Daniel Masenya is a South African student studying tourism and hospitality at Whatcom Community College. Below he writes about a recent visit to the Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Reservation. His reflections on ways that the Lummi tribe is similar to the Bapedi tribe that he belongs to lead him to new insights about the purpose of tribes and how they foster empowerment for their members.
NWCCI students from Whatcom Community College undertook a trip to Northwest Indian College in the Lummi Reservation on the 17th of September 2013. The main purpose of our visit was to get an idea of how Indian-Americans go about on their daily businesses and how they live. Mr. David Oreiro was our host and presenter for the day. He started by indicating that the college is home to about 1,000 students including others at their other satellite centers. The college offers degrees in Anthropology, History and Business Management and discussions are ongoing with regard to have Masters’ degrees programs in the near future. When he was asked if they have international students, he said “We are proud to have registered students from as far as Brazil, China, and India among others.” He further stated that the construction is nearing the completion for a research center where one can even get information about the tribe. It has well-designed apartments for the students who are residing within the campus. The tribe community is catered beneficially in terms of employment opportunities and acquiring computer skills. Regarding what keeps them strong and going, he said they are united and that reminded me of this saying ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. I learned that the tribe is led by the chairperson and gets elected every two years—the chairperson works hand in glove with 11 council members. The rationale behind the number is for decision making, so that there mustn’t be a tie. I was fascinated with their serious intents and passion in changing their lives better through education.
We were made aware that are there more than 866 tribes across the country and the Lummi is the 3rd largest, fastest growing and developing tribe in Washington State. Mr. Oreiro explained that they have dual citizenship—meaning they are citizens of both the U.S. and Lummi Nation. The Lummi Nation has its own laws, rules and regulations but they also adhere to federal and state laws and policies. He told us that they are spiritual people who take pride in their culture, for instance they celebrate and observe their special ceremonies from time to time such fasting. What I have picked is that recreation is also part and parcel of their lives, people bet in horseracing and play bingo as well as other exciting games at a casino just around corner in the reservation.
What I found interesting about the Lummi tribe and Bapedi tribe (one of the tribes in South Africa which I belong to) is their love of their identity, both are deeply attached to roots, they preserve and embrace their heritages. They both have a passion for educating the youth, and know that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. They emphasize education, leadership and focus on giving the youth direction. These tribes have high compassion and respect for elderly people. For example, in my culture we believe and look up to the elders pass their wisdom to young people while they are still alive (Rutang bana diataola le se ye natso badimong-Pedi proverb) and in Lummi tribe there are caregivers who look after the senior citizens. In contrast, Lummi tribe elects its leadership and it has its own police force. While in Bapedi tribe the leadership is handed down through generations of the royal family within the tribe, with no elections and no input from outside the tribe. Additionally, they do not have their own police force. Lummi tribe is more into seafood and on the other hand, my tribe likes livestock. These tribes are independent and self-sufficient.
We concluded our trip by going to the Lummi Island, where we found beautiful boats of different sizes and designs. Mr. Oreiro informed us that they partake in boat race competition locally and internationally. Thereafter we went to a high school nearby where we found students going through their paces on the sport fields. It was an eye-opener for me to know that this tribe is sustaining itself and is proud of its identity. I strongly believe that one should understand his/her past, know your present and map the way to the future—you will never get lost. Of course, this helps to set you apart from the rest. I am of opinion that this what tribes stand for—fostering empowerment to all.