Laural Ballew is the executive director of American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations Relations and Tribal Liaison to the President for Western Washington University. As the first in her position, Ballew is committed to helping all students find a place in the community. Ballew considers herself inter-tribal because she is a Swinomish tribal member living on the Lummi reservation with direct family ties to Aleut, Nooksack,Upper Skagit, and Suquamish tribes.
How has your background led you here?
My training started as a little girl, being raised by my two grandmothers. They were traditional but knew how important education was. They instilled that in me when I was really young. I had two older brothers and an older sister,who all fished alongside my dad. But my dad specifically did not train me and my younger sister because he wanted us to go out and get an education. I think my journey was already pre-planned by my grandparents and my parents.
What in your academic background has prepared you for your role as Tribal Liaison?
I am a Western alumni. I got my bachelor’s degree in American cultural studies with a minor in Native studies. I received my master’s from Evergreen State College in public and tribal admin with a concentration in tribal governance.That helped me at Northwest Indian College when they asked me to come in and develop a four-year program in tribal governance. I am in the final stages of writing my dissertation for Maori University and it’s using Northwest Indian College as a case study of preparing our future indigenous leaders.
What are you working on at Western Washington University while you are Tribal Liaison?
The Native American Student Union, in their May 2016 letter, expressed need for a Tribal Liaison. There were a total of five objectives in that letter. First and foremost, we need to address and keep working on those five objectives. One was a tribal liaison position, second was a Coast Salish Longhouse, third was the revival of the annual Pow-Wow, fourth was government-to-government training for Western, and last was verification of tribal enrollment.
The ongoing project is the longhouse: securing the funding and support to get the land and to build here on campus. I’m sure it’s going to be my continual goal for the next several years.Western Washington University also has a land acknowledgment that the university is on Lummi territory. I believe there has to be action behind that land acknowledgment. And creating this position gives acknowledgement to the land, to the students, and to the tribal communities that we serve that, “Yes, you’re important. And yes, we recognize you.”
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