One of the promises made by the Federal Government at the Treaty of Medicine Creek of 1854, was that a free school would be provided. One of the most important issues for our people was the education of their children.
The first school was located at Squaxin Island. It was soon determined that this site was not suitable. The Agency site and the school were then relocated upon the Puyallup reservation. The first school was established in about
1860 at or about East 29th Street and Portland Avenue. Because of serious flooding in this location, the school was then moved to the area where present day administration buildings are. This location was on land cultivated by Thomas Stoyler, presiding Chief of the Tribe. On it he had an orchard just coming to bear. He gave both the place and orchard to the school.
The Puyallup Indian School opened doors again in this new location in 1864. As many of the early boarding schools were failures, the one at Puyallup was no exception. Child labor was utilized to build the first facilities and it is noted
“The boys quarters were illy built. During the cold winter seasons the boys often crawled into the straw to keep warm. Usually the winter seasons were so cold it was with difficulty we managed to comb our hair and often the cold caked our hair so we could not properly comb it …. “ (Sicade, p.3).
Sicade also states
“…half a day school and half a day work was the system and sometimes all work and no school. The children were always short of clothing and their parents furnished some clothing and shoes. Provisions were always short and we often went home to stock up and those who could not stock up visited the stores and cooked in the woods. When caught in the treacherous act of cooking trout salmon, we were punished or put into jail, this house, illy ventilated institution being again revived to house ordinary offenders, and when the employer’s stock of wood ran low, some pretenses were found to jail a few who cut wood. The older Indians were continually after the government employees for free quarters, more clothing and more food. A bowl of cornmeal with black molasses to sweeten it and a slice of bread and sometimes two, was the usual breakfast, with plenty of water to wash it down . …” (Sicade p.4).
By 1890 new buildings were being erected and it was noted that, of all the boarding schools, Puyallup was the largest. This pattern continued until the year 1919, when an investigation of mistreatment of young women was alleged. Shortly thereafter the school was closed. It was determined there were enough local schools to accommodate the Puyallup children. Almost fifty years later an Education Committee contracted with a local community college and classes were set up on the reservation. Money from the government was located to start up an Indian Research Program. The Puyallup Tribe also worked closely with the Indian Center to address the drop out rate of Indian children. Classes were started in an abandoned old school in an effort to effect a change.
In the basement of the Puyallup Tribal Mission, the Tribe and the Indian Education Program began a Day Care. They were licensed in 1975. This program assisted many in providing quality care for their children while they either worked or pursued other educational opportunities. The “Orenda Day Care” continued on for a number of years.
In 1975, program provisions provided educational and cultural services available to the Native American community in Tacoma. Shortly thereafter the Puyallup Tribe secured funds from the federal government and located a brand new school upon the tribal grounds. This was to be the first Chief Leschi school.
By 1985 it was not large enough to accommodate all the pupils. A number of mobile trailers were set up on the grounds in an effort to meet the demand of those who wished to send their children to Chief Leschi. Older children attended school in a condemned building. Efforts by the tribal leaders were made to find dollars to build a school to address the
problem. With the help of Congressman Norm Dicks and persistent efforts of the staff and the leadership of the Tribe, a new school was built. The Puyallup Tribe purchased property in the valley where today one of the finest Indian Schools in the United States exists.
The school is one of the most modern available. There are over 1,200 children attending. Tribal affiliation is represented by over 92 tribes from all over the United States. The school currently employs 400.
ST GEORGE’S CATHOLIC INDIAN MISSION
St. George’s Indian Mission was founded by the Catholic Church in 1888. The Mission school was located adjacent to the reservation boundaries along the Hylebos Creek, named after the school’s founder, Father Peter Hylebos. The school was made possible by a personal donation from the Drexel family of Philadelphia.
Essentially the same philosophy of separating families, and the mandates that no child should be allowed to speak his own language or practice their traditional culture prevailed.
The mission school operated into the 1930’s.
Many of our Tribal Elders attended school there and still remember it.
MEDICINE CREEK TRIBAL COLLEGE
Medicine Creel Tribal College is a two year college (private!) owned and operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Established or August 13, 1993, it is located on the Puyallup Indian Reservation in Tacoma, Washington.
The name of the college reflects the historic Medicine Creek Treaty that recognized many of the tribes of the South Puget Sound region and serves American Indians and Alaska Native peoples, as well as any individual interested in taking advantage of the programs offered.
Medicine Creek Tribal College was created in response to the Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ desire to exercise its sovereign rights. As part of the determination to become a self-governing agency, the tribe recognized its need to educate and train the Native American people of the South Puget Sound region. In this respect the tribe’s vision involved the development and operation of its own educational system, providing comprehensive and continuous schooling to its members from preschool through college.
With the success of Chief Leschi School, which opened in 1975 and serves students in preschool through grade twelve, the Puyallup Tribe extended its educational programs to the post-secondary level. In an effort to develop a stronger work force among the community, as outlined the Land Settlement of 1988, and to provide educational opportunities to tribal members and Native American people living in the Puget Sound area, the Puyallup Tribe established Medicine Creek Tribal College.
Through a contractual relationship with Pierce College in Lakewood, Washington, a portion of a Title III Cooperative Grant was utilized by the college to develop and offer credit courses which specifically benefited Native students. A Community Service Learning Grant secured by Medicine Creek Tribal College from the state of Washington provided a basis
for extensive interaction between the college and the surrounding community, thus encouraging Native American people to explore the opportunities offered by higher education, as well as stimulating direct and productive student involvement in the community.
Since then, the college has become established as a growing and dynamic institution of higher learning, providing unique educational opportunities to the coastal region’s large Native American population. In anticipation of increased annual enrollment, new academic programs and expanded student services are currently being designed and implemented at Medicine Creek Tribal College.