House of Healing Longhouse Blessing and Ground-Turning Ceremony

Published On

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 4:00 pm

Uzma and I want to thank you all for being here on this very special occasion. We have many special guests with us today, whose support and advocacy have made this project possible. I would particularly like to thank U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen for securing federal funding for the project, as well as several state legislators for securing state funding, including State Representative Debra Lekanoff who was unable to join us today but has been a champion for the project in the state legislature and providing the inspiration for the name, the House of Healing. I also want to recognize Representatives Alicia Rule and Joe Timmons from the 42nd Legislative District who are with us today, as well as Craig Bill, Director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, and staff from Representative Larsen’s office. Thank you all so much for your support.

I’m also pleased to welcome Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund, and I thank the Mayor and City staff for being our partners in making this beautiful location possible. I’m also pleased to welcome my friend Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu and I thank the County Council for funding support on this project.

My gratitude also goes to the Lummi, Jamestown S’Klallam, Nooksack, Muckleshoot, Stillaguamish, Swinomish, Suquamish, and Tulalip tribes for their support, as well as to the Mt. Baker Foundation and the many alumni, faculty, staff, and community members who have contributed to this landmark project.

Most of all, I want to thank our tribal elders and our Native American Student Union students—both past and present. Without their steadfast advocacy and guidance, we would not be here today.

The vision of a Longhouse at Western originated with our Native American Student Union. In a letter written in 2016 to then WWU President Bruce Shepard, NASU specifically requested the hiring of a tribal liaison and building of a longhouse.

We were grateful to hire Laural Ballew as Western’s first Executive Director of American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations Relations & Tribal Liaison to the President in January 2019.

Today, thanks to the advocacy and support of so many, we make the Longhouse a reality at Western Washington University.

This will be a precious resource to our Native students and tribal partners, but it will also provide opportunities for our broader community to come together to learn and heal, a space much needed with all the social challenges we face today.

I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge a harmful past at Western Washington University and throughout Whatcom County. Some of you may be familiar with the research of Dr. Michael Marker, a researcher at the University of British Columbia who passed away suddenly in January 2021. An outstanding scholar of Indigenous Education, Dr. Marker completed his M.Ed. at Western in 1987 and he graduated with his Ph.D. in Educational Studies at UBC in 1995.

Much of Michael’s research focused on the anti-Indian backlash that resulted from the 1974 “Bolt” decision which ruled that Puget Sound tribes could take up to 50% of the salmon catch at their traditional fishing sites.

This anti-Indian backlash was prevalent throughout our communities including in our K-12 schools where many teachers and their family members were fishers.

And many of those teachers were educated right here at Western. Those in the Lummi community know the stories of a professor in Western’s College of Education, who supervised student teachers, and attempted to wrongly and tragically teach that Lummis were genetically inferior and therefore less intelligent. Sadly, even after complaints from students and Lummi parents and a hearing involving faculty, students, and tribal leaders, the institution did not take any action and this professor was allowed to continue supervising student teachers through the end of the 1970s.

We know all too well that history can repeat itself, that the past informs the present, and that many harms will continue to be perpetuated absent purposeful intervention. It seems to me that the ground turning for the Longhouse is an appropriate time for me to offer a sincere apology to the Lummi Nation on behalf of Western Washington University for the past’s racist teaching. In offering an apology for these harms, we acknowledge that recognition and apology only ring true when accompanied by action; by not only bringing awareness of the past into the present but in acting to ensure reconciliation, repair, and renewal.

We hope that this longhouse, this House of Healing, will be an important and lasting contribution to repairing the generational harm caused and ensuring that Native voices and stories are never again silenced.

Again, thank you all for being here today and for being part of this historic moment not just for Western, but for our broader community.