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District Plan To Move Indian Heritage School Angers Native Community

KUOW photo/Ann Dornfeld

The latest Seattle School District plan to move the American Indian Heritage program to Northgate Mall has angered many in the Native American community.

They rallied at Wednesday night's school board meeting to protest the move, calling it just the district's latest step toward dismantling Indian Heritage.

The American Indian Heritage program, designed to focus on Native culture and history, has been based at the district's Wilson-Pacific building for decades. But district investment in Indian Heritage has dwindled over the years, as has enrollment. It's now one of the district's handful of small Middle College high schools, which are aimed at students at risk of dropping out.

Last year, the district announced a plan to combine what's left of Indian Heritage with another small Middle College high school based at Northgate Mall.

The move was announced just as Superintendent Jose Banda took office last summer. He hadn't been involved in the decision, and after hearing from the Native community about their objections to the plan, his first official action was to table the move for a year.

Last week, Banda announced that with Wilson-Pacific now officially slated for demolition and replacement, the district was moving ahead with relocating Indian Heritage to the mall. 

After meeting with Native community members on Tuesday, the superintendent announced Wednesday that he's postponed the decision once more.

Sarah Sense-Wilson, who is Oglala Sioux, has a child in the district and is chair of the Urban American Indian/Alaska Native Education Alliance. During public testimony at Wednesday's school board meeting, Sense-Wilson called for the district to keep Indian Heritage as a standalone program at another school building, not a shopping center. 

"Over the years the district has deliberately withdrawn resources, changed the structure of the program, depleted the program of funding, and removed Native instructors, rendering the program a shell of what was once a vibrant, successful, visible program," Sense-Wilson said, to cheers from the audience.

Board member Sharon Peaslee said she understands that the district has earned that frustration."I really feel your anger and your pain, I really do," Peaslee said. "And I just feel that we owe you a long-standing apology."

Peaslee urged Native activists to join a new district task force to help guide the future of Indian Heritage.

Year started with KUOW: 2008