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Cassy George

Cassy George

Job Title:  1st Grade Teacher - Chief Leschi Schools (BIE school for the Puyallup Tribe)

Past: 1st Grade Teacher - Suquamish Elementary Public School; 6/7 Grade Teacher - Chief Kitsap Academy (Tribal/State compact school) 

Tribal Affiliation:  Suquamish 

1. Why did you choose the UO College of Education for your graduate studies?

I chose the UO for my undergraduate studies in linguistics. I was intrigued by NILI. My goal was to acquire the credentials and skills necessary to revive my tribal language Lushootseed. After studying various language revitalization efforts, I focused on K-5 instruction. One of the studies I had read was about dual immersion programs. If a student is taught in two languages up to 5th grade, they will retain both languages even if they use more of one than the other later on (english). I needed a teaching certificate to do this. 

Luckily, the sapsikwłá program not only offered an opportunity to acquire my certification but it offered me a chance to study education from a multicultural perspective. I was given the opportunity to question, challenge, and experiment with integrating my tribal teachings into elementary education. After hearing Jerry Rosiek speak, I knew I was in the right place. The first thing Jerry did was recognize the land we were all standing on as Kalapuya land that had been stolen. I had never heard a person recognize the indigenous people or the history of the land outside of tribal gatherings. 

2. Tell us about why the Sapsik'ʷałá Program is important, from your perspective?

This program provides hope for tribal education. Sapsik̓łá produces indigenous educators who go back to their community and improve the quality of indigenous education. An elder from the Puyallup tribe said it perfectly, "Our goal is to have students who are ancestrally informed." To me this means students are educated in their tribal language, every lesson is combined with indigenous stories and authentic connections are made to the families and tribal community. Social emotional learning is taught with respect to the tribal philosophy and ceremonies. The key for this to work is to simultaneously educate students to be successful in the demands of mainstream society (strong foundational skills in ELA, Math, Science, Arts, etc.). This program provides the skills necessary to do this. It provided me, a reservation girl from Suquamish, an opportunity to go home and teach students in such a way that they never knew Lushootseed was ever missing. 

3. What advice do you have for future American Indian/Alaska Native educators?

If you go back to a small community after being in college for awhile, be prepared for potential push back. I returned home with exciting ideas. There were many unforeseen challenges from the tribal community. 

I think my situation was in relation to some community members still seeing me as a child. It is important to remember the teachings. Elders are the ones who carry the experience and the wisdom, but you may be in my shoes and be the young one who carries the language and the degrees. It is a scary place to be as a young adult knowing your elders never learned their language and your council isn’t ready for change. It is difficult to decide when to speak up and when to be quiet and listen. 

Just keep pushing for community support and focus on the children. There is much pain and guilt to deal with when bringing a language out again. Older people feel bad for not learning it, even though most of the time their parents deliberately didn’t out of love. They didn’t want their children to go through the punishment and shame that they had to for being Indian. People in your generation will either be jealous or extremely supportive. But most of all, your people and family will be proud.

When you see cultural appropriation (you will), approach with a goal of educating your peer and offering an alternative. Pick and choose your battles. If you be the spokesperson for cultural appropriation, many non-native educators will be hesitant to teach or do anything indigenous in their room. We want to uplift all educators to learn and teach about tribal culture and history. We don't want to silence them from teaching their students anything about indigenous people. One way to do this is to speak with your administrator. Ask if there is PD time that can be used for you to share some lesson plans with teachers. Train them on how to use the material. Answer their questions or point them in the direction (museum, cultural specialist, STI etc.) 

 I am still learning many things. My advice to future native educators is to be strong but flexible. Look at every incident as an opportunity to learn. Don’t be afraid to explore other schools (public, tribal state compact, BIE). Take care of yourself so that you can be there for your students at 100%.