Seattle Native Americans Rally For Indigenous-Focused High School

Nov 6, 2017

Updated on 11/07/2017 at 2:27 p.m. See correction below.

Members from Seattle’s Native American community rallied before a school board meeting last week to demand the reestablishment of a school that had an emphasis on American Indian culture.

At the rally, organized by the Urban Native Education Alliance, parents and children gathered in a circle while beating drums and singing traditional melodies. They asked for the return of Indian Heritage High School, so a new generation could learn those songs.

Indian Heritage High School was established in 1974 as an alternative for struggling students in Seattle Public Schools. The school's curriculum focused on teaching the arts, customs and experiences of various Native American cultures. Supporters of the school believe a connection to that culture can help students succeed.

Colin Davenport is not Native American himself. He enrolled in Indian Heritage High School after being expelled twice from traditional high schools.

“It gave me an opportunity to learn things I could not learn anywhere else,” Davenport said. “It let me turn my academic career around. I actually wound up graduating valedictorian.”

Enrollment at Indian Heritage High peaked in the mid 1990s at 125 students, according to Seattle Public Schools. In 2000, the program moved to North Seattle Community College and became Middle College for grades nine through 12. Enrollment declined to about 70. 

Now the district offers a curriculum with a Native American focus at Licton Springs K-8 and in a classroom at Chief Sealth International High School instead of one central location.

Supporters at the rally say the school gave students a sense of identity and community. Sarah Sense-Wilson, who helped organize the rally, says a school like Indian Heritage High would provide stability for students. She adds that a connection with native education can go a long way for struggling Native American students.  

“Time and time again our kids are invisible within the mainstream schools,” Sense-Wilson says. “And that’s evident by the tremendous dropout rate and the low graduation rates.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the wrong year of Indian Heritage High School's move to Northgate mall. The school was merged with another program in May 2000.