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Wendell George | The story behind Paschal Sherman Indian School

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Pascal Sherman School. (Provided photo)

Twenty years of persistent lobbying effort finally culminated with the May 16, 2005, opening of the $18 million Paschal Sherman Indian School.

The Colville Confederated Tribes were in competition with many needy BIA schools across the Nation. The Tribes climbed up the priority list only to be knocked down again. The tribes’ position was solidified after the Washington, D.C., visit in 2000 by Council Chair Colleen Cawston, School Superintendent Mary Hall, and two School Board members, Arky Andrews and yours truly.

The school was established at the St. Mary’s Mission in 1886 by Father DeRouge. Fire damage took its toll and the remaining buildings were eventually condemned. The tribes took over the school by mutual agreement with the Catholic Church in 1973.

The school was named after Frank Wapato, the grandson of Wapato John, half-brother of Chilcosahaskt. He attended the Mission School in the early 1900s. As was common practice he agreed to the name suggested by Father DeRouge. He went on to a doctorate and worked in Washington, D.C., on Indian law. English was encouraged when my dad, Moses, went in 1914 so he proudly recited the only words he knew, the cuss words of his dad’s ranch hands. He did learn discipline and how to cope with the outside world.

Today, as in the past, some of the children stay in the dormitory because it is their only choice. Others attend because they want to experience the culture of the tribes. The K-9 School has about 200 children counting preschool. The school conforms to state and federal regulations and is associated with the Omak School District.

The school was built in record time with the help of many tribal members. It has many unique features reflecting tribal culture. The building faces the customary east, taking advantage of the natural sunlight through large windows. The internal lights automatically turn on when needed.

Tribal members enjoy the school’s Sunflower Festival, celebrated annually in May. That has evolved into a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, fun runs, and the traditional tribal cultural and history displays along with a free dinner with Indian food such as salmon, deer, bitter roots and camas. Local schools allow their students to attend.

The twelve tribes are represented by the massive pine logs reaching the ceiling and the entrance floor mosaic of their aboriginal lands. Hanging in a spiral are salmon sculptures swimming toward the ceiling. When the sun is shining through the large windows to the off-white, see-through cloth panel a coyote is formed daily at 10:40 a.m. by the precisely arranged salmon mobiles which block out the sun’s rays and reflects his shadow on the panel screen.

The salmon calendar moves in a figure eight through the four seasons which indicates the four directions of the Medicine Wheel. The position of the shadow moves up and down on the display panel as the earth moves through the four seasons.

The church provides three Jesuit volunteers every year to help the teaching staff. The mutual enjoyment they experience with the children resulted in some of them returning to the area after becoming certified teachers. Larry Witt has 39 years at the school.

Tribal members, such as my cousins Anita Cheer and Karen Sam, also taught at the school. Barbara Quintasket was named Washington state’s teacher of the year. Debbie Simpson attended the school and became superintendent in 2002.

Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks). He can be reached via email at wvegeorge@charter.net. His books are available at the local book stores, tribal museum and Amazon.

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