Skip to main content

Native American Heritage Month

November 27, 2019

By Tim Kelly

DOC Communications

(Tim Kelly, DOC Communications)

Since 1990, November has been nationally recognized as Native American Heritage Month. The Washington State Department of Corrections has tribal members working as staff members for the agency and sentenced to the custody of the agency.

Stella Jennings, a correctional unit supervisor at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, is a member of the Spokane Tribe. During her 31 years with the department, Jennings has spent time as the sponsor of the Tribal Sons, working with incarcerated tribal members. Working with these men has had a positive personal impact on her.

“Funny as it may sound, it kind of brought me back to my own roots,” Jennings said.

By ratio, tribal members are incarcerated at a rate of four times their respective proportion in the Washington State population. The recidivism rate for inmates is also higher for those that identify as American Indian.

Correctional facilities offer pow wows and sweat lodges for tribal members. Jay Powell Jr. is a member of the Tribal Sons and explains, “Brothers will go to these guys and say, 'Hey, just show up to a drumming, just show up to a sweat lodge, just try. What do you want to do? Do you want to be in prison forever and keep coming back? Or do you want to better yourself culturally so you can get out there and be with your people?'”