Native Village
Youth and Education news

April 1, 2012

Eastside Native American Education Program promotes cultural awareness

Washington: American Indians have played a major role in U.S. history, but quite often, textbooks will cover just the basic facts and leave out many details.

For Redmond High School senior Dustin Hoahwah, this is a shame because he said it is important to learn about different cultures, especially when it comes to native tribes because there are so many in this country.

"Most people don't know about some tribes," he said. "(These tribes) need to be known."

Hoahwah is a member of the Umatilla tribe from northeastern Oregon. He is enrolled in the tribe's reservation but was born in Kirkland and grew up on the Eastside.

He has attended school through the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) and as an American Indian, has been enrolled in the Eastside Native American Education Program (ENAEP) since he was in first grade.


ENAEP began in 1975 and serves students in LWSD as well as the Bellevue and Northshore school districts. The program is based in LWSD and holds meetings every Monday evening at Lake Washington High School. Director Mary Wilber said the mission is twofold: to help American Indian students achieve academically and to teach them more about their culture.

With the academic aspect of the program, Wilber said ENAEP offers tutoring and teaches school "survival skills" including time management and task prioritizing.

Aubrey Roman, a junior at Juanita High School (JHS) in Kirkland, joined ENAEP during the 2010-11 school year and said she has benefitted directly from the tutoring. She was working on an essay and with an ENEAP tutor helping her edit the paper; Roman had raised her grade from a C- to an A.

"It was really helpful," she said. "I think that the program really helps me in school."

Roman added that through the program, she has become more comfortable with asking questions when she doesn't understand something.

ENAEP meetings are all inclusive so the age range among students is from elementary school to high school. With this, Hoahwah said in addition to the tutors, the older students will usually help the younger ones with their schoolwork as well.


In teaching students about their culture, ENAEP has a "Know the Facts" component during which students learn about American Indian history in various topics ranging from casinos to fishing rights. The also learn about the general history of specific tribes. Wilber said this portion of the program is taught by Vince Standing Deer, a former American Indian history professor at California State University, Fullerton, who volunteers his time with ENAEP.

"It's really worked out nice," she said.

Students also create arts and crafts such as dream catchers and drums.

Roman said learning about tribal history has been interesting for her and she has learned a lot more through "Know the Facts" sessions than she has in school.

Both Roman and Hoahwah said ENAEP has played a role in not just their academic development but allowing them to connect more with their heritage. Roman said she and a friend have been talking about starting a club at Juanita where they can learn more about their culture and include more of their peers.

"I think it's pretty important because I am a part of these people that we don't get to learn about and it's sad," she said.

Hoahwah said there have been times when his heritage has isolated him from others, but ENAEP has helped with that as he encounters other students from other tribes.

"It shows that you're not alone, that you're not the only native kid on the Eastside," he said. "You don't have to act like someone else."

Roman agreed, adding that ENAEP is like a second family.


In addition to the tutoring and history lessons during the weekly meetings, ENAEP also puts on a powwow every year in the fall in honor of the country's veterans.

The powwow is planned by high school students in the program, who are tasked with raising money, organizing a silent auction, coming up with a dinner menu, creating gifts for the veterans and more, all while on a budget.

"It's a big project to put on," Wilber said, adding that the event usually brings in about 350 people.

This powwow was what first interested Roman in ENAEP and she was part of the student planning committee for last fall's event at JHS. She said she helped with concessions, made directional signs for the day of the event and participated in a tribal dance performance.


Roman has native blood on both sides of her family: Navajo, a tribe from the Southwest, on her father's side and Oneida, a tribe from the Northeast, on her mother's side. Roman said her mother is also part Taino, a tribe that hails from northeastern South America.

Like Hoahwah and Roman, all students enrolled in ENAEP have some native blood. Wilber said students must prove they are part of a federally recognized tribe in order to enroll. Among the ENAEP's 240 or so students, 85 tribes are represented.

Wilber, who is a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia, Canada, said ENAEP is a federally funded program through Title VII, which supports local educational agencies, Indian tribes and organizations, postsecondary institutions and other entities to meet the educational and culturally related academic needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students. Wilber works with school counselors to see which students would qualify and benefit from ENAEP. She also collaborates with other title programs to develop plans for students to succeed.

Wilber's goal is to graduate all of her ENAEP students on time, saying 14 out of 15 high school seniors graduated last year. She said the 15th student just needs to complete a few final credits and will graduate this year.

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