"Affirming the ties of two peoplesNow in its sixth year, an Indian Education Program is thriving."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:51 PM
"A new mural by Squamish artist Dale Harry, unveiled at the Title IX Indian education program celebration Saturday, depicts traditions shared by Bainbridge's native population and their first nation cousins of Canada.Those traditions are in turn strengthened by the Bainbridge Schools District's Indian Education program.The coast Salish mural, a triptych of three painted panels, each 4-feet square, was commissioned for the walls of Commodore Center with funds from the district's multicultural education budget.All the Commodore programs made the commitment to a piece of art that would welcome every student, said Catherine Camp, district alternative program coordinator, and we seized the opportunity to have an artist-in-residence come.But the artwork may have particular resonance for the more than 100 members of Bainbridge's native community - largely the descendants of the Squamish women who came to Bainbridge as berry pickers - who turned out for the unveiling. Present as well, were two Squamish tribal council members, who traveled from Canada to share a meal and gifts with their Bainbridge relatives. They listened to Native American author Sherman Alexie and heard drumming by Sharing the Drum, a group of Ordway students led by Rosabel and April Newman. The sisters, Odyssey Multi-age Classroom students who practiced with the group for months, are Squamish natives who recently moved to Bainbridge with their mother, Terry Newman. The drum group wore paddle vests - cloth outerwear adorned with small paddles about an inch long, made by their parents in Indian education program workshops. They sang coast Salish songs wearing the traditional vests.Gina Corpuz, coordinator of the Saturday event, who helped put the Title IX program in place six years ago and ran it for two years, notes that a major thrust of the Title IX effort is to teach native heritage.When we did the mandatory assessment of parents every year before we started the program, culture and heritage would always get the most votes, Corpuz said. At first we tried imported traditions, like pow-wows, but through our own growth as coast Salish people, we realized we had to learn about what belongs to us.The local waysAccording to Corpuz, not focusing curriculum on local tradition is a mistake many young Title IX programs make. Now, with the school district's Title IX program in its sixth year, things run more smoothly, Corpuz said.When she left the coordinator position four years ago, Millie Loughnane - like Corpuz, of Squamish and Stalo tribal heritage - stepped in. Loughnane is a hands-on administrator, Corpuz said, accompanying students to talk to teachers if they have a problem, escorting them to have a problem, escorting them to interviews at colleges and technical schools. Millie is a really strong advocate for those kids, Corpuz said. She helps create a sense of belonging for them; she nurtures them.She is the program.Loughnane's position is part-time and the program budget, at $3500, is small. Half of of the budget is matching funds from the district. Each of the more than 60 native students could each generate federal money - but they must be enrolled in a tribe recognized by the U.S. government to generate the funding, and many Bainbridge natives, with roots in Canada, don't qualify. The Indian Education Program must collaborate with other programs, such as special education and multicultural education, to survive. Harry's art and trip were underwritten not by Title IX's tiny budget, but through Odyssey teacher Barry Hoonan's decision to use multicultural funds to bring the artist from Canada. The $750 covered the artist's work time, travel expenses, room and board, and food for the entire week Harry was on Bainbridge.Applying for the Title IX grant takes hundreds of hours of an administrator's time. School officials insist it is vital to the health of the local native students. It's a small blip on the screen financially, Corpuz said, but its significance to our native population on Bainbridge cannot be overestimated. I just have to look around me at this spring gathering and see old friendships being renewed, as we share a meal and honor our children, to know just how important it is. "