Nisqually Indian Community Partnership

  • Over the past several years, North Thurston Public Schools has engaged in intentional, focused professional learning on the topic of equity, including the adoption of an Equity Resolution to “ensure high outcomes for all students by removing barriers and predictability of success based on cultural, social, and/or economic factors.” As part of this effort, the district has developed a strong partnership with the Nisqually Tribe. In November, the NTPS Board of Directors unanimously adopted language for a land acknowledgment -- the practice of opening public meetings and events with a statement recognizing the indigenous inhabitants of the land – and the flying of tribal flags at school buildings. 

    North Thurston Public Schools reside on the traditional lands of the Nisqually people, who have lived on their aboriginal homeland near the present-day communities of Olympia, Tenino, and Dupont for 10,000 years.

    “As a community, we must educate our teachers, staff and students about the significance of our indigenous communities, cultures, history and language,” said School Board President, Mel Hartley. The school board recently met with the Nisqually Tribal Council to discuss the growing partnership and develop other ideas to collaborate.

    The NTPS land acknowledgment reads as follows: 

    We acknowledge that North Thurston Public Schools resides on the traditional lands of the Nisqually people. The Nisqually have lived on and cared for this land and these waterways since time immemorial. We make this acknowledgment to open a space of recognition, inclusion, and respect for our sovereign tribal partners and all indigenous students, families, and staff in our community.

    Developed in partnership with the Nisqually Tribe, the above acknowledgment statement will be read at school board meetings, school assemblies, district-wide public events, and evening events at our schools and buildings.


    As part of this collaborative effort, NTPS was gifted Nisqually Tribe flags to fly at each of our 22 schools and three educational buildings. The raising of the flag ceremony includes a lesson for students about the historical aspect of the flag.

    “This symbolic representation honors the diversity in our community and creates a daily visual representation of what we value as an organization,” said Jerad Koepp, Native Student Program Specialist for NTPS.

    Flying this flag will serve as daily recognition of our partnership with the Nisqually Tribe and reminder of the tribe's traditional lands, thriving government, and culture. The acknowledgment will also support openness and awareness of all indigenous peoples and our duty as public educators to equitably support and educate Native children.

    Educational Programs

    Children playing a drum in a circle. As part of our ongoing work, the district must evaluate the instruction we engage in with our students. River Ridge High School has taken a leading role in building instructional curriculum that shares the history, art, and culture through the perspectives of our indigenous communities.

    “We want to engage all students and our staff in a culturally relevant instructional pedagogy,” said Mike Smith, Assistant Principal at River Ridge High School.

    Native American education is heavily embedded in the newly released social studies standards for our district, including Since Time Immemorial, the tribal sovereignty curriculum required in Washington state. The curriculum has been endorsed by all 29 federally recognized tribes in the State of Washington.

    “We live in a state, and area, with a rich tribal history, and it should be taught in every History and World Studies class throughout the state of Washington.” said Nisqually Tribal Council member Willie Frank III.  “As we can educate all students within NTPS about Nisqually history, the Boldt Decision, and tribal treaty rights, I believe it will help this relationship continue to grow stronger to the benefit of all students.”

    River Ridge has developed a Native Scholars Program, including a decolonized history course, which seeks to provide the narrative of Indigenous peoples from pre-contact through present day. The school hopes to grow the program to offer similar courses in English/Language Arts, Math and Science, along with formal courses in Native arts, history, and culture taught by Nisqually Tribal members. There is also discussion of a course to teach the Lushootseed language. A mentoring program for Native youth is also in the works.

    “By acknowledging the contributions of the Nisqually tribe and engaging them as community partners, we can work together to better understand each other and remove barriers in education,” said Hartley. “We show not only respect for the Nisqually tribe through this work, but we empower all indigenous and minority students by creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion for all people in our district.”

    Want to know more?

    For more information about Native American education and Nisqually tribe, please visit the websites below.