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Since Time Immemorial and Native American Heritage Month

Before students walked Shoreline halls and entered classrooms in September, Shoreline School District elementary school teachers completed professional learning about the Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State (STI) curriculum, which was designed to deepen their knowledge of the curriculum and its importance. During the first semester of this year, all K-5 classrooms will get to experience at least one STI lesson.

The Since Time Immemorial curriculum was developed to provide educators with materials that were endorsed by all 29 federally recognized tribes of Washington State. In addition, state law requires that school districts build relationships and collaborate with the tribal nations closest to them.

A key understanding for those teaching STI and for our community is the meaning of “tribal sovereignty,” including these few facts:

  • The United States Constitution recognizes that Native Nations are sovereign, meaning they have the right to govern themselves.

  • There are currently 574 federally recognized tribal nations in the U.S. and 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington.

  • However, there are hundreds of tribes who have been stripped of their sovereignty or are not recognized by the U.S. government.

Washington State law requires school districts to partner with their closest treaty tribes. In Shoreline Schools, we were honored to partner with Tulalip and Snoqualmie tribes as we planned for the implementation of the Since Time Immemorial curriculum. Together, we work to tell the stories of the first people of this land. “All About the Tulalip Tribes” Book Portrait | “Snoqualmie Tribe Living History” Video

Teaching STI During Native American Heritage Month

During this year’s Native American Heritage Month, many classrooms across Shoreline School District are deepening their learning and appreciation for indigenous culture, history, and contributions to our communities. A recent visit to Highland Terrace Elementary School showcased the power that learning about Native Americans can have on our youngest learners, as they learn from the lesson “Stories and Histories of Our Place.”

These lessons provide students with opportunities to learn about oral traditions passed down by ancestors of the First People of their home regions in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, the Plateau, Puget Sound, and Coastal tribes. Stories and histories have been passed down orally for thousands of years by human beings through cultures, communities, and families all over the world. Oral traditions play an important role in sustaining the culture, history, and resilience of the world's first peoples. Through these stories students also learn about the plants, animals, and geography of Washington State.

In a 2nd grade class taught by Sarah Lather-McElligott at Highland Terrace Elementary School, students learned about oral storytelling traditions and watched Elaine Grinnell of the Jamestown Klallam Tribe tell a traditional story in Long Before We Were Born, with a moral of always being inclusive. After listening to the story, the students gathered in a talking circle and shared what they thought the moral of the story was, and Lather-McElligott gave the second-graders an assignment: ask an older relative to tell you a story about a time before you were born, and bring that story back to share with classmates next week.

Oral Storytelling Photo Highland Terrace 2nd Grade


A talking circle is rooted in Native American tradition, so it was fitting for the class to close their learning time together in a circle. Tribal sovereignty and the connection to land is foundational to Native American Tribes and Peoples since time immemorial. We can reflect on this connection to the land and nature and see how many patterns occur in a circular way. The seasons are curricular, and the earth turns in a circular motion. The moon, the sun, and even the robin’s nest are round. Being in a circle offers us a place to all see each other, and hold space as we share our learnings and wonderings together. 

In a Highland Terrace kindergarten class taught by Mrs. Holmes, students listened to the story Coyote and Bear, told by Roger Fernandes, native artist, storyteller, and educator, and a citizen of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. Even when challenged to take in a story with no pictures or graphics, the young learners noticed the unfairness of the trickster coyote in the story. The students then worked to complete a weaving pattern that was inspired by a lesson on indigenous basket-weaving traditions, with yellow representing corn, purple and red for berries, green for grass, and orange for bark.

If your child comes home from school talking about a lesson they’ve learned about Native Americans, you can help reinforce their learning by using common vocabulary, such as:

  • Oral traditions: passing down stories and histories through telling. 

  • Storytelling: spoken stories. 

  • Oral/Verbal: spoken. 

  • Communication: how we interact with each other. 

  • Native people, first people, indigenous people: the first humans in a particular place. 

  • Tribe: a group of people with common ancestry, in this context, first people of a place. 

  • Ancestor: a relative who lived before you. Grandparents, and the relatives before them. 

  • Descendant: coming from one’s ancestors. You are a descendent of your ancestors.