help increase sensitivity as well.

"There's been a lot of contributions by Native Americans in math, science, philosophy, she said. "We've contributed a lot to this country, and they don't really hear that. It goes beyond cultural sensitivity; it's looking across the aisle and how this person helped me in my lifestyle. You feel more appreciative rather than, 'I have to be nice to this person.'" 

"We're here for the kids," Erickson said near the end of the meeting. "There's been some tension, and rightfully so, but it's good. We're looking out for the best interest of the kids. I want to make sure we don't get stuck on the little things." 

"When you think about 'it takes a village to raise a child,'" Ball said, "and you look at that village, there's people looking up, looking down, and people right in the village. There isn't just one perspective of what's going on. You have to have all three perspectives to take care of the village properly." 


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