‘Great Walls’ Murals to Be Unveiled at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School

Courtesy Seattle Public Schools / The new Robert Eagle Staff Middle School in Seattle features an honoring circle and murals depicting noted Northwest Native leaders.

The series of walls preserved from the old American Indian Heritage High School took 12 years to paint.

A series of wall murals depicting noted Native leaders, an honoring circle and interpretive panels at the new Robert Eagle Staff Middle School will be unveiled at two receptions in July and August. The walls with the murals – now titled the Great Walls of Indian Heritage – were preserved from the old American Indian Heritage High School, which was torn down to make room for the new middle school. The murals were declared a city landmark by the Seattle Landmarks Board, and incorporated into the design of the new buildings.

The school will open to students in September.

The site is rich in historic and recent Indigenous history. A portion of a spring – Liq’tid, or Licton – flows across the school grounds; the spring is culturally important to the Duwamish people. The old Indian Heritage school was a gathering place, and a source of pride, for Seattle’s Urban Indian community. The school hosted pow wows and cultural programs, and during the late Robert Eagle Staff’s tenure as Indian Heritage’s principal (1986-1996), the school had a 100 percent graduation and college attendance rate.

Indian Heritage school alum Andrew Morrison, Apache/Haida, painted the exterior murals at his alma mater “to enrich the land of Indian Heritage High School and so Native American students attending it would learn to love their own image,” he wrote in an invitation to the upcoming unveiling. The eight murals, depicting important persons in Northwest Native history, were painted over a period of 12 years, from 2001-2013.

New school’s mascot: Raven

Students, their families and other community members selected Raven as the new school’s mascot, and red and black as the school colors. A portion of the s Robert Eagle Staff Middle School will be set aside for up to 150 students from the former Indian Heritage school program, now called Licton Springs K-8. The Urban Native Education Alliance, or UNEA, which presented cultural and athletic after-school programs for Urban Indian youth at Indian Heritage school until its demolition, plans to relocate to the new school from Nathan Hale High School.

UNEA President Sarah Sense-Wilson, Oglala Lakota, is advocating for development of a new Indian Heritage High School program.

“Our plan is to relocate back to Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, however, details have not been established,” she wrote to ICMN. “[There are] lots of challenges with Licton Springs [K-8] and Seattle Public Schools administration not providing adequate space for their special education needs. We are in full support of Licton Springs [K-8] having classroom space for serving needs of special education students.”

Native enrollment in Seattle schools

The City of Seattle is named for Si’ahl, the 19th century leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish peoples who signed the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855, making a large swath of Western Washington available for non-Native settlement. The Duwamish Tribe is headquartered here, near the site of the ancestral village of ha-AH-poos, but the Duwamish are not federally recognized. Several other Native Nations in the region have ties to the city of Seattle.

Of the city’s 704,352 residents in 2016, 1.2 percent were Indigenous – Native American, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian – according to the U.S. Census. Another 6.6 percent were of Mexican ancestry, many of whom identify as Indigenous (Seattle City Council member Deborah Juarez is enrolled Blackfeet and Mexican. Another council member, Lorena Gonzalez, is Mexican American.)

Of the Seattle Public Schools’ 54,976 students in 2016-17, 1 percent were Native American/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian; 10 percent were of Mexican ancestry, according to data on the Seattle Public Schools website. Many of the 10 percent listed as multiracial identified as having Native ancestry.

Robert Eagle Staff Middle School is one of four Seattle schools named for famous indigenous people. The others: Leschi Elementary School, named for the leader of the Nisqually people in the 1800s; Sacajawea Elementary School, named for the Shoshone woman who served as translator for the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition in 1805-06; and Chief Sealth International High School, named for Si’ahl, the Duwamish/Suquamish leader of the 1800s.

The mural unveilings will be held July 13 from 6-8 p.m. and August 25 from 5-8 p.m. at the Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, 1330 N. 90th St., Seattle.

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