Guest Blog: It’s Native American Heritage Month!

November is Native American Heritage Month. For those who need a little history refresher, in 1990 President George W. Bush approved a resolution designating the month of November as Native American Heritage Month. The leaders of this nation have made such proclamations every year since. However, the fight for recognition did not start then. Since the early 1900’s, Native Americans have been trying to attain a national day of recognition for the contributions of the first peoples of this land. Dr. Arthur C. Parker (Seneca), Reverend Sherman Coolidge (Arapahoe), and Red Fox James (Blackfoot) all played seminal roles in advocating and promoting a day to nationally recognize the first peoples. Native American people in this country differ from other minority groups in that Native tribes have a unique government-to-government relationship with the U.S. government. Tribal nations are recognized as sovereign nations, and the treaties signed in the past still dictate how land, resources, and access to education and healthcare are distributed today.

“Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges. “ – National Congress of American Indians

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, the UW SACNAS Chapter would like to recognize all of its Native American members and our community partners, the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council and the Urban American Indian/Alaskan Native Education Alliance. Their dedication to maintaining cultural values and traditional knowledge while becoming leaders and pursuing education is what makes SACNAS the diverse group that it is.

In this blog, I would like to highlight our Chapter’s history with the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council and their ongoing struggle for the preservation of the Indian Heritage School and advocacy for enhanced Native American education in Seattle Public Schools (SPS). Last week, Clear Sky and UAI/ANEA hosted a meeting between the Native community and the Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda/Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. During this ongoing meeting, community members were able to voice to their opinions on the state of Native education in SPS, funding availability, and the impending closure of the Indian Heritage School. It was a major success that they were able to hold the meeting in the cafeteria of the Indian Heritage School, where Clear Sky meets weekly for cultural and tutoring activities. Clear Sky youth gave testimony and community members tried to convey how we as Native people are intrinsically tied to our ‘Place of Power’ at Indian Heritage. There is a long history of Native American values, community, and battles won that binds each person to Indian Heritage.


Meeting between the Native Community and Seattle Public School Superintendent and Seattle Mayor

The Indian Heritage School was founded in 1974 and was Seattle’s only public school dedicated to the educational support of the native learner. The Indian Heritage School blossomed with the support of community members and under the leadership of Principle Bob Eaglestaff. Principle Eaglestaff transformed Indian Heritage from a dark place commonly referred to as “The Last Stop on the way to No Future” to a vibrant community of students with promising futures. Unfortunately, Eaglestaff passed away unexpectedly in 1996, and Indian Heritage never quite recovered from the loss of his leadership and vision for the future. Slowly, enrollments rates dwindled and Indian Heritage was transformed into the Indian Heritage Middle College. Then, earlier this summer, the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors announced that the Indian Heritage School would be closed and the school buildings demolished. This last decision was effective in removing the core of the remaining program – Native teachers were assigned to different schools, and only the Secretary Donna Dodgen and Principle Cindy Nash remain at Indian Heritage now. Today, Indian Heritage School has no Native focus, no Native instruction, and only a small handful of Native students.

Murals painted by Clear Sky youth and artist Andrew Morrison to honor the memory of Principle Bob Eaglestaff.

This announcement, with no consultation from Native parents and the community and in addition to the lack of attention and funding to Native education issues, incensed the Native community. Once again, Indian Heritage was being targeted for closure (as had happened in the past) and the voices of the Native community were being ignored and overlooked. In the past couple years, the remnants of the once vibrant Native community at Indian Heritage had begun reviving through the establishment of the Clear Sky Native Youth Council and communal gatherings held at the location. The school serves as a site where students get tutoring, participate in cultural activities, and play basketball. For two consecutive years, Indian Heritage has hosted the Native Youth Conference. This site has also hosted the University of Washington Annual Powwow and Youth Basketball camps. The building walls of the Indian Heritage School are covered with Native American murals. Artist, Andrew Morrison (Apache-Haida), knew he wanted to draw painting portraits of Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph after seeing the bleak building walls during a basketball game. Now the buildings host an array of beautiful murals portraying Native American icons and the lives of Native Americans. If the Indian Heritage School were demolished, it would leave Clear Sky and the Native-focused education program with no home. Once again, as has been witnessed in the long history of interaction with Native tribes, tactics involving the removal of an important land base to disrupt and destabilize the ability of the Native community to organize and form a cohesive group are being implemented.

The UW SACNAS Chapter has had a long-standing partnership with Clear Sky and UAI/ANEA. Since 2009, we have served as tutors and mentors to the youth throughout the school year during the weekly Clear Sky meetings. Our members have formed meaningful relationships with many of the Clear Sky students, and we see our participation as a means to encourage Native American students to pursue higher education and science degrees. In addition, the UW SACNAS Chapter has had the opportunity to present a yearly workshop at the Native Youth Conference. Through our interactions with Clear Sky and UAI/ANEA members, we recognize that the Indian Heritage School is an integral part of the Native American community. The Native American murals on the walls give us the sense that this is a place of coming together. Even though the cafeteria is not heated and sometimes the doors are locked, every week the Native community comes together at the Indian Heritage. They do this because this is their place; this is their school on the land that belonged to their ancestors. Indian Heritage is where their youth are being trained to become strong leaders and to embrace and be proud of their cultural heritage. It is a space of sharing and encouragement, and only through the support of the community will Indian Heritage be saved.

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Thank you to artist Andrew Morrison for providing photographs of the Indian Heritage murals.


Native American Heritage Month

Indian Heritage Closes

The Metamorphosis of a Graffiti Delinquent

Eaglestaff’s Death Leaves Void

Sarah Sense-Wilson, Clear Sky parent organizer and UAI/ANEA co-chair, personal correspondence

Katrina Claw is a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Genome Sciences. She is a member of the Navajo tribe and calls Arizona her home. A more detailed profile of Katrina is located in an earlier blog post on Native American Heritage Month.


Guest Blog: Communicating Science Effectively

Racing heart. Hot neck. Sweaty palms. Nervous ticks.

Do you often experience these symptoms? If you experience 2 or more of these symptoms, you may be suffering from a common condition referred to as Pre-Talk Anxiety.

Last fall, I decided to battle these nerve-racking symptoms. I would not be ruled by stress and anxiety before giving a talk. I have also had the distinct displeasure of being an audience member in various science talks that seemed like they would never end – the speaker was hidden behind the podium, spoke for 50 minutes in a monotone voice, and the slides were boring and hard to decipher. Besides a fitful and awkward nap, I took nothing substantial from these talks. They were a waste of my time. As a graduate student, I attend about 3-5 scientific talks a week with each talk ranging from 30 to 60 minutes – these include journal club, research talks by my peers, and invited speakers from other institutions. If at minimum I spend 3 hours a week listening to science talks, over the course of a school year, I listen to over 90 hours of talks a year. That’s a lot of time! While I’m sure there are many strategies to become an effective listener, a sure fire way to ensure that no one naps during your talk is to be an engaging speaker.

This is why, among other reasons, I started my journey to becoming an effective communicator by signing up for a course offered at the University of Washington: ASTR 599B – Communicating Science to the Public Effectively. This 2 credits course met every Monday from 2:30-5:20pm during the 2011 fall quarter. Throughout the course, graduate students practiced several strategies designed to make communicating science effective and accessible, used improvisation to reduce anxiety and promote audience engagement, and heard from many guest speakers on science communication. Each student’s final project will cumulate in a 30-minute public presentation to be delivered during the winter quarter’s Engage: The Science Speaker Series.

From the get go, we began working on our presentations for the Engage seminar. This is definitely a great way to get the most out of the course. We practiced storyboarding, improvisation, developing analogies to convey research, choosing content rather than jargon, distilling ideas concisely, and public speaking. If you walked by and looked into our classroom, you would often find us standing in a circle playing an improv game. Personally, one of the most nerve-wracking improvisation activities for me was to give a 1 minute presentation on a topic I was given 2 seconds before my talk began! We also had weekly readings and discussions and often heard from guest speakers.

So what is the best way to engage your audience? Tell them a story! For the vast portion of human history, we have been oral storytellers and listeners. Our brains are hardwired to process this information quickly and store it away. Good stories have four main parts: the setup, complicating action, development, and climax. In the Setup, the initial situation is established and protagonist and the protagonist’s goals are introduced. In the Complicating Action, the story is taken in a new direction and there is some action (the antagonist may cause some strife here). In the Development, the protagonist’s struggles to complete the goals are developed in-depth. In the Climax, progress is made toward resolving the goal. If you so desire, you can even add an Epilogue part to wrap up the story. Take a look at any movie or even a SpongeBob SquarePants episode, you’ll see each of these parts play an integral role in making a good story. If you have ever watched a particularly bad movie, one of these parts might have been out of skew; the setup may have taken too long, there was no climax, or the complicating action was not developed. This may be why some scientific talks are hard for a general audience to sit through. Scientific talks are often presented in an order that is contrary to our storytelling hard-wired brains- Introduction, Methods, Results, and Conclusions. This format probably evolved because this is how scientific papers are written. But, there is still hope for us yet. We can take the very same storytelling strategies I mentioned above to make scientific talks easier to follow and more interesting to audiences.

A fellow UW SACNISTA, Laura Martinez, also took the course this fall. Not only was it my pleasure to see Laura every week, for your reading pleasure is her take on the course. Laura says, “I think it’s important to concisely and effectively communicate our research and findings to our colleagues in the scientific community and the greater public. Unfortunately, this is not an inherent skill for many, but is certainly expected in our fields. I was very motivated to take this course to challenge myself and to learn skills that would help me become a better communicator and to gain a growing confidence when encountering an audience. Our instructors and guest speakers offered very enlightening perspectives about engaging our audience by telling a story and giving our research work and findings personalities. Developing these skills comes with time but I strongly believe that it is well worth it to be able to effectively communicate science topics and issues and to dispel any information that is often misconstrued because of our inability to communicate it. Our work is meaningful and we can make a powerful impact on our close to home and heart communities and the greater public.”

As a SACNISTA, it is important that we not only do great science, but that we are able to communicate our work to our family, communities, and peers. Throughout my journey to become a better communicator, I have often thought about how I can take these strategies back to my tribe, where elders often don’t speak English and there is not even a word for “cell” and “DNA” in our language. This will be a challenge that we all face as we endeavor to become professionals in our respective fields, and still remain connected to our communities and cultures. But you can start by realizing your public speaking weaknesses and conquering them with effective strategies. In the interest of space, I’ve only relayed a few gems of advice, but I just want to mention that there are great resources out there where you can find a more thorough discussion on various topics. In particular, below I’ve listed some great resources for building your powers of communication.


Olsen, Randy. Don’t Be Such a Scientists: Talking Substance in an Age of Style. Island Press, 2009.

Dean, Cornelia. Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Mooney, Chris and Cheryl Kirshenbaum. Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future. Basic Books, 2009.

Looking for opportunities to improve your presentation skills?

The Pacific Science Center offers a Science Communication Fellowship that is composed of “professional development workshops focused on building the skills to effectively engage public audiences.

Also offered by the Pacific Science Center is a popular series called Science Café.

Check out the Toastmasters International. There are various Seattle Toastmaster Clubs you can become a part of.

Want a beer and science? Check out Science on Tap where several UW scientists are featured.

Radio Science? Academia Nut on Hollow Earth Radio

General information about Engage: The Science Speaker Series and Seminar.

More information specifically about the seminar.

Featured SACNISTAs in the Engage: The Science Speaker Series and Seminar

In addition, please support the your UW SACNAS Chapter peers. Both Laura and I took the course together last fall, and will be giving our Engage talks soon. Mark your calendars, but if you can’t make it, our talks will be recorded and uploaded onto this blog for anyone interested in viewing them. We have tried to use all of the strategies from the course so hopefully our talks can serve as an example on how to use analogies and what I mean by storytelling. Tickets are free to UW Students. Please bring your UW ID cards

Laura E. Martinez

The Life And Times Of A Cancer-Causing Bacterium That Can Thrive In The Human Stomach
Thursday February 23 08:15 PM Downstairs At Town Hall Part Ii

Katrina Claw
Mission Impossible: A Sperm’s Perilous Journey To The Center Of The Egg
Thursday March 01 08:15 PM Downstairs At Town Hall Part Ii

Katrina Claw is a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Genome Sciences. She is a member of the Navajo tribe and originally from Arizona. A more detailed profile of Katrina is located in an earlier blog post on Native American Heritage Month.