Celebrating our nation’s first heritage

Coastal Native cedar basket meets Plains Indian powwow drum, as native traditions from all over “Turtle Island” are celebrated during Native American month.

Jamestown S’Klallam tribal member Roger Fernandes discusses Salish art of Puget Sound Nov. 18 for the Bainbridge Island Historical Society and gives listeners the chance to make their own designs. On Nov. 20, Robert Owens of the Lakota Nation tells traditional Plains Indian stories with acting skills honed at Oregon’s famed Shakespeare festival.

“We must always remember that the original inhabitants of this land were Suquamish,” said Gina Corpuz, Squamish Native and island resident. “Many Coast Salish tribes (also) came here.

“Today,” Corpuz said, “Bainbridge’s native population is more diverse – so we celebrate all First Nations peoples.”

Corpuz, with other Title IX Indian Education Committee members, planned the celebration of Native American month on Bainbridge, where descendants of 50 First Nations tribes from throughout Turtle Island (North America) live.

Corpuz’ tally of the number of First Nations represented on the island is based on a census she did seven years ago.

“We took a head count when we first applied for funding for the schools’ Title IX Indian Education program,” Corpuz said. “The 50 tribes represented only the families with students in school. There are probably more.”

The diversity of the Bainbridge native population may make them less visible than a single dominant group with a tribal center might be, Corpuz notes.

“We do have tribal centers,” Corpuz said. “They’re just not on Bainbridge, because we all belong to different nations. We are active in our own First Nations gatherings.”

Because there is no central gathering place on Bainbridge, Corpuz notes, the Title IX Indian Education Program is an important focal point for First Nations peoples. The Title IX Program also plays a crucial role in teaching Native children the traditions lost when grandparents were forced to attend government boarding schools.

Title IX funds

The Title IX program is directly funded by the federal government’s Office of Indian Education, under the Department of the Interior.

Title IX students needing assistance receive tutoring in reading, language arts and study skills.

Bainbridge Title IX provides $3,500 a year for program coordinator Millie Loughnane to work 15 hours a week, with Bainbridge Youth Services underwriting three hours to make a total of 18. Loughnane splits her time among all the district schools, except Blakely and Wilkes.

“I’d love to be able to go out there, too, but at least I’m on call,” Loughnane said.

The amount is small because Title IX funding is based on the number of participating native children registered in a tribe recognized by the United States.

Many of the natives who live ion Bainbridge Island, however, are the descendants of Canadian native women who came to the island to pick strawberries and stayed to marry Filipino men.

Loughnane counsels students and has an open-door policy students say they appreciate.

“I help them academically and I advocate for them. I might help them fill out college applications, for instance, or just talk with them,” Loughnane said. “These are hard schools. I know because I went all the way through Bainbridge schools.

“It takes not just me, but a team of people working with our native students to have them be successful.”

To support the program, parents, teachers and Native community members formed the Indian Education Committee.

Extracurricular activities such as talking circles, singing and drumming also play a role.

“The education of First Nation children is not limited to the classroom,” Corpuz said.

“We have the responsibility of helping our children re-learn traditional knowledge. It’s the heritage that Millie and other people working in Title IX are trying to reclaim,” Corpuz said.

“Community events, like these planned for Native American month, are an important part of that.”

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