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Central Kitsap Native American students offer hope, solidarity

One student felt he had to give up his culture after leaving the Makah Tribal reservation at age 13. He said he wasn’t confident enough to tell other students who he really was, fearing they would make fun of him.

Klahowya Principal Ryan Stevens read aloud the students’ first-hand account to an audience Monday night at a ceremony for graduating seniors of Native American descent.

The story hit home for Klahowya senior Connor Jackson, 18, who moved from the Suquamish Indian Reservation to Seabeck when he was 11.

Leaving was difficult, he said, but even worse was the knowledge that it was necessary. He said he felt that in order for him to be successful, he needed to get away from negative influences in the low-income housing on the reservation.

As Jackson prepares to graduate, he said he wants to honor other members of the tribe.

For some Central Kitsap students, like Jackson, graduation is more than a walk across a stage — it’s a way to break a stereotype.

“It’s really humbling because it’s easy to see people just like me not succeed,” he said of the ceremony, now in its fourth year. Jackson is also a Running Start student at Olympic College.

Native American students make up 1 percent of all students in Central Kitsap School District. However, more than 90 tribes are represented, said Central Kitsap School District Superintendent Greg Lynch, who spoke at the ceremony.

While more than a dozen students were recognized, less than half attended.

In a display of solidarity, the students and their parents publicly proclaimed their heritage. One after the other, across the auditorium, the students and their families identified their tribe and echoed the phrase, “and proud of it.”

Lynch said the students should strive to bring that pride to the classroom.

“Many of you have something I’ll never have,” Lynch told the students and families. “I don’t have that richness of culture that you have.”

Jackson said his transition to a mostly white school was challenging.

“I don’t feel like I lost anything at all,” said Jackson about leaving the reservation. “Instead, I learned to appreciate the culture more.”

Currently the school district does not have a transition program for students transferring from reservations, said Stevens, who is also a member of the Lower Elwha S’Klallam tribe, but it could.

The district is eligible to receive an annual Title VII grant for enrolling Native American students, said Chris Wyatt, director of student services for the district.

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