Communities of Practice: Share Our Voices Addresses Need

Throughout the past quarter, each of the Communities of Practice across the member states of the Region 16 Comprehensive Center has made strides in addressing developmental and equity opportunities for the students they serve.

For Washington, the focus remained on the Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories series of forums offered to Native American communities, families, and students.

“If you’re not talking to parents, students, and families, then you’ve really missed the opportunity to fully understand what the needs are, what’s working, and what’s not working,” says Washington State Director Beth Geiger.

“It was created as an opportunity not only to speak directly with families across the state with native families across the state but also as an opportunity for peers and parents or family support so students to get together and talk, while we were in this extreme time of uncertainty that persists.”

The focus on student support was crucial to the most recent Share Our Voices gathering in April. It became apparent that a community need needed to be addressed promptly.

Initially, the plan was that the forum’s theme would focus on spring renewal and spring harvests. But just a couple of days before the biggest planning stage began, Tribal schools and community members communicated that there had been a severe uptick in suicidal ideation and suicide attempts at tribal schools.

And so, the Washington Tribal Advisory Council decided on the theme “Our Future: Rooted in Culture, Family, and History.”

With that theme, they spoke about envisioning the future they wanted when thinking about decolonizing, growth, and change. They talked about the things wrong with the current system and how to go beyond that to work towards a positive future. The topic was heavy but necessary.

The original storyteller for the harvest theme also turned out to be the right person for the new topic.

“I reached out [to Dan Nanamkin] and said, ‘Hey, you know you’re invited to this planning meeting, but we might be changing topic, it might make sense to delay when you’re the speaker,’” Geiger recalled. “It turned out that he was the perfect person to have for that session. We could not have planned it better even if we intentionally looked for someone to speak on suicide prevention.”

Nanamkin’s story resonated with the attendees, and there is hope that he will return for future student-centered events as it is something they believe will truly help the children.

Geiger credits the success of the Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories events to the Native elders, moderators, and storytellers that lead them.

“There are all these things we’ve done that only work if the foundation is trusting relationships,” said Geiger. “You can’t just hire a contractor and make it work.”

This forum, like the others before it, was not recorded. It is intended for the attendees to know they can express themselves freely without it being watched later. It allows for genuinely emotional events.

“[The biggest success this quarter was] our that ability to pivot and be directly responsive,” states Geiger. “Not only did we change the theme and have a story that was really relevant, but we built a resource page to go along with it. We’re going to grow something out of this session. This session is something we want to build on long term.”

One of the more significant focuses going forward is to have more Native students, parents, and families attend the upcoming sessions.

“Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories is the cornerstone of how we make sure the work is connected to the people it’s serving and not just the ideas of administrators and brand leaders,” says Geiger. “As long as the grant exists, we will provide these forums.”

Published May 4, 2022

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