BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) — Central Kitsap School Board President Bruce Richards typically opens meetings in the same manner: following a call to order, he explains the rules for public comment before reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
In the future, Richards could be lending his voice for another type of pledge, one designed as a gesture of gratitude and respect for the indigenous people who first called Kitsap County home.
Last week, Richards and other members expressed the desire to include land acknowledgments that honor Kitsap’s two federally recognized tribes: the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam, the Kitsap Sun reported.
“It just gives us the opportunity to be respectful to the people who came before us,” Richards said. “We are not the first people who’ve been living in Silverdale or in Kitsap County. It’s pretentious to believe we are.”
Sonia Barry, assistant director of students services for CKSD, defines a land acknowledgment as “a formal statement that recognizes and respects indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between indigenous peoples and their traditional territories.”
Barry, whose ancestry is Aleut from the Pribilof Islands and Alutiiq from Ouzinkie, Alaska, said land acknowledgments point back to a time when early Pacific Northwest people would embark on canoe journeys and navigate coastal waterways for the purpose of visiting other tribes. Guests would offer thanks to their hosts in a sign of respect for their land and ancestors.
“It’s an extension of that,” said Barry, who compared current land acknowledgments to the common practice of shaking hands with someone during a greeting.
“It’s a small gesture,” Barry said, “with a large impact.”
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson opened this week’s City Council meeting with a land acknowledgment: “Poulsbo is located on the ancestral lands of the indigenous Suquamish People for whom this place is known as Tcu Tcu Lats, or the ‘Land of the Vine Maples.’”
Erickson began reciting the land acknowledgment several months ago as the city and Suquamish Tribe aimed to relieve tensions that followed after the police shooting of Stonechild Chiefstick in July 2019.
“This is one of the things we started doing as a gesture toward healing, healing both communities,” Erickson said.
Other local government organizations and community groups have prioritized land acknowledgments over the past year, including the Kitsap County Council for Human Rights, the City of Bainbridge Island Race Equity Task Force, the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission, the Interfaith Council of Bainbridge Island-North Kitsap and the Suquamish Citizen Advisory Committee.
Richards said land acknowledgements became part of Washington State School Directors’ Association meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and is eager to see the practice added to Central Kitsap School Board meetings, where roughly 475 students with Native American heritage are enrolled. The district is in the process of working with both the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes in order to craft acknowledgments.
“I really believe this is a great opportunity for us to reach out to a different group of people who send children to our schools,” board member Jeanne Schulze said. “It reaches deep back into our history and is part of our identity as a community.”
“I love that we are doing it, finally,” added member Drayton Jackson. “I hope it would spread throughout Kitsap and that we would do it more, in different places.”