Redefining and Indigenizing

University Prep takes a closer look at the colonial narratives it upholds

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Photo: Matthew Sage and Parisa Harvey

A Real Rent Duwamish yard sign reads, “This land has a story. What role will you play?”

Next Monday, October 11, marks Indigenous People’s day in states across the country, leaving students and staff wondering if University Prep is doing enough to recognize native peoples, their stories and their histories both inside and outside the classroom.
UPrep junior Katherine Kang believes there is room for improvement when it comes to Native incorporation at school.
“I think there could be more resources [to learn about Indigenous people] in our community and a way for our curriculum to better connect to that,” Kang said.
Senior and leader of the Students for Social Justice Club Ananya Randeria sees Indigenous representation as a part of the advocacy work she is already doing at UPrep.
“We’ve talked a lot about native representation when pushing for ethnic studies in our curriculums,” Randeria said. “White voices tend to be the dominant ones in history classes. I want to see more BIPOC and Indigenous perspectives in the classroom.” BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
Director of Diversity and Community and Director of Hiring E-chieh Lin has wanted to see more effort from the UPrep community around indigenous advocacy.
“My hope was that bringing in an indigenous speaker last year for Social Justice Day would have sparked more interest in it. I have yet to see that happen,” Lin said.
Social Justice Day speaker and member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe Cinnamon Kills First believes teaching Indigenous curriculum in schools is mandatory.
“There needs to be indigenous inclusion in all subjects. Without it we are upholding settler colonial narratives,” Kills First Said. “When we pass them [the narratives] around and we buy into that, then we are complicit in colonization.”
Upper School history teacher Pat Grant feels that Indigenous people’s stories also provide vital forms of learning for his students.
“There’s so much non-native people can learn from First Nation peoples that we don’t even really realize,” Grant said. “They provide such valuable information about government, science, culture and ways of life.”
Upper School English teacher Alana Kaholokula works to expose her students to different forms of representation in her classroom.
“I’m always thinking about how I can broaden the narrative,” Kaholokula said.
Kaholokula is one of two native teachers at UPrep and has experienced first-hand surface level Indigenous representation.
“You always get the same story about indigenous people specifically,” she shared. “You get the reservations, you get the Sherman Alexie stories, but what other stories are there?”
Kaholokula also believes the oppression of Indigenous peoples is ongoing.

“There needs to be Indigenous inclusion in all subjects. Without it we are upholding settler colonial narratives.””

— Cinnamon Kills First

“Well, for one, I mean, colonization is not something in the past. We are presently colonizing other people’s traditional lands,” Kaholokula said.
Students at UPrep are pushing the school forward to recognize the history of whose land they are on. Randeria believes Indigenous recognition in school should not be performative.
“We need to go beyond simply making sporadic land acknowledgments at assemblies,” Randeria said. “While those statements are important, they don’t do anything to stop the erasure of indigenous people in our curriculum and surrounding community.”
Grant recognize the need for deeper forms of acknowledgement.
“We must go further by actively learning about their history and their culture,” Grant said.
Grant has also helped establish the history department’s relationship with the Duwamish people, whose lands UPrep currently occupies.
“I had attended a [teaching] workshop during the summer [of 2020] which had a big emphasis on schools developing a relationship with the native people around them,” Grant said. “I immediately contacted the Duwamish tribe and arranged for tribe member Pamela Bond to come speak in my civics class.”
Members of the Students for Social Justice club including Randeria are advocating for the school to participate in more tangible forms of support and solidarity.
“I think the first major step that UPrep can take is paying Real Rent to the Duwamish,” Randeria said.
Real Rent Duwamish is an organization led by the Duwamish Solidarity Coalition that calls upon Seattlites to make rent payments to the Duwamish tribe. As their website states, “Paying monthly rent represents a continuing effort and desire to acknowledge the Duwamish while recognizing that we are visitors on their land who are profiting from being here.”
Staff members including Pat Grant and Lin were in support of Real Rent.
“I really wanted to create more of an ongoing relationship with the Duwamish beyond having speakers come,” Grant said.
Grant worked with Lin on establishing a way for the UPrep community to pay reparations to the Duwamish tribe.
“We’ve only done it once. And it was $250 [to Real Rent Duwamish]. Last year was the first year it was considered,” Lin said. Although Lin took the idea of implementing a monthly donation process for UPrep to pay to Real Rent Duwamish, head of School Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau, it was not legally feasible for UPrep.
“Because UPrep is a not-for-profit, all of the funds we expend need to be regenerated into the school,” Codrington-Cazeau said. “That is why we are unable to pay a monthly amount to a charitable organization such as Real Rent Duwamish.”
In order to work around this legal bind, Codrington-Cazeau agreed to make a donation to Real Rent Duwamish whenever the UPrep community works with the Duwamish.
“It was decided UPrep will donate $250 as an honorarium each time a speaker from the Duwamish tribe comes to the school,” Codrington-Cazeau said.
Financial dilemmas aside, UPrep students such as Kang and Randeria, continue to advocate for indigenous inclusion in their schools.
“I think that [indigenous acknowledgment] has been a really big conversation that’s been happening a lot, especially on the UPrep campus among students of color,” Kang said. “I think there’s power in learning about other people’s cultures and histories.”
Kills First believes schools have an important role to play in the fight for indigenous justice.
“Schools can become agents for change once they begin to tell the truth. That means telling the story of how America slaughtered indigenous people for settlers to move in and make a home,” Kills First said.