NWIC represents tribal colleges at nation’s capital

Northwest Indian College (NWIC) was one of two tribal colleges invited to present at the Campus and Community portion of the 46th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, an event that has been called the world’s largest cultural conversion. The festival was held on the National Mall in Washington, DC, from June 27 to July 8.

The Campus and Community theme at this year’s festival commemorated the 150th anniversary of the land-grant system, which was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 when he signed the Morrill Act, granting tracts of land to the states in order to endow public universities. 

These universities were intended to make higher education affordable, and useful, for farmers and ranchers. In 1890, historically black colleges were added to the land-grant system, and in 1994, tribal colleges were given land-grant status. 

Today, there are 106 land-grant universities and colleges across the nation, 37 of which are tribal colleges and universities – NWIC is one of them.

NWIC was represented by members of its Cooperative Extension Office at the Campus and Community portion of the festival, which was broken into four sections: reinventing agriculture, sustainable solutions, building on traditions and transforming communities.

Seven members of the department staffed a booth used to talk about cultivating tribal food sovereignty. They shared the booth with several colleagues from the land-grant office of United Tribes Technical College.

“It was an honor to participate in the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival,” said Elise Krohn, an NWIC traditional plants educator who presented at the event. “We talked with community members and festival participants from all over the United States about revitalizing native food traditions and were able to network with other food-based university programs around the nation to generate some great ideas for moving our own programs ahead.”

Krohn was joined by Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot) and Elizabeth Campbell (Spokane), who represented the NWIC Traditional Foods & Medicines program. Each gave presentations in the test kitchen.

“We experienced temperatures up to 106 degrees, winds up to 90 miles per hour, thunder, lightning and rain. Cell towers were down and phones were out, but even in the broiling heat, each of these presentations was crowded with people who were very appreciative,” Cooperative Extension director Susan Given-Seymour said. “Many people came to speak with them, at length, about their own dreams and plans for bringing back sustainable agriculture.”

In addition to test kitchen demonstrations, Theresa Parker (Makah), an NWIC adjunct faculty member who serves on the Cooperative Extension Advisory Board, demonstrated traditional Coast Salish and Makah basketweaving every day of the festival. 

“Theresa was a huge draw for our booth,” Given-Seymour said. “She graciously invited many young people to sit with her and learn how to make simple cedar twined bracelets.”

Parker also provided the NWIC team with a sort of uniform.

“All of us sported beautiful cedar headgear made for us by Theresa,” Given-Seymour said. “We had traditional and contemporary hats and visors.”

Meghan McCormack, coordinator of the new NWIC Institute for Indigenous Foods & Traditions, talked with hundreds of people about programs offered by the Cooperative Extension Office, and about the tribal colleges in general. 

“Some people came in knowing a little about tribal colleges and universities, and others knew nothing,” Given-Seymour said. “After talking with Meghan, they came away knowing a lot more.”

More than 1 million people participated in the festival, and many of them now know about the work NWIC is doing thanks to the hard work of the Cooperative Extension employees who participated in the event, Given-Seymour said.