by Heather Goodwin
The Muckleshoot nation is a Federally recognized Indian tribe in the Pacific Northwest region of what is now known as Washington State. The Tribe’s name is derived from the native name for the prairie on which the Reservation was established in 1857. This nation historically lived alongside other native tribes in and around Seattle for thousands of years prior to non-Indian settlement. Their ancestry is a mixture of the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup tribes who migrated seasonally to follow fish, animal, and foliage resources along the waterways of this region (History of the Muckleshoot, 2013). Like many other tribes in the area, the land of the Muckleshoot nation has a clear view of their sacred mountain, Tahoma, also known as Mount Rainier. The nation values family and land as important cornerstones to their way of life, and they hold land and everything connected to it in high reverence (S. Hormann, personal communication, 2013). The Muckleshoot also have a strong sense of culture and community.
The language of the nation is a dialect of Puget Salish descending from the tribes who resided in eastern Puget Sound. Like most native Indian tribes, the Muckleshoot language was orally passed down through the generations, but had no written history. However, beginning in 1962 University of Victoria, Canada, linguist Thom Hess collaborated with a team of other linguists to document the oral language into a written form to help preserve the language of the Muckleshoot (Language and Culture, 2013).
Today, the Muckleshoot Reservation is located in southeast Auburn, Washington near the White River. The tribe has over 3,000 registered members, making the Muckleshoot nation among the largest tribes within the state of Washington (Muckleshoot people, 2013). According to Alan Stein in his article, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Muckleshoot nation is responsible for overseeing governmental relationships with other Indian tribes within the state of Washington, as well as maintaining relationships with local and federal governments. Stein mentions how the Muckleshoot nation was able to provide King County with 1,400 jobs in 1999, which generated an annual payroll of $31 million. Stein also notes that the Muckleshoot have a strong sense of community, charity and social engagement, as was demonstrated when the nation awarded $1.5 million dollars to nonprofit organizations and other charity organizations in 1999. The tribe has continued to be a major contributor to the local economy and community, providing resources to other governments, schools, nonprofits and churches throughout Washington. The benefits of their economic success reach beyond jobs to reaching agreements to protect fish and wildlife habitat, to innovate educational programming, and to forming hundreds of partnerships with organizations that serve those in need.
According to Shauna Hormann, a friend of the tribe who attends many events on the Reservation, the Muckleshoot nation has a diversified economy that has allowed them to make these contributions to their local community. The nation has a casino to attract income, and their prowess with salmon fishing enables them to sell fish to establishments throughout King County, such as the grocery store chain Safeway. In addition, the tradition of making and selling artisan baskets, and other crafts, is still a valuable segment of their economy. Shauna mentioned that a current cultural issue for the nation is how to create pathways to teach Muckleshoot youth about their heritage.
Why Women’s Leadership is Important to the Muckleshoot nation
Romajean Thomas, the Convener for this Conversation, notes that matriarchal forms of leadership are traditional within the Muckleshoot culture. “Women are regarded as the bringers of new life and as mothers,” she says. These roles have given the Muckleshoot women a high status within their society. In addition, Muckleshoot women approach work and leadership with a perspective that often differs from that of men. This diversity in perspectives allows healthy communities to grow and emerge. Because prevailing issues of racism and gender inequality prevent some Muckleshoot from reaching their full potential, providing support and encouragement for women within the nation is very important. By sharing knowledge within the community and providing support for one another, Romajean and other Tribal women hope that these issues will diminish over time.
Biography of Convener Romajean Thomas
Romajean Thomas is a community activist and a member of the Community Leadership Team for a Healthy Communities campaign funded by the Center for Disease Control. As a member of this team, Romajean creates policies that influence the use of traditional foods in cooking by tribal members. She does this by partnering with local community kitchens to reintroduce them to traditional Native foods, and she seeks to revitalize the relationship the Muckleshoot have with their food.
Romajean also works as a foster parent, educator and volunteer. Currently she is finishing a Master’s degree in Strategic Communications at Antioch University in Seattle. Romajean has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services, and has utilized this undergraduate education to work in youth advocacy and case management programs. To advance her work in food activism, Romajean has partnered with five other Antioch students to form the Team Full Bowl initiative. This initiative works to address the issue of food insecurity around the world. The team recently submitted a proposal to the Hult Competition to gain awareness for their cause.
In the future, Romajean hopes to reintroduce more traditional foods into the kitchens of the Muckleshoot nation as a way to preserve the culture and values of her people. She also wants to work with individuals to help them realize their innate gifts and talents. Her goal is to help them find the path and work that they were meant to do in this life. Her dream is to help others realize their abilities, which, over time, will enable everyone to make the world better for all people.
Romajean sees this project of Developing Women’s Leadership Around the Globe as a first step towards realizing her dream, and hopes that her group will continue to gather to learn and support one another. When asked about the group’s experience, Romajean said, “We have come to the realization that we do work daily that is investing in our community, and with the support of each other we can further our network, resources, and skills to broaden the scope of work possible.”
In the Conversation Circle, the conveners explored four questions:
1. What do you care about in your community and in what projects have you participated?
2. As you engaged in this work, what skills have you used?
3. What additional skills or knowledge would you like to gain?
4. How do imagine you might develop these skills?
1. Romajean gathered eight women from her nation and facilitated the Conversation. The women were concerned with the themes of connection and increased communication with one another, and with enhancing the feeling of community within their nation. They felt that staying connected through social media sites would allow them to use technology to increase their communication. Some of the themes that emerged during their conversation were being support pillars for family and community, creating spaces, youth as resources, youth empowerment and collaboration. The group focused on collaboration among tribal members, including finding ways to encourage younger tribe members to become more involved with the tribe community and subsequently, feel more empowered by this involvement. Other issues were how to provide community spaces that could support Muckleshoot values of family and community ties.
2. The themes that emerged in response to this question were being support pillars for family and community, and being teachers, or what they call “knowledge carriers.” The group also discussed the skills of staying faithful and positive, and of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, briefly, is a body of work in the leadership development field that explores an individual’s ability to identify, assess and manage the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. The group also called attention to the skills of working in teams, respecting opinions of the young people and stimulating youth participation. The women said their work helped them gained valuable teamwork skills and a fresh perspective on the values of young people. Some women reported an increase in their levels of emotional intelligence when engaging with others and a change in their sense of self. These women viewed themselves as vessels of knowledge and wisdom who were capable of providing hope to their families and communities.
3. This question opened up a dialogue on how to address the issues within their community. They spoke of some tactical skills they’d like to develop, such as public speaking and gaining more computer skills and information on using social media such as a Facebook page to connect women. The women identified a need to begin a dialogue with teens in order to decrease the likelihood of young women becoming pregnant. The skills to do this included speaking up to share their ideas, creating a space to include youth in leadership and empowering youth in leadership conversations. Others pointed out a need to overcome the obstacles that fear of change or of the unknown can create, and to pay attention to self care.
4. This conversation led to a decision to create classes on using social media so that women could connect and communicate with greater ease. One of the young group members volunteered to lead these classes. The conversation also led to a greater sense of teamwork, and the women said they were willing to combine their skills, resources and expertise, and use this synergy at future gatherings to better the group as a whole.
Kitchen Cabinet Letter to Romajean:
It warms my heart when I think about the variety of ways women lead that your Conversation group talked about! Many of the comments brought to mind ways you all lead your children – fostering gifts, creating positive spaces, teaching and being an example of moral character. This is a clear reminder of how being a mother prepares us for leading in other places as well – at our schools, where we work or worship, in our communities. All of these places need leaders who can nurture the gifts of others, who can create positive space for being and working together, who can provide examples of people who live their values.
Reading the report of your Conversation reminded me again of the importance of this Project. As local and global communities we need leaders like this. We need leaders who are good communicators and good collaborators, who realize that it is not just the tasks we accomplish, but the ways we go about achieving those tasks that is also important. We need leaders who demonstrate respect and appreciation and know how to build meaningful relationships.
We also need leaders who are knowledge carriers, who remember and teach the wisdom of our cultures. At the same time, we need leaders who can engage in the world as it exists today, who can learn and utilize technology in service to people and planet. Collectively, your Conversation participants represent all of these aspects of leadership. May you continue to inspire, challenge, and support one another.
With love and respect to you and each of the participants in your Conversation,