Trailblazer University

Gonzaga University is well known for its basketball teams, but another college here in Spokane fosters equally outstanding contributions every season of the year. Catering to Spokane’s deepest roots, the Spokane Tribal College broadens its outreach to all of the Inland Northwest. Located in a small office on West Indiana, the college itself is small–with only two classes. It is this size, however, that allows for an individualized community nearly impossible to replicate in larger universities.

To learn more about this unique college, I sat down with Shelly Wynecoop, the Director of the Spokane Tribal College. The very first thing she explained to me is how staff have a personal relationship with students. For example, “If a student doesn’t have a ride to school one morning, a teacher will pick them up and drive them to class. If a student is responsible for babysitting their younger siblings, they can bring them to class.” At the college, they understand family because they are a family.

Spokane Tribal College graduating class of 2012

Spokane Tribal College graduating class of 2012

Although the college is like a family to its students, Shelly says that to outsiders, the Spokane tribe can seem insular in nature. However, the Spokane Tribal College is here to disprove that. She explains that, “We want to share the richness of our culture, Spokane’s culture, and show our inclusiveness.” Shelly and staff tailor their attention to Spokane’s youth and visit scores of schools all over the area to spread community awareness.

This outreach has even impacted me. When I was 11, I personally benefitted from a summer camp aimed towards Native American at-risk youth hosted at their campus. I appreciated the summer camp not just for the free meals and fun exercise they provided, but for the experience. Up to that point, I had never been a part of an all-Native American group like that one. Coming from schools and clubs that treated Native Americans like an exotic, wild breed, it was liberating to be in a space where Native was normal, and even something to be celebrated.

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Artwork by Pam Evenson

Always thinking of inclusive and innovative ways to demonstrate its positive representation to all of Spokane, the college enlisted the help of the Community Building Foundation to present their annual Fundraiser Dinner and Art Auction. As one of its largest displays of community building, the Fundraiser and Art Auction typically hosts 100-150 people, and all are welcome to attend the dinner service. The Fundraiser Dinner and Art Auction hosts a wide variety of items, from more contemporary pieces to traditionally tribal.

Last year’s live auctions included hotel packages and trips, and at the silent auction were many Native arts including beadwork, basketry, leatherwork, as well as more Western arts, crafts wine, drawings, and discounts at local vendors. All proceeds from these locally crafted pieces go to the Spokane Tribal College, and as its most important fundraiser, each contribution makes a tremendous impact on each student. The revenue generated at the Fundraiser Dinner and Art Auction provides students a functioning facility and basic equipment. Not only is this event furnish the college with up-to-date facilities, but also furnishes homes with incredible and unique artwork.

This year, the college plans to collaborate with the Salish School over the summer and offer a smaller, cozier event with singing and storytelling. Check back with the Community Building website later this spring for details about the event.

–Post by Olivia Saenz

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