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Native American Heritage Month

  • Culture Appreciation
Native American Heritage Month
Native American Heritage Month

November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time our district and schools celebrate the significant and countless contributions, rich and diverse ancestry, cultures, traditions, and histories of our nation’s first people.

Federal Way Public Schools acknowledge that our schools are on the traditional homelands of the Puyallup and Muckleshoot Tribes. The Puyallup and Muckleshoot people have lived on and stewarded these lands since the beginning of time and continue to do so today. We recognize that this land acknowledgement is one small step toward true allyship, and we commit to uplifting the voices, experiences, and histories of the Indigenous people of this land and beyond. 

We are honored to join together in ensuring a strengthened and meaningful public-tribal relationship with our closest federally recognized tribe, The Puyallup Tribe.  FWPS is deeply committed in cultivating relationships with our local tribal community, educating our scholars on Native American history and the ancestral lands we reside on, and supporting our scholars who identify as Native Americans. Learn more about the FWPS Native Education Program.

Heritage Month is more than just a month. We want our schools to be a mirror of our community – a place where every scholar has a sense of belonging and can be seen, valued, and heard. Our scholars benefit from learning about and celebrating all cultures.

Join FWPS in using this time to raise awareness and share stories, knowledge and resources and about Indigenous histories, cultures, and traditions throughout our yearly curriculum toward honoring and inviting the truth.

Here are additional resources to help you explore Native American Heritage and Culture:

View additional recognitions in the FWPS Cultural & Religious Calendar here:

Native American Youth Leadership Association (NAYLA) at the Puyallup Tribe Youth & Community Center and Family Night at Truman


Smuding practice outdoors
Family Night at Truman Campus

Throughout the school year, FWPS scholars and our Native Education Department actively participate in events in and outside our district, to celebrate our rich Native American heritage and culture, and to promote and develop leadership skills.

Recently, some of our scholars from different high schools across the district attended the Native American Youth Leadership Association (NAYLA) at the Puyallup Tribe Youth & Community Center.

This event gathered about 200 scholars from 16 Western Washington school districts to share the pride of the Native American culture through education, building community through healthy relationships, and service to our communities we live and serve in. FWPS staff and scholars have been involved in the planning and have attended NAYLA since it started 8 years ago.

Over at Career Academy at Truman Campus, scholars, in partnership with the Native Education Department, hosted the Truman Family Night, to bring scholars, alumni, families, and the community for a joyful, informative, and community building family event.

Raymond Kingfisher (Northern Cheyenne) began the night with a traditional opening and smudging and was joined by Truman alum Xaiver Byers (Cherokee/Lakota) and young guest Ethan Wilkins (Monacan) for drumming. The night closed to the beat of a heartwarming round dance.

NAYLA at Family Night at Truman Campus
Family Night at Truman Campus with Native American Youth Leadership Association (NAYLA)

Close to 200 people gathered at this scholar-planned event and enjoyed scholar performances such as poetry or a traditional Siva Samoan (dance) performed by scholar Kekoa Pedebone (Nulato/ Tokelau/ Samoan).

Attendees were also able to visit booths from FWPS and community-based organizations that had face painting, art and crafts, Native American crafting, a photo booth, make-up, and even a barber! Food was served thanks to a donation by a local restaurant.

FWPS Social Emotional Learning (SEL) had a table to share some of the work they do and teach across the district with indigenous plants.  

“This is an event we all put together to honor our families and the different cultures that we have within our school,” shared Truman senior scholar Imani, who set up the make-up booth and was one of the event organizers.

Family Night at Truman Campus with Native American Youth Leadership Association (NAYLA)
Family Night at Truman Campus with Native American Youth Leadership Association (NAYLA)

Imani shared how these events help scholars at Truman with her future. “I’m trying to go into cosmetology school, so I participate in stuff that I partake in and that helps me get my competencies, so that I can do schoolwork based off what my career goals are. That’s how we learn around here.”

This event is part of Truman’s “project-based learning. The whole event was planned and carried out by scholars as part of their project to improve Truman. They got donations of food, invited the community partners, decorated, built the photo booth,” and so much more, shared Lynn Herink, Truman Principal.

Family Night at Truman Campus with Native American Youth Leadership Association (NAYLA)
Family Night at Truman Campus with Native American Youth Leadership Association (NAYLA)

“Our goals are to get our families to feel welcomed. We want to get to know them and know that they are cared for. The idea of community care is one of the things we wanted to do.”

Brigadoon Scholars learn about basket weaving

FWPS scholars and staff are celebrating Native American Heritage this month learning about Native American culture and crafts through projects, presentations, murals, and more.

At Brigadoon, Librarian Heather Goretski led a class through basket-weaving that the scholars learned about in the book The First Blade of Sweetgrass. While reading along with the book, it was a perfect time for scholars to participate in basket weaving for themselves. Each scholar was given the supplies and instructions to weave a basket of their own. They had multiple colors and types of yarn to use as the weaving material. After learning how to weave, they started in on building the basket.

Brigadoon featured book The First Blade of Sweetgrass
Brigadoon native arts, scholars basketweaving

They learned Passamaquoddy Maliseet vocabulary that is used throughout the book. One of the phrases is kuli-kiseht meaning “good job”. By the end of the class, the scholars had steadily woven their yarn into beautiful baskets, and kuli-kiseht was an excellent phrase for them to share with one another to encourage one another.

This is one example of FWPS members educating one another about Native American heritage that is around us and raising awareness of Indigenous peoples cultures, traditions and experiences both historically and today.

baskets weaved at Brigadoon Elementary


FWPS is proudly one of the most diverse school districts in Washington state, and we strive to ensure that each scholar will be seen, heard, valued, and celebrated for who they are.

With over 600 self-identified American Indian/ Alaska Native scholars representing over 100 tribes, our FWPS Native American scholars are leaders, athletes, artists, activists, and more. They actively engage in culturally sustaining conversations and interactions that strengthen our communities and are committed to learning and sharing their knowledge with fellow scholars about their heritage and celebrating their culture.

Here are some examples of how our scholars “own and influence their learning,” and what it means for them to be a Native American scholar at FWPS.

Isaiah Jarrett (Comanche/ Shoshone-Bannock), seventh grade scholar at TAF@Saghalie, participates in wrestling and math clubs, also likes football, and is thinking about pursuing a career in engineering. Isaiah likes attending powwows and other events that bring the community together and learning about his culture at these events and at home.

Scholar Jarrett, Native American Scholar


Over at Nautilus K-8, fifth-grade scholar Piper LaFontaine (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), proudly wearing a beautiful ribbon skirt that her “Nana” made for her, talked to us about how proud she is to be a Native American scholar and how she and her family like to teach others about the rich heritage and knowledge of her culture.

At home, Piper’s family teach her about her culture, and she prepares presentations to share at school. 

“I did a presentation in a fourth-grade class, and my dad did a presentation at Truman. It was just about the basics, about drums, about how many Native Americans are here in the United States,” shared Piper.

For Piper, being able to learn and have an open platform to teach about her culture at school helps her “feel positive about being Native American.”

“Knowing that I can go up to a teacher and ask if I can tell their class about what’s going on with Native American cultures [and] how I can go up to people and teach them about what this really cool culture is, is very important to me because this is a special culture. I feel like there's just more detail in it. So, I like teaching people about that detail or some details that not everyone knows about Native American culture.” 

Piper is actively engaged in school and extracurricular activities and clubs. One of her favorite activities is the Battle of the Books, and she is also a Girl Scout.

Piper’s dad, who is also constantly involved with teaching about Native American culture, is “so proud that [Piper] can connect with her culture even though we live in an urban city. She is able to bring it forward.”

Scholar Piper, portrait


Federal Way High School senior Xander Matthews (Cherokee) is a very active scholar and proud Native American, involved in many scholarly and extramural activities, and passionate about helping others and strengthening his community. Always with a smile and positive attitude, Xander talks about how proud he is to be Native American, the Native Club at his school, and why he likes to help his classmates and community members.

Xander participates in the AVID program, wrestling, track and field, Native Club, and Link Crew which helps all the freshmen in the school, in their College and Career classes to do activities and get used to the high school experience.

“The Native Club is super awesome. People get to learn where their ancestry came from, and that was a big thing about me because I didn’t know I was Native American until I was 10 years old. My mom never told me about it until I was old enough to understand what it meant. Having the title of Native is cool to me because I get to see where we came from.”

“What makes me proud to be an FWPS Native student is that I just like to help people out and try to make a better atmosphere for everybody. I try to make a positive impact to everybody else and have them do the same for others.”

Matthews finds multiple benefits in attending clubs and community events because it has helped him make lifelong connections.

“I’ve met tons of friends. I went to NAYLA (Native American Youth Leadership Association) camp in seventh grade and made so many lifelong friends there. When you go to stuff like that and really get to connect with kids, it is truly life changing and it is awesome.”

Scholar Xander, Native scholar

Scholars across FWPS continued to engage in multiple curricular learning activities and are immersing themselves in Native American knowledge and traditions, including storytelling and native botanical studies.

Storytelling at Wildwood Elementary

FWPS is proud of our Native educators who share their culture, stories, and language with all our scholars.  Over at Wildwood Elementary, as part of a two week-long emphasis on Native American history and heritage, Native Paraeducator Vicki Kelley (Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians) visited second grade scholars in Julia Corbett’s class for storytelling in her Anishinaabemowin language and in English. 

Ms. Kelley also shared some artifacts and information on Native American medicines, and everybody sang together!

Scholars made thank you cards and read Native-authored/illustrated books.

Wildwood Elementary Native paraeducator Vicki Kelley


ETP Scholars Installing Signage

At Employment and Transition Program (ETP), scholars are helping other scholars and community members learn about native plants and their importance.

Did you know that the tart-tasting Oregon grape can be used to treat infection, or that the way local Indigenous people raise their hands in honor is inspired by the branches of the Red Cedar that point up?

Scholars are also invited to go on a Native Plant Campus Walk to enjoy our beautiful gardens and learn how to identify five native plants – with their name in Twulshootseed (spoken by tribes living around the Puget Sound area), English, and Latin– their cultural and medicinal uses, when to harvest, and other features.

The Native Plant Campus Walk is a lesson that introduces scholars to native plants and their importance, and is also available to all secondary teachers, administrators, and school counselors.

Lakota and Enterprise Scholars Braiding Sweet Grass

Scholars at Lakota Middle School and Enterprise Elementary worked together in pairs to harvest and braid sweet grass from their schools’ gardens during Social Emotional Learning (SEL) garden lessons. Smudging is a tradition, common to many Native people, which involves the burning of one or more medicines that are gathered from the earth. Sweetgrass is one of those sacred medicines that symbolizes healing and peace. Once gathered and dried, leaves are braided together for smudging. 

Native plants with cultural significance to our local tribes are being planted and grown in many FWPS gardens to ensure our scholars can learn and celebrate Native American heritage and culture together.

The Native American Coalition Club (NACC) at Thomas Jefferson High School    

FWPS Native American educators are constantly participating along with our scholars in events and clubs to ensure that Nativel culture and wisdom is alive and expanding.

The Native American Coalition Club (NACC) at Thomas Jefferson High School, for example, helps Indigenous educators connect with each other, scholars, and the community. 

“For me, [the Club] has allowed me to practice my livelihood as an art teacher and an Indigenous person and I’ve really been able to have those two things flourish in my day-to-day life,” shared Ellyn Carlson (Okanogan) Career and Technology Education Teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School.

The NACC is advised by Ms. Carlson and Brandon Draheim, Social Studies Teacher at TJHS. The NACC teaches about Indigenous food sources and plants, in conjunction with the Green Club. NACC also teaches drumming and the ceremonies they are used for, and crafts such as beadwork, drum-making and more.

“[Assistant Principal Dennis Eller (Cherokee Nation)] and I knew that there was a need for a community for Indigenous learners and an educational space for being educated on contemporary and past issues.”  

The club is also hoping to pursue more opportunities for guest speakers to share about customs of their tribe, as well as their crafts. 

“It is crucial to have clubs such as NACC because even in this day and age, and with our diverse district, there are still a lot of gaps and misconceptions about Indigenous history and current events. We're still here, we're part of every workforce and school. Our input is valuable. Having a club such as NACC allows not just indigenous students to have a space, but for supporters/allies to be able to join as well. We welcome everyone. This isn't excluding anyone, however it is important that we have a space for us to learn our ways and traditions. This is the space where many are able to pick up resources for developing confidence and knowledge for that as well.”

Although Native American Heritage Month concludes in November, FWPS will continue to elevate the voices of our scholars and celebrate all cultures throughout the school year. For more information on how to get connected with our Native Education Program, please contact Amanda Rambayon at or 253-797-0843.