S’Klallam program helps youth learn about tribe’s culture, history

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe started its Places of Importance educational program this year for tribal students in kindergarten and first grade with the purpose of teaching kids about environmental sustainability and conservation, cultural awareness/since time immemorial, and social and emotional learning.

The program is grant-funded through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Recreation Office of Conservation. Most of the students in the program attend Wolfle Elementary so they meet a couple times a week after school. Over 20 students were in the program this year, with about 8-10 per class. Hannah Jones is currently the lone teacher but also received volunteer help this year.

Next year, the program is looking to expand to K-3 with an additional teacher and a couple assistants.

“We saw a need for our little ones, they needed that connection,” PGST career & education director Toni Jones said. “Everything that entailed S’Klallam culture they were immersed in. I think socially and emotionally for the kids it’s been really good for them. One of the things the tribe has is the Early Learning Center so the kids are immersed in their culture, their language.

“At such a young age they are like sponges, they just absorb it and share it with their families,” Toni went on to say. “They’re learning the way their ancestors learned. When they transition to public school there’s not a lot of that.”

While home base for the program is in a portable classroom on Bud Purser Lane, most of the classes were outdoor-focused on culturally relevant topics, along with field trips to places traditionally important to the tribe, Hannah said.

The educational program partnered with local government agencies and businesses, including the military on Indian Island, the town of Port Gamble for a tour of its museums/archives and S’Klallam village history, and Kitsap parks to gain access to the tribe’s treaty site at Point No Point, among others.

“This program has been a huge boost in confidence for our students and has impacted their cultural awareness, awareness of their environment, and their horizons,” Hannah said. “I also saw how touched our collaborators locally were to have our sweet group of fun kids share their culture and learn alongside them.”

They also visited Wolfle Elementary so non-tribal youth could experience some of what they do, hoping to expand that partnership in the future.

“In expanding, we’re hoping to have a stronger partnership with Wolfle,” Toni said. “Creating that sense of place for not only our students but all students at Wolfle.”

The title of the program will be changing to S’Klallam Sense of Place to better reflect the growth in the coming year.

“We found that when we carried our teachings with us, that it created a sense of belonging wherever we went,” Hannah said. “And that is ultimately what we are about.”

Debby Purser, S'Klallam volunteer, poses with students at an important S'Klallam story site on Indian Island.
Eleanor and Aubrey, kindergarten, practice open air painting during class.