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Triple in strength | Gonzaga University

[Originally published in “Spirit,” the newsletter for Gonzaga faculty and staff, March 2022.]

After nearly two decades, Gonzaga’s Office of Tribal Relations has tripled in size in one season. Last fall, longtime director Wendy Thompson added Lea Simeon and Jeremy Rousse to his staff, and the trio agree that it feels like they’ve been a team for a lot longer.

I can’t believe we’ve been working together for less than four months,” says Thompson (Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes).

Each brings their own insights as Indigenous, unique skills, and a shared commitment to providing a caring and transformative environment for Indigenous students at Gonzaga. “We have a certain responsibility to the tribal nations that our students identify with, and that includes helping to co-create a more welcoming environment for our Indigenous students,” says Thompson. Simeon (Spokane Tribe) and Rouse (Ihanktonwan Nakota Tribe) share the title of “Indigenous Student Support Coordinator”. Rouse says Simeon is the “meaning maker” and organizer, and she says he brings deep intellectual perspective and creativity. They both offer direct experience working in educational settings: Simeon as a hard-working student with Thompson here at GU as an undergraduate and graduate student (’15 English and ’18 Masters in Teaching), as well as a teacher at Muckleshoot Tribal School in Auburn and Rouse as a member of the Spokane Public Schools Title VI Indian Education Department for eight years.

Simeon sees her real goal as “getting to know each student and understanding how to support them,” she says.

“We are rooted in kinship, which has long been part of our survival throughout history.”

At Gonzaga, this not only includes students who are physically on campus, but also a growing number of Indigenous students enrolled in online graduate programs who study remotely but still yearn for a sense of community. .

“They manifested themselves through work”

After several years of tribal relations, Thompson says there is such an increased interest in native issues and Gonzaga tribal relations that Rouse and Simeon have “come forward with work to do.” Nationally, there is growing interest and awareness of the harm done to Indigenous peoples, especially after the recent discovery of the remains of Indian children in residential schools in Canada. In Jesuit provinces and Catholic parishes, there is a concerted effort to study more of their own history with missions serving native tribes.

The latter, in particular, was instrumental in transferring tribal relations to the Mission Integration Division in Gonzaga, headed by Michelle Wheatley. Within this structure – and with the additional team members available – Thompson is able to participate in exploratory projects with Jesuits West and delve deeper into Jesuit origins and relationships with the many tribes in the region.

Outside of the direct work of the Native American Cultural Center, also known as “The House” – a gathering place for Native students on campus – Thompson works with university partners, such as the School of Education, which has proposed a series on Rethinking Native American Education. She notes, “Every time we had a group of students, the students changed, but what they said didn’t change. I reminded them that the western education system was not originally designed for them to succeed as natives. “My hope in this work is to help change that,” says Thompson.

Many departments on campus ask for the trio’s advice, and while it’s normal for them to receive questions that indicate a lack of awareness of Native American experiences and stereotypes, Rouse says, “For me, it’s great to see that people are interested and ready to engage in conversation. I have been impressed to hear from faculty and staff who really want to engage in the work of navigating this visibility issue and avoid tokenizing our Indigenous students.

Together, as a team, Thompson, Simeon and Rouse feel empowered to tackle some of these difficult topics together. They view the microaggressions they may experience as lessons to focus their work or communications on, and opportunities to model a productive response for students. The team says it invites campus partners to ask them questions. Advice: “Ask us anything but be ready for the answer. And when we’re asked to do things, we’re likely to do them differently than you expected.

Learn more about the Native American home in Gonzaga on Instagram: @GU_NativeHouse

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