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Indigenous Partnerships in 2020

November 25, 2020

By Rachel Ericson (née Noll)

DOC Communications


The Penitentiary first set dedicated ground aside for the plants. Then Kalispel Elder and Huy Advisor Francis Cullooyah blessed that ground through ceremony. Once the lavender blooms, the next step in the process is clipping the tops of the lavender plants. Individuals then remove seeds by hand for the drying process. (Photo by Washington DOC staff)

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The Washington State Department of Corrections recognizes the significance and importance of incarcerated individuals’ constitutionally protected rights to believe, express and exercise their religion.

Within the incarcerated population, approximately six percent of individuals (pdf) have identified themselves as Native American.

During calendar year 2020, the department’s Tribal Relations team has taken important steps to foster partnerships and continue building pro-social relationships within tribal communities to help form bridges between those incarcerated and the community they will be joining when they release.

Clallam Bay Hosts Roundtable

In March of 2020, Clallam Bay Corrections Center hosted representatives from the local Makah Nation. The agency’s tribal relations team, representatives from the Makah nation, facility leadership and representatives from Peninsula College met to share a meal together and discuss programs and partnerships.

An important part of the discussion centered around the Ozette Potato program partnership between the sustainability program at Clallam Bay and the Makah Nation. In 2019, Clallam Bay Corrections Center partnered with the Makah Nation with the intent to provide a reliable source of seed potatoes for future generations.

The Ozette Potato has been a cultural food staple for the Makah Nation following the abandonment of Fort Núñez Gaona by the Spanish in 1792. After the fort's abandonment, the Makah began cultivating vegetables that had sprung up in the fort's garden: the Ozette Potato being one of the more hardy varieties.

Finding reliable sources of seed potatoes for the Ozette has always been a challenge. Fortunately, the facility was able to receive donations from several local sources, including several staff members. Through these generous donations, the facility was able to provide over six hundred pounds of seed potatoes in 2019 and 2020.

Most importantly, the meeting focused on fostering these partnerships, and the challenges that exist upon release for those seeking a sense of community.

“You are not forgotten,” John Ides, Makah Nation council member said. “There is a place in the community for you, when you release.”

Engaging With Tribes

Toward the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 issued a new set of challenges, the department’s tribal relations team set out to meet in person with tribes as much as possible, and work together to form connections.

The team went to councils across the state as part of council meeting agendas to discuss these partnerships and building relationships. In doing so, they advocated for newsletters, reentry initiatives and points of contact.

As a result, the team was able to identify points of contact who could provide guidance and answer questions about specific practices recognized by each tribe. This allows religious coordinators at facilities to contact a tribal member to ensure they understand ways to help Indigenous incarcerated individuals when they may experience a challenging time in their lives.

The team also gave presentations on the criminal justice system at conferences and provided opportunities for tribes to understand the agency’s role in the process and how important the ability to have pro-social programming is for incarcerated individuals.

Additionally, Brian Cladoosby, former chair of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community as well as former president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and Huy Chairman Gabe Galanda conducted training with the department’s extended leadership team on government-to-government relationships and the impact generational trauma has on Indigenous peoples - providing an opportunity for agency leaders to learn and understand.

“Tribal relations is about fostering connections between Indigenous incarcerated individuals and their community,” said Jeremy Barclay, the department’s director of engagement & outreach. “Our goal is to aid these great sovereign nations of people to help engage in pro-social relationships with those in correctional facilities across the state.”

In early August, the department announced a program to grow indigenous medicines within facilities. The Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) and Huy, a tribal non-profit corporation, worked together to find a way to bring incarcerated Indigenous people closer to their cultural roots, while providing skills and resources that can be used both inside the facility and in society upon release.

Indigenous medicines are plants harvested for use in ceremonies such as sweat lodge. In this case, the plants are lavender, sweet grass and sage. Incarcerated participants at WSP are now able to be part of the process of growing these plants and harvesting them as medicine, from beginning to end. Often, the medicines are used to offer up prayers to a deity known by Indigenous persons as the Creator or Grandfather.

Together, WSP Superintendent Donald Holbrook, Corrections Specialist Christopher McGill and Huy Chairman Gabe Galanda worked to create a program that would allow incarcerated Indigenous people at the Penitentiary to plant, grow and harvest plants inside the facility for religious and spiritual use by Indigenous incarcerated individuals as medicines.

This program successfully yielded harvests of sweet grass, lavender and sage.

Because of this success, the program has now expanded to other facilities, such as Clallam Bay Corrections Center and Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Currently there are several types of herbs growing in Clallam Bay’s green house that are used in sacred ceremonies to support their own Native Circle, with additional plans to expand this program with the assistance of the local Makah Tribe and the department.

At Airway Heights, they have set aside an Indigenous area within the Hope sustainability garden, which was blessed by Elder Francis Cullooyah from the Kalispel Tribe.

They currently grow sage, sweet grass and lavender as Indigenous medicines grown and subsequently cut and dried for eventual use during Indigenous ceremonies.

“This process is important to the facility to ensure that the native population is able to participate in their cultural and spiritual ceremonies,” said Kay Heinrich, Airway Heights’ associate superintendent of programs. “This participation results in the Indigenous men’s ability to achieve increased coping skills during their incarceration, sustain connection with their heritage and maintain and strengthen their cultural ties assisting in a successful release.”