Urban Native Program Celebrates 10 Years Supporting Native Youth*

The stark reality when it comes to Native Americans and the education system isn’t good, in fact it’s pretty poor. The latest stats and trends only demonstrate Native students continue to have difficulty finding success (i.e. graduating high school) in comparison to their peers from different racial backgrounds.

National Congress of American Indians reports that on average, less than 50% of Native students graduate from high school each year in the seven states with the highest percentage of Native students, Washington State is included in that list. Moreover, recent numbers released from local public school districts, such as the Marysville School District and Seattle School District, show their Native student populations only graduating high school at a rate between 43-48%. For reference, the national average for high school student graduation, regardless of race, is 82%, according to recent publications from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Enter Clear Sky, the crown jewel of the Urban Native Education Alliance, a non-profit 501(c)(3), Native-led, grassroots, volunteer-based organization. Clear Sky was founded by urban Native students in Seattle as a youth centered program, serving thousands of Native youth since its inception in 2008.

The marvel of Clear Sky is that since its humble beginning ten years ago, Clear Sky continues to uphold a 100% graduation rate and academic advancement of Native learners who actively participate in its tutoring and mentorship offerings. Read that again, a 100% high school graduation rate for these Native students.

Photo by Michael Rios

Sustained success via a decade of dedication and mentorship to Native youth is worth celebrating, so on February 27th a 10-year celebration was held for all Clear Sky has achieved and continues to strive for. The location was none other than Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, Seattle’s newest public school named for a beloved Native American educator of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Clear Sky’s decade of dedication celebration featured a host of influential leaders, educators, activists, and former students who spoke about the immensely positive impact Clear Sky makes in the Native community.

“There are many aspects of our ten years I take pride in, given the unconventional model of being the flagship program of our Native-led, non-profit organization Urban Native Education Alliance,” stated UNEA Chairwoman, Sarah Sense-Wilson (Oglala, Sioux). “Clear Sky has flourished, expanded outreach, and has become part of the fabric of our urban Seattle community. The number of alumni students returning back to volunteer and support Clear Sky is astonishing, and a testament to the impact Clear Sky had on their success. These young adults serve as healthy, positive role models for our youth.

“I’m proud of our ongoing 100% graduation and academic advancement of Clear Sky students throughout the many years of our program. The results are a reflection of our organizations core values and the fostering of leadership through academic achievement, civic service and stewardship.”

Shared values of culture and tradition was on full-display as well, through the sharing of drum circles and song. The UNEA women, led by Roxanne White, brought out the Women’s Warrior Song to honor and remember missing and murdering Indigenous women. The A.I.M. song was performed by a group of proud Lakota men, while Roger Fernandes led the young men of the Clear Sky youth council in a Warrior Song.

Photo by Michael Rios

“Shout out to Clear Sky and UNEA. Seattle’s Native community has an abundance of incredible leadership making this place one where Native kids can flourish,” remarked Matt Remle, local Lakota activist and Native Liaison for the Marysville School District. “To the volunteers of Clear Sky who have showed up day after day, week after week, and year after year, for the sake of our kids…to the founders, past and present board members, staff, tutors, coaches, mentors, teachers, speakers, student leaders and families, thank you and wow!”

Among the student leaders and athletic coaches is Tulalip tribal member, Cullen Zackuse. Cullen is a Clear Sky Co-Coordinator and Native Warrior Athletics basketball coach. He serves as a youth mentor and provides leadership through positive role modeling. Cullen has strong roots and cultural ties with Tulalip and he brings those cultural/traditional values into every interaction with the urban Native youth.

“I took on a formal role with Clear Sky about six months ago so I could work with the youth after school on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sunday, but mostly I coach the basketball team for Native Warrior Athletics,” said Cullen of his leadership role within UNEA and Clear Sky. “Working with tribal kids and teaching them the fundamentals of basketball, coaching them at tournaments is making a difference and creates a positive environment for learning.”

Photo by Sarah Wilson

Two other notable guests in attendance for the celebration were Seattle Public School Board Member, Scott Pinkham (Nez Perce), and Seattle City Councilmember, Debora Juarez (Blackfeet). They shared in the festivities, spoke on the importance of Clear Sky, and gave special recognition by way of a City of Seattle official Proclamation declaring it “Seattle Clear Sky Day”.

“The content of the Proclamation addresses several decade long issues UNEA and Clear Sky youth have been addressing through Seattle Public Schools public testimony, rallies, community meetings, documentaries, and countless news media interviews and letters, and petitions,” explained UNEA Chairwoman, Sarah Sense-Wilson. “We plan to share the City of Seattle Proclamation with other youth groups and at various venues to illustrate that the City of Seattle supports our initiatives and our vision as a legitimate voice for Indian Education.”

For more information on the Urban Native Education Alliance and Clear Sky, or to contact about mentorship and tutoring opportunities for the youth, please reach out to Sarah Sense-Wilson by phone at (206) 941-0338 or via email markseattle3@aol.com

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

One thought on “Urban Native Program Celebrates 10 Years Supporting Native Youth*

  1. Boozhoo . First of all let me start by saying that I really Rezpect the work you guys do and have some done in the past. I look forward to learning more and hearing about projects/events that I am not aware of.
    My reason for posting is about the use of the word “native american”. It seems that everyone is using nowadays. Of course you heard in the past but in the last 15-20years it is all over – referring to the Original People. Even influential Native people are using this word, such as you. Native organizations throughout are using. As a result, our young ones are referring to themselves as native american; before their own designation depending on the nation to whom they belong. This is more apparent in the “United States ” then it is in “canada”, although one does hear it. The most damaging catalyst are the media – t.v, news papers (even Native owned), magazines etc. In more specific settings or communities throughout Mikinaak MINIS (Turtle Island) one does not hear this word as a designation.
    We are not “american” in any way, shape, or form. If any thing a more suitable designation would be ‘North American’ which is the one we as a community use at Bkejwanong Territory, or the Walpole Island First Nation. That is the designation I always heard growing up when declaring our “citizenship” at the border of “canada/u.s”. Bkejwanong is located right at the mouth of Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River. We have our own ferry lines that go back and forth between the borders. There is a customs office located on both sides. I am not posting about Bkej. or borders however. I am enquiring about that designation “native american”. I honestly cringe every Time I hear the words. We are not in every way, every fibre and being. We must decolonize our minds, our words. Our Ancestors must shed tears each time they hear our people refer to themselves or worse – collectively, which is what these governments want. It all rolls hill. The “citizens “; just as it is getting easier to say those words, more normalized at saying that as a reference to us collectively. The “citizens” use it and nothing else. Worse even.is our young ones and the ones to come. We are.older than the made-up term of “america” or “american”. I am Nishnaabe collectively or I am Boodewadmi or Lenni Labor to be more specific.
    DECOLONIZE OUR MINDS and hopefully the ass will follow!
    Keep the Circle Strong!

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