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Native American Programs Many Nations. One Community.

Office of Tribal Relations

Tribal Relations resides in the Office of the President to foster respectful and reciprocal relationships between WSU and Tribal governments and communities. WSU recognizes that Tribes are sovereign nations, therefore WSU established an MOU agreement with regional Tribes to facilitate a Native American Advisory Board to the President that consists of Tribal government leaders and delegates. The office is led by Dr. Zoe Higheagle Strong Nimíipuu (Nez Perce). 

History of Our Office

Washington State University acknowledges that its locations statewide are on the homelands of Native peoples, who have lived in this region from time immemorial (see full WSU land acknowledgment). WSU Pullman’s campus resides on the homelands of the Nimíipuu (Nez Perce) Tribe and Palus people. Similarly, WSU Vancouver occupies the traditional homelands of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Peoples of the Lower Columbia Valley. WSU Everett Campus occupies traditional homelands of Tulalip Tribes and WSU Tri-Cities is situated on the homelands of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation as well as the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and WSU Spokane rests on the homelands of the Spokane Tribe. It’s worth noting that each of the Tribes who are signatory to the MOU are either situated within the present-day borders of what is now Washington State or have ancestral territories that fall within the state’s boundaries. Their stewardship for and connection to this land traces back through countless generations.

In 1997, Washington State University President Samuel Smith signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with six local Tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Nez Perce Tribe. In 1998, two more Tribes signed the MOU: the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, that was then followed by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in 2002, the Kalispel Tribe in 2013, the Spokane Tribe in 2015, and the Quinault Indian Nation in 2016. Most recently, on Sept. 6, 2022, the Swinomish Tribal Senate voted to sign the MOU with WSU and became the 13th signatory Tribe. The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation became the 14th signatory Tribe in 2023. The official signing ceremony for WSU, Swinomish, and Chehalis is scheduled for April 2024.

The original MOU established essential avenues for collaboration and support. It brought forth the Native American Advisory Board, acting as a conduit to the University President, entrusted with reinforcing the connection between WSU and the Signatory Tribes at the highest levels. Regular biannual meetings with the president solidify this pivotal relationship.

In the Fall 2023, WSU celebrated the 25-year anniversary of the original 1997 signing of the MOU. Together, the Native American Advisory Board re-visioned priorities for the next 25 years and enacted an amended MOU on April 28, 2023.

The MOU states “The Board’s mission shall be to strengthen the relationship between the University and the Signatory Tribes at the highest levels, and to ensure Native American students are provided with intellectual, academic, cultural, and social support to cultivate a sense of belonging and nation building at WSU.” 

The Office of Tribal Relations serves to maintain and build the relationship between the Native American Advisory Board (NAAB) and WSU’s President, as well as the university’s relationships with Native American Tribal Governments at large. This includes overseeing WSU’s activities in alignment with Executive Policy 41 (EP41), ensuring adherence to its protocols and regulations.

The implementation of Executive Policy 41 further solidifies WSU’s dedication to meaningful collaboration with the MOU Tribes by mandating that all initiatives that have a foreseeable impact on Native American Tribes or peoples adequately secure tribal engagement, consultation, and consent when necessary to operate within guidelines established by the respective tribe. Such measures encompass considerations of confidentiality, tribal sovereignty, and cultural protection—underscoring a profound commitment to mutual respect and partnership for years to come.

To further carry out the MOU’s mission, the Office of Tribal Relations oversees Native American Programs (NAP), which encompasses  the Native American Student Center, the Tribal Nation Building Leadership (TNBL) program, the Center for Native American Research and Collaboration (CNRC), Native youth camps, and more. While Native American Programs garners support through the Office of the Provost, its direct oversight rests with Dr. Zoe Higheagle Strong (Nez Perce), who leads the Office of Tribal Relations in the President’s Office.