Dear friends,

January 9th marked a special time for the Tribal Relations Office and Native American Programs. First, we celebrated the retirement of our dear friend and long-time leader, Barbara Aston. After 31 years of dedication to Native American education, she is now enjoying extra time with her family and still remains passionate about service. I have now served as the Executive Director of Tribal Relations for almost two months and continue my work as Assistant Professor in Educational Psychology and the Director of the Center for Native American Research and Collaboration. These positions complement each other in many ways.

staff group photo at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center.
Native American Programs staff at Barbara Aston’s retirement party (l-r): Zoe Higheagle Strong, Ken Lokensgard, Barbara Aston, Faith Price, Joelle Edwards, Patty Iulo, and Tony Brave.

I am especially honored to work on the traditional lands of the Palus and ceded lands of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) tribe, of which I am a member. I grew up in the area and returned home four years ago. My Indian name is Hookoo, named after my great, great, great, great grandmother who was a prisoner of war in Oklahoma for not giving up her religion.

My father is Gordon Higheagle, and my grandparents are Daniel and Louise Higheagle who have passed. My mother is Kathryne Ankney, and my grandparents are Dale and Patricia Ankney who have also passed. I have been married for 21 years to Mack Strong, a former Seattle Seahawk for 14+ years. Go Seahawks! He has grown to love my home, which he now calls home himself. I have two amazing sons, Isaiah Strong and Evan Strong. Currently, they are playing varsity basketball together and getting ready to go to the State Championship tournament. Go Hounds! And, of course Go Cougs!

Speaking of Cougs, back to my new position. It has been rewarding to spend additional time building relationships with my Native American relatives through this work. From visits with tribal communities and time spent at gatherings (e.g., Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Conference), I have listened and heard numerous great ideas on how to better serve Native American students and improve research collaborations.

Native American Advisory Board group photo and new staff introductions Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center in Pullman, Wash.
Native American Advisory Board group photo with Native American Programs staff and WSU students Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center in Pullman, Wash.

I am so grateful for the generosity of Native peoples and their tireless service at many levels – community, state, region and national. Their presence and engagement at WSU betters our entire university climate and work. For instance, we have delegates from 12 tribes that hold an MOU agreement with WSU. These delegates serve on an Advisory Board to the President. There are also Native American advisory boards that serve our Elson S. Floyd Medical School and Health Sciences and our Vancouver Campus. Over the years, these meetings have sparked change and growth in our understandings of the environment, health, education, policies and how to better serve students.

Our programs continue to improve and expand our services to Native American students and communities because of our partnership with Native American people, allies and communities. We welcome you to come meet with us and find ways that we can partner! We are looking for members who would like to become Affiliates or Associates of the Center for Native American Research and Collaboration.

The Elson S. Floyd Medical School hired Naomi Bender in October 2018 as the Director of Native American Health Sciences. We are working together with WSU leadership and faculty to increase the number of Native American students entering into the health fields, and are looking to design a bridge program to prepare students for undergraduate pre-health degrees. There are numerous other programs and opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to have a unique, fun learning experience!

We also have a new Ku-Ah-Mah Alumni Society President, Sharon Kanichy (Makah) and there will be some great upcoming alumni opportunities to get involved. Lastly, my priority is to expand our formal relationships and MOU agreements with Tribes to increase the tribal voice at WSU. If a tribal government is interested in this type of relationship, please contact me directly and I am happy to plan a visit.


Zoe Higheagle Strong (Nez Perce)
Executive Director of Tribal Relations/Special Assistant to the Provost and Executive Vice President | (509) 335-2925