Western’s Board of Trustees on Thursday recognized the historic importance of the creation of the University’s first executive director of American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations Relations & Tribal Liaison to the President, and they extended a warm welcome to Laural Ballew, who recently began work in the position
“This is a historic moment in the history of Western Washington University,” said Trustees Chair Earl Overstreet.
“Laural, we look forward to working with you,” said Western President Sabah Randhawa, who welcomed tribal elders and members. Randhawa said he hopes the new position will lead to stronger relationships with tribal communities.
Lummi Tribal elders and the Blackhawk Dancers ceremoniously covered Ballew, the trustees and Randhawa in blankets and headbands as part of a welcome ceremony. Members of the Lummi Nation and Swinomish Indian Community, including many relatives of Ballew, attended the event at the Viking Union.
The trustees approved a resolution recognizing the historic importance of establishing the position and hiring Ballew, who will represent the WWU president and trustees as a liaison and envoy to American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations governments. She also will advocate for the support and success of American Indian/Alaska Native students at Western.
“I am grateful for this day,” Ballew said. “I am proud to be here and honored.”
Several speakers noted the many wrongs throughout history done to tribal communities including genocide and unjust treaties taking land, including where Western is sited. They discussed achievements by Western tribal students, such as organizing the first American Youth Conference held at the University, and student activism from the 1960’s to more recently effecting change.
Western alumnus Bernie Thomas, education director of the Lummi Nation School, said that 50 years ago he and Western alumna Nancy Wilbur, who also was present for the ceremony, started the predecessor to the current Native American Student Union (NASU).
“This has been a long time coming,” Thomas said of creation of the tribal liaison position, adding that he hopes this will strengthen and foster relationships and understanding between the university and tribal communities.
Randhawa later reviewed the importance of the new position, the 50-year journey from creation of NASU at Western, and said establishment of the tribal liaison position took patience, persistence and a commitment to Western’s values.
Speakers also thanked President Randhawa, trustees and the search committee for their support of the new position, which was one of several urgent needs listed a few years ago in a letter from NASU to the University. Randhawa said the tribal liaison was the top of the list and that the University will continue to address the other needs.
Ballew said she carries a copy of the NASU letter as a constant reminder.
“The work that they started will not be forgotten,” Ballew said.
Friday's BOT meeting was video live-streamed and archived, split into two parts, and is viewable through these links: