Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Indigenous People’s Institute Brings Elder to Guide Community

Upon entering the Indigenous People’s Institute, on the first floor of Xavier Hall with a door marked by a bust of Chief Seattle just outside, Program Coordinator Diane Tomhave greets visitors in a warm and inviting office. When they look around, they see a room covered in art created by native people, filled with several comfortable couches, and decorated with bright colors. And, once a week, visitors will see Seattle University’s Elder in Residence Jeanne Raymond chatting with students and community members. Raymond discusses her new position within the Seattle U community in the interview below.


The Indigenous People’s Institue is home to a center of outreach for indigenous students, and now it hosts an elder in residence.

What are some of your favorite memories growing up with your family?

I think my dad, because of all our reservations, he really instilled in us a curiosity and a respect for all the different tribal people we live with. Especially their languages and their culture and things that were distinct from us, and I really appreciated that cause he was kind of a pioneer. I think our fathers are pioneers in the bureau in the sense of being natives serving natives.

How did they ask you to be the elder in residence here?

They humored me. I have such respect for what they’re doing here on campus and their effort to work with students and keep them here and I think that’s the most important role we have in our culture—to hold up people that are trying to go forward and respect their ancestors in that way by holding them up. I always felt like if we stood on their shoulders, all these people here that didn’t get these opportunities, and my dad continued to remind me he was never given the opportunity to go to college so I should be really grateful. So these students are on the shoulders of their people.

Do you get to interact with a lot of students?

I’m looking forward to it, because I’m really curious. I was Vice Principal of the Union High School in Seattle, so I loved the students and I loved being around them and their families and their extended families. I ran into two students here for the opening of the Vi Hilbert, one had been my student when he was 14. And then one of my students I worked for the Muckleshoot tribe, and she was a student I thought highly of, and now she’s a tribal leader. So seeing these students succeed in what their passion is, is really important to me.

What are some of the different values that you grew up with and that you’ve tried to teach your kids?

My tribe is right off the Columbia River. Our families always fished, so leaving some of us from the ocean because we all have to help. There’s complexity because of the orcas now, you want to respect everything out of there. That’s an important value, just that respect for them. Because our ceremonies, like upriver is where my family fished, and we don’t fish there anymore because the dams were built. It’s changed all the tribes that were upriver. The dams changes our lives. So taking my sons to those places and talking about them is really important to me. Saying what this place means. When they built the dam my dad took us down to the river to say, ‘This is the end. This is going to be a different time. And you’re going to have lights on because of electricity but we’re losing our fishing.’ And it was devastating. Kind of instilling in them to listen to people what they have to say and watching their faces. And I think that’s one skill I really want to reinforce here: look at the people you’re talking to. Read them from their faces. Because this is how elders talk to people.

What would you suggest for people who want to connect or reconnect to their native roots?

The first thing I always tell young people is pray. Ask those people to visit you, they’re still there. They’re on the other side but they’re your advocates and they’ll point you in the direction if you listen to them. I lost my mom when I was 23 and I thought ‘oh there’s so many things I didn’t ask and I don’t know a lot of things I should’ve asked.’ So I pray a lot to see if she’ll guide me to somebody that will help me learn that…There’s a lot of pain in our stories and you have to listen and it’s really an important lesson to listen to one another and respect what’s said in that space and not share it with anyone else. I’ve been a medical practitioner for the Seattle Indian Health Service, and that would be my bottom line too. Whenever I interact with people I pray that how I’m supposed to hold them in that time, I do. It’s a big deal, and that’s a new field for us, mental health, because we always relied on our traditional healers. Sometimes it has to be us and the western medicine too.

Can you remember any advice from family members?

Just being respectful. I watched my dad a lot with the native people because…When we moved back to the northwest, we lived in Portland, and my dad would serve the tribes. I’d ride with him in his car and he’d audit their books and he would change his demeanor when he went to the reservation because he wasn’t in the city anymore and didn’t have to deal with that environment going back on the reservation. just watching him interact with native people made me feel proud of him but also kind of aware how you did it. Respecting whose territory you’re coming into. Even this territory. I’m really curious but I also want to be respectful of students because I know their jobs are hard here. They’re struggling in some ways but they’re surpassing what they thought they could do in other ways.

What’s your impression of the Seattle U student community and the IPI?

I’m still too new I think, I want to go out and explore. I like watching the students walk around and you see how intent they are. I know these guys, I know how committed they are, Diane and Christina, and I really believe in what they’re doing so that’s kind of why I’m here, because I believe in them because I think they’re good role models for native women to be out there. They’re still curious and they get excited about what they learn. That’s the part about the community I really like—the enthusiasm about learning something new.

Michelle Newblom & Josh Merchant contributed reporting to this article

The editor may be reached at
[email protected]

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Bailee Clark, Author

Comments (0)

All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *