- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2016

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) - Cedar weaving - be it baskets, vests or hats - is not only a process, but an art.

For some in the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, it’s an art that’s passed down from one generation to the next.

On a recent Wednesday morning, teachers and principals from the La Conner and Concrete school districts tried their hands at weaving thin, moistened cedar strands.

It was harder than it looked, said La Conner Elementary School Principal Beverly Bowen.

Later, the educators took a journey in one of the tribe’s traditional canoes, reported the Skagit Valley Herald (https://bit.ly/2bjFYft).

“(It’s) understanding us from our perspective,” Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby said.

The lesson was part of a four-day teachers training session that is partnering Swinomish tribal leaders, faculty from Western Washington University’s Woodring College of Education and Huxley College of the Environment, and educators from the La Conner and Concrete school districts for a project called “Science and the Swinomish.”

The project is made possible thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Washington Achievement Council. The goal of the project is to give teachers in those districts a better understanding of Swinomish - and Native American - culture so they have a strong foundation from which to teach their students the state-mandated Since Time Immemorial curriculum.

The curriculum, which is designed to enhance what students learn about Washington’s 29 federally-recognized tribes, became a requirement after the 2015 Legislative session.

“It’s trying to make everybody better at their job,” said former La Conner School District Superintendent Tim Bruce, who is now an assistant professor at Woodring’s Educational Administration Program.

During the yearlong project, teachers from both school districts will gain firsthand knowledge of locally relevant and culturally important issues in science, water use and tideland impacts.

Students from both districts will learn about the Skagit River watershed and the importance the ecosystem has to the tribe.

“All those things that are involved with the culture,” Bruce said. “And of course, all of us in the Skagit Valley.”

Not only will students get to spend time in the classrooms of the other district, the teachers will, too.

“I’m excited about the fact that my teachers as well as my principals will have the opportunity to collaborate,” Concrete School District Superintendent Barbara Hawkings said. “As a small district, we don’t have that opportunity like other districts do.”

The project emphasizes the Since Time Immemorial curriculum, but also complies with the new Next Generation Science Standards, Bruce said.

“The whole goal was to take the kids and get them out into the field, and get their hands dirty, their feet wet, learning about the environment,” Bruce said. “And how we need to take care of that environment to provide a quality of life not only for us but for future generations.”

After the year, the findings and curricula will be uploaded to a digital library, where educators throughout the country will be able to access them, Bruce said.

The Since Time Immemorial curriculum allows districts some flexibility in what they teach, and they are encouraged to draw from their neighboring tribes.

“We’re still here,” said Larry Campbell, Swinomish tribal historic preservation officer. “What we’re trying to do is re-recognize who we are as a people.”

Concrete will also be partnering with the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, Hawkings said.

“The fact that we live where we live, and the fact that the tribes were here before we were, I think it’s important for the kids to have an understanding of that,” she said.

The Swinomish tribe was happy to partner with the districts and the university to help preserve their culture, Cladoosby said.

“When people don’t know about history, they’re more than likely to repeat things that we would not like to see again,” he said.


Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, https://www.skagitvalleyherald.com

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