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Gonzaga University welcomes Spokane Tribal College

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SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane Tribal College has expanded with the addition of a second campus, the Spokane campus, located at Gonzaga University. The main office will remain on the reservation at Wellpinit, but the new location will provide easy access for the many Native people living in the city of Spokane. Approximately 13,000 American Indian people live in the city and represent 147 tribes, so this location has a large base of potential students nearby.

A reception was held at the Schoenberg Center on the Gonzaga campus in mid-October to introduce Spokane Tribal College to the community. The building, at one time a major museum of American Indian items, will provide the classroom space for Spokane Tribal College.

Martina Whelshula, a member of the Arrow Lakes Nation of the Colville Reservation, is president of the college. She welcomed those in attendance and thanked Gonzaga University for offering classroom space so that Spokane Tribal College could offer classes here.

Whelshula told of her own experience on entering college.

''Going to college was a culture shock. It was very difficult to become acclimated to a very different culture. Even small things can throw you off-balance. To be in a classroom where your people, your values, your history are not reflected in the curriculum or your perspective is perceived as very different, and feeling a little bit inadequate, off-center - it was not a very positive experience.''

Spokane Tribal College's plan and vision is to give Native students a good environment where their background is understood and respected and where they can begin college with a positive experience.

''We get them ready that second year to transfer to another school,'' Whelshula said. She has the opportunity to work with non-Native faculty from other institutions who are open to teaching in a different way and helps train them in a culturally appropriate way to impart their particular knowledge. ''When our students move on, I can turn them on to those faculty because I know they'll be treated with respect and be honored for the different ways we learn.

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''It's our culture that guides us and grounds us and what makes us unique. Spokane Tribal College is grounded in an indigenous cultural framework and environment that honors who we are in our worldview and all the knowledge that's sophisticated, beautiful and rich that we have. It's going to be an awesome resource to us and our students.''

Whelshula introduced many in the audience who represented other colleges and universities in the region, the political and community section, as well as tribal elders who teach in the language program or serve on the board for the tribal college.

Richard Sherwood, chairman of the Spokane Tribal Council, spoke about the value of the college and opportunity it offers. ''Not just Spokane tribe, but all Native people in the city. It's a wonderful thing and a good thing to be part of.''

Thayne McCulloh, interim academic vice president at Gonzaga, talked of the foundational mission of the university, which is now celebrating its 120th year. ''It began with the idea of service to peoples native to this region. Over time, there have been various ways in which the university has both seen itself as answering that call and perhaps wondering whether it ever truly realized its mission. I think it's very significant that we're meeting here today. I hope you see yourselves as related to us. We look forward to many years of 're-imagining' together.''

Joe McDonald, president of Salish Kootenai College, was introduced. Spokane Tribal College is accredited through Salish Kootenai College, so they share a common bond; they're closely aligned in other ways, as McDonald explained. ''The Salish, Kootenais and Spokanes are very closely related. We speak very much the same language and share many of the same families. This is another step in the development of the college. My hat is off to Gonzaga for opening the door.'' There was lots of laughter as he concluded. ''We need each one of you to go out and bring a student back.''

Whelshula introduced Raymond Reyes, vice president of intercultural relations at Gonzaga, and spoke of his enthusiasm: ''We say he flies kites and we're always trying to pull him down, but he allows us to look outside the box.''

''This is a real emotional time for me,'' Reyes said. ''We can imagine Indian studies differently. It doesn't have to be in the traditional sense. We can think differently about applying indigenous studies. We're at a critical point where we have many people lined up to manifest this idea into reality. I am encouraged and aspirational about the future because this is just a seed that will germinate and who knows where it is going to go.''