Room 221 in Monte Cristo Hall is unlike anywhere else at Everett Community College. Cedar planks cover the walls. Books on tribal history and the Pacific Islands are stacked on shelves. Patterned blankets are folded on a chair.
The room has a name, not just a number. Its Lushootseed name means “The Place of Our Way.”
“I’m proud and excited this space is here,” said Bradley Althoff, EvCC’s student diversity and equity coordinator, a Tulalip tribal member and co-president of the First Nations Club on campus.
The gathering space for Native American, Indigenous and Pacific Islander students was conceived in 2017. That’s when six members of the First Nations Club advocated for the place and asked the college to create it.
Emma Ka’aha’aina, program manager with EvCC’s Diversity & Equity Center, said Monday that what began as an idea for “a place to be” grew to fulfill a larger purpose. The center — which oversees student retention and support services, and works with student clubs and programs — has expanded its mission to Monte Cristo Hall.
Ka’aha’aina, whose ancestry is Native Hawaiian and Filipino, said about 180 Native American students and about 130 Pacific Islanders attend EvCC. She came to the Everett campus with a master’s degree in education from Rutgers University plus experience working in a Native Hawaiian student success program at a college on Oahu.
Most members of that “original six” from the First Nations Club — Kayah George, Cullen Zackuse, Tara Duffin, Sebastian Corrales and Rafael Alverez — were on campus Jan. 31 for an opening celebration for the space.
Erik Sanchez, another former club member and EvCC alumnus, couldn’t attend.
The event included a naming ceremony with three women from the Tulalip Tribes’ Lushootseed Language Department, Michele Balagot, Natosha Gobin and Michelle Myles.
George, a Tulalip tribal member now at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, raised her hands in thanks at the ceremony. “My people have been here for thousands of years,” said George, whose remarks were included in an article published last month in The Clipper, EvCC’s student newspaper. She spoke of the need for a sense of belonging on campus.
“It’s amazing seeing a dream like this come true,” said George, whose mother, Deborah Parker, is the Marysville School District’s director of equity, diversity and indigenous education and a former vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes board of directors.
Carolyn Lalacut Moses, of the Tulalip Tribes, offered a blessing at the event, and a Native Hawaiian welcome chant and dance were performed by members of the college’s Iwi Pono Club.
Walls lined with cedar, harvested from the Oso area, evoke the atmosphere of a longhouse. The new space has study areas, computers and room for student meetings.
Kerry Lyste, an EvCC geography instructor who also works for the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, helped the college acquire the cedar. Lyste said Monday that he was part of a river canoe restoration project at the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus. Through that process, the U.S. Forest Service provided two old-growth cedars. Some cedar, including second-growth wood, was available for the EvCC project, Lyste said.
The planks were custom-milled by Wild Edge Woods in Oso, Lyste said. “They were looking for cedar for a more rustic look to that space,” he added.
Althoff, 25, is pursuing an elementary education career.
Nearly finished with his EvCC studies, he plans to get a degree in education from WGU (Western Governors University) Washington. He hopes to teach children at Tulalip.
“I have a passion for more Tulalip youth coming to college,” Althoff said.