TULALIP RESERVATION, Wash. - A new door has opened for Natives living on the Tulalip Reservation. They now have the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies without having to leave the reservation.
In order to enroll in the program, students must have an associate's degree or have earned 90 credits from an accredited institution.
The Evergreen State College Tribal: Reservation Based Community Determined Program provides students the opportunity to explore tribal issues closest to their heart and write a case study based on their findings, said instructor Renee Swan-Waite.
Swan-Waite, a member of the Lummi Nation, said the program kicked off in January and currently has three students enrolled. ''We're hoping to have 12 to 15 students in the class eventually,'' she said.
While seemingly small, six other Washington tribes have successfully implemented the degree program, which began on the Quinault Indian Reservation in 1989.
Along with the Quinault, the Makah, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Port Gamble S'Klallam and Skokomish tribes all offer the upper degree program. Out of those tribes, 200 students have graduated from the program.
A number of students have published their case studies on the Evergreen Web site. Those studies cover an array of topics from whaling rights to Native arts.
The academic year operates on a fall, winter and spring quarter system, each 10 weeks long. Students meet twice a week on the reservation to earn nine credits during the quarter. And they sacrifice four Saturdays out of each quarter to earn three credits during a morning and afternoon class at the longhouse on the Evergreen campus.
Classes offered at the longhouse include Coastal Art Design and Application, Birds Afield, Human Services, Salish Art, Collaborative Management, Eportfolios, Writing Stories of Our People, Public Speaking, Ethnobotany and more.
Swan-Waite said the afternoon classes held at the longhouse provide students from all seven campuses the opportunity to discuss their case studies. ''I think it's an exciting and innovative program,'' she said.
The curriculum rotates on a three-year cycle built on themes and core courses. The theme for the 2007 - 08 school year focuses on ''Traditional Knowledge: The Foundation for Sustainable Tribal Nations.''
On the whole, students study ethics, management, social policy, social services, cultural traditions, comparative societies, leadership, literature and more.
Swan-Waite began the winter quarter with the core course on ''Ethics: Cultural Traditions and Communities in Transition.'' Courses are held in a classroom at the Northwest Indian College located on the reservation. The spring quarter kicked off March 31 with the core course on ''Comparing Indigenous Societies.''
Maureen Hoban, project director of the Tulalip College Center, oversees certificate programs offered at the NWIC.
Students there can earn certificates in business management, construction, horticulture and hospitality. They can apply that certificate toward an Associates of Arts degree or reach the required 90 credits to enter the bachelor's program.
''They provide two positive outcomes: the educated Native student and the benefit to the tribe,'' she said.
Hoban expects the enrollment for the Evergreen program to increase as students learn more about it. ''We decided to just get started without the desired enrollment,'' she said. ''Your best marketing tool is the successful student.''
The University Center of North Puget Sound gave Evergreen about $48,000 to start the program.
For more information, call (360) 867-6286 or visit www.evergreen.edu/tribal/curriculum.htm.