Native leaders protest Seattle Schools' decision to cut ties with program for indigenous youth
The Urban Native Education Alliance's 12-year-old Clear Sky evening program provides tutoring, mentorship, cultural lessons, and leadership and civic engagement training to Seattle's indigenous youth.
Fourth-grader Genesis Alcala is Chichimeca Guamares, an indigenous group from Mexico. She comes to the Clear Sky program at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School two nights a week to get homework help, play basketball, and learn drumming and beading.
"This program, I feel like I can be whoever I want to be, and do my traditions here," Alcala said.
The district recently told UNEA that it has not met all the requirements for receiving free space in the school, like providing curriculum and attendance information.
In a written statement, spokesperson Tim Robinson said the district values the group’s work, and tried hard to sustain the partnership.
"SPS worked with the organization’s leadership in many in-person meetings, through emails and by phone calls in order to bring the goals of the school and practices of the organization into alignment," Robinson wrote, adding that the district was unsuccessful in those efforts.
“We dispute all those claims," said UNEA Chair Sarah Sense-Wilson, who is Oglala. She oversees Clear Sky.
“It’s so important that we remain here, that we support the students that want to learn culture, learn about traditions, and also have academic success.”
The middle school sits on Licton Springs: sacred indigenous ground, and, for decades, the site of a series of Native-focused schools. Today, those are Licton Springs K-8 and the co-housed Robert Eagle Staff Middle School. The middle school is named after a beloved principal of the longtime Indian Heritage School, which formerly occupied this site.
Since the 1970s, schools located here have been a hub for after-hours and weekend Native education and cultural events, including basketball tournaments, community meetings, and pow-wows.
Indigenous students have the lowest four-year graduation rate of any racial or ethnic group in the district. Despite that, Sense-Wilson says every student who has regularly attended Clear Sky has graduated from high school.
The district says UNEA is still free to rent space in district facilities for its program, although it was not specific about which facilities would be made available.
Sense-Wilson said the cost of rent is beside the point. She wants Clear Sky to remain at Robert Eagle Staff, and said school and district leaders have made it clear that the program is no longer welcome there.