From time immemorial

Recently, I joined a group of County employees at the Environmental Services Building to welcome them to a very important training session.  This was my third time welcoming folks to this particular class this Fall and we hosted the class several times before COVID.

The class is called “Government to Government” and the goal is to teach our colleagues about Indian Tribes and how to effectively interact with the leaders, members, and employees of our local tribal partners.  We are very fortunate to have Pam and Gordon James lead the class.  Gordon was a former tribal leader with the Skokomish tribe and Pam is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.  They do a great job presenting the information and engaging the students!

When I welcome the class, I highlight three reasons why this training is a key investment of their time.

First, as residents of Pierce County, it is important for us to understand our local history.  This history has important context into who and what we are as a community. And the history of our region begins with our local tribes – since time immemorial.  Our tribal partners played very significant roles from our region’s earliest history and to our key decisions of today – and looking out to our joint future – out seven generations! Understanding our local history, be it good, bad or ugly, is important for all of us.

Secondly, Pierce County has thousands of native residents from many tribes across the nation.  Did you know there are 574 federally recognized tribes?  Like all our residents, to serve them effectively we need to understand their history, heritage and culture.  Additionally, we also have some colleagues at Pierce County who have Native heritage.  This class helps us work more effectively with members of our own team!

Finally, in much of our work we strive to partner with our tribal neighbors.  This collaboration ranges from fisheries to the environment, from economic development to human services, and from law enforcement to the courts.  Most of our governmental partners are created under the statutes of Washington State – including Pierce County!  And while tribes have some aspects that may look like a local city – a governing council and staff – they existed before the state and their sovereignty is independent of Washington State – or even the United States.  So, to work collaboratively and effectively with them, we must understand their history, culture, and distinctive tribal governmental processes.

I get good feedback from those who have attended these classes – and I was in the first class!  So, I encourage all of you to sign up when the classes are available.  I believe it will give you a better appreciation for this amazing place we call home and for the work we do with our tribal partners!

I’ve previously written about the Centennial Accord in this blog, and I want to share a recap of the powerful presentation we had about it a few weeks ago.

My thanks to Sarah Colleen Sotomish of our Executive Team.  She is a citizen of the Quinault Nation with years of experience in tribal relations and has been leading our efforts to learn and grow in our work with our local tribes and their tribal leaders.

Finally, November is Native American Heritage Month.  It is an opportunity to reflect on our history and the peoples who were here before our ancestors arrived – and to our partnership with our local tribes – creating a better and brighter future for everyone in Pierce County!

Thanks for reading,