Dozens of students, community members, tribal members and elected officials gathered to celebrate the renaming and healing ceremony of Evergreen Middle School, the former Totem Middle School.
Evergreen, 26630 40th Ave. South in Kent, has been renamed in accordance with House Bill 1356, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in April, which prohibits “inappropriate use of Native American names, symbols, or images as public school mascots, logos, or team names,” according to the bill. The school’s mascot is now the Grizzlies.
The school’s previous name, Totem, and its mascot of the Thunderbirds are retired due to their inappropriate and hurtful use, said Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Dani Pfeiffer at the Dec. 10 ceremony. The school is in the city of Kent but part of the Federal Way school district.
“Names are important and powerful,” Pfeiffer said. “Our names are part of who we are and our stories. Names connect us to those who came before us. Names are earned and not taken.”
The change was a long time coming, she said, adding that the renaming process marked an opportunity for the district to “listen, learn and do better.”
Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Anna Bean, whose Indian name is Way Over There, said a totem pole is a significant monument for storytelling.
A totem pole is “a story pole to our people,” she said. “[It’s] how we told stories of what occurred and what’s to come, wrapped in prayers and love for the people.”
Anna Bean said there is no ill will against the ancestors who named the school years ago as “it’s a beautiful thing to acknowledge the stories of the land, the people and the Earth.”
However, the new name acknowledges the beauty of the surrounding land we see daily, she said, and shows the school district understands the wrongs of the past.
David Bean, a four-time council member and former tribal chair of the Puyallup Tribe, reminded the audience that tribal communities are still here.
“We are all in different stages of healing and this is an important step toward healing our Native American relatives,” he said, adding that society is now becoming more aware of the unjust treatment native people face and working to correct those injustices.
“We’re survivors,” he said. “We’re on our healing journey.”
He also commended the school district for approaching the renaming and healing process in a loving, healthy and respectful way.
Anna Bean and David Bean performed a coastal song with the song’s creator, William Johnny. They performed a Power Song, created by tribal member David Duenas, and a Warrior Song, gifted to the Puyallup Tribe by a Chief Leschi Schools graduate.
Evergreen students shared their native names with the audience before the Thomas Jefferson Native Drums Club performed powwow songs in a drum circle.
Federal Way resident Raymond Kingfisher, a Northern Cheyenne Nation member, spoke about equality among all people, and honing a deep respect for Mother Earth in order to leave the world better for future generations. Kingfisher led the students of the drum circle.
The attendees of the event also participated in a round dance, coming together to heal, honor and celebrate life.
“We are all equal when we are in a circle,” said David Herrera, executive director of scholar learning, academic programs, and staff development.
Cienai Wright-Wilkins, executive director of equity for scholar and family success for Federal Way Public Schools, said the renaming process involved over 600 students, hundreds of parents and community members, and the Native American Parent Advisory Committee. She said the district created additional lesson plans to educate students on the importance of the name change and cultural sensitivity.
To view the ceremony, visit FWPS.org.
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