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News from the Pacific Northwest: Northwest at a glance

Spokane Indian schools receive grant

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Wellpinit School District in the heart of the Spokane Indian Reservation will broaden the impact of its "global classroom" concept with the aid of advanced telecommunications equipment.

Funding from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development has been leveraged with assistance from the Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Packard Corp. for the distance-learning venture.

The $250,000 grant will supply laptop computers to students unable to participate in the traditional school setting. The global classroom concept allows hundreds of students to complete their high school education.

Wellpinit's grant is one of 84 Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants totaling more than $32 million and disbursed to improve educational opportunities and medical service to rural residents in 41 states.

"Information technology is critical to rural Americans," said Thomas C. Dorr, under secretary for rural development. "It significantly improves the quality of their health care and their ability to receive access to educational programs that prepare them for a competitive future."

In total, 57 distance education grants for $23.5 million, and 27 telemedicine grants for more than $ 8.9 million were selected for funding. The education projects will help 556 schools provide students with educational tools to better equip them for the global digital economy.

Other grants will help rural Native communities get access to more modern health care by providing rural clinics with real-time Internet connections to larger medical service facilities.

Lummi anti-drug effort receives funding

LUMMI, Wash. - The Lummi Nation has been awarded a $500,000 grant over three years from the U.S. Department of Justice to boost Lummi's number one priority, the Community Mobilization Against Drugs initiative.

Lummi Chairman Darrell Hillaire thanked Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., her staff and Lummi Nation staff members who worked hard to secure the funds.

"This funding will help us strengthen and unify our efforts by hiring a CMAD coordinator and statistician that will assist us in clarifying our goals," Hillaire said. "These indicators will help us make informed, educated decisions about law enforcement needs and treatment needs of our community. This grant is a victory for the future of our people."

Justice awarded 25 grants to help tribal governments combat drug and alcohol issues in their communities.

The grant program was developed to reduce crime associated with the distribution and abuse of alcohol and controlled substances in tribal communities.

Tribes will develop new strategies or review and enhance existing strategies that prevent, interdict and treat alcohol and drug use by tribal community members. Tribes will also assess how the Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse Demonstration Program augments these strategies.

Sosa named Health Program manager

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Deborah Sosa is the new manager of the state's Indian Health Program. She will serve as the state Medicaid program's liaison with Washington tribes and their health care systems.

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Sosa is a Mescalero Band Apache and mother of three. She has worked as a parent connector with Greater Lakes Mental Health in Lakewood and as a health care resource specialist with Washington Parents are Vital in Education.

With PAVE, she worked with community health care systems to develop policies that were family-centered, community-based and culturally competent.

In her new role, she will be the primary tribal contact for the Medical Assistance Administration, the arm of the Department of Social and Health Services that operates the state's Medicaid program.

"Washington state has had a long history of honoring treaty obligations and being respectful of the tribes," Sosa said. "Perhaps because my own heart has always been in advocacy, I definitely want to be part of that tradition.

"I think the biggest challenge will be to continue the services that we are trying to provide in an era of short resources. We want to make it the best package of services possible within our budget restrictions."

Her first priority is to work with program managers in Medicaid and DSHS, learning how the different parts of the agency work together.

"Maybe in six weeks or so, I want to get out of Olympia and start visiting all the tribes, learning how their different operations work and getting to know the key players in tribal health care."

Sosa is a native of Texas. She spent the past four years working as assistant center director for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at McChord Air Force Base. She has a B.S. in Management of Technical Operations from Embry-Riddle and is a master's candidate in Technical Management at the school.

Squaxin Island Tribe mapping stream temps

SHELTON, Wash. - Squaxin Island Tribe is studying whether warmer temperatures in Johns Creek are harming salmon.

"Salmon need cool water in order to grow in fresh water and when they return to spawn," said John Konovsky, water quality biologist with the Squaxin Island Tribe. "Coho salmon especially, because they spend as long as 18 months in freshwater as juveniles, depend on cool water."

Squaxin Island is mapping temperatures on three main tributaries into Oakland Bay, including Johns Creek, to explore how stream temperatures might be connected to declining salmon runs.

In late summer, tribal consultants using Forward Looking Infrared Radar made flights above the three creeks, Johns, Cranberry and Mill. The technology allows researchers to find "hotspots" in surface water temperatures and gives them access to the full picture of water temperature throughout the stream.

In conjunction with the helicopter flights, Squaxin Island staff walked each of the streams, dragging behind them a temperature gauge to gather underwater temperature data.

Using the technology, also known as FLIR, every square foot of surface water temperature is mapped. With the additional underwater data, the tribe will have an almost complete picture of temperature problems on the creeks.

"We're taking the opportunity to examine the tree cover around the streams," Konovsky said. "If thin stands of trees are found near stretches of stream with higher water temperatures, simply restoring those stream-side trees might solve the problem. If a lack of trees isn't the issue, other causes might include widening of the streambed or a lack of groundwater making it to the stream."

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at