Tleena Ives grew up immersed in the language and culture of her Native people, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, absorbing the traditional knowledge imparted by her family and teachers.
“My memories from my early education included learning to speak in S'Klallam, learning our traditional songs and dances, and being instilled with a great sense of cultural identity,” Tleena recalled.
But when it came to the education of her own four children, she found that their history and tribal heritage wasn’t being included.
“I wanted my children to have the same experience I had, so I attended many of their early education programs,” Tleena said. “I would often question what the curriculum looked like — where were the language and cultural teachings?”
From the Classroom to Statewide Impact
After years of working as a parent volunteer, Tleena wanted to make an impact on Native education at a broader level. This eventually led to her current job, serving as tribal liaison at the Washington State Department of Early Learning.
In this role, Tleena works with 29 federally recognized tribes around the state, helping them implement educational programs that reflect tribal values and sovereignty. It’s work that she’s passionate about.
“For a long time, tribes have not been able to see themselves in our education system,” she said. “Our story has not been taught, and if it has been, it hasn't always been the true story. And so it's important for us to have that opportunity to instill it, right from the beginning.”
In Her Own Words
Tleena Ives talks about how the Certificate in Native Education helped drive her mission to improve learning outcomes for Native students across the region.
Play Reaching Native Educators
Her personal and professional journey also led Tleena to the
Certificate in Native Education program at the University of Washington. The innovative two-year program is designed to give educators — both Native and non-Native — the essential knowledge and skills needed to help Native American students thrive in their schools and communities.
The in-depth learning experience offered by this program connects well with Tleena’s professional role.
“The certificate program is a perfect fit for the work I’m doing, even though I’m not necessarily in the field as much as educators are,” she said. “It helps give me an understanding of what our educators are doing to prepare Native learners and work with them.”
Online Flexibility and the Family
My experience has been absolutely amazing and beautiful ... I feel like the program is going to explode and grow and help our tribal communities.
Because the certificate program attracts students from a wide range of communities all around the state, it’s delivered primarily online. Participants get together at the UW for a three-day Summer Institute to kick off the program, then interact through a variety of online tools and platforms for their classes.
For Tleena, a mother of four with a demanding job, this format has been key to enabling her to complete the program. It’s also allowed her to extend the learning experience to her family.
“Having the ability to participate in the comfort of my home has been really important to me,” said Tleena, who works in Olympia and lives in her Native community more than an hour’s drive from the UW campus.
“It provides that better work-life balance, but also as an example for my children,” she adds. “They're often around me working on homework or sitting near, so they can also listen to the instructor-led discussions, which usually continue into our family conversations.”
Looking to the Future
One more goal of the Certificate in Native Education is to sow the seeds of learning for the next generation of Native teachers and educational leaders. Tleena is a prime example, as she’s also earning graduate-level academic credit through the program.
“I hope to eventually move on to complete a master's degree,” she said. “I feel like this program is the little baby step that I've needed to get back onto the right track of completing my education and continuing on. It’s been inspiring.”
For Tleena, the certificate program is part of a bright future for Native education in the region.
“My experience has been absolutely amazing and beautiful, and I highly recommend the program to everyone, from those in early learning, K-12, higher education, parents and tribal leaders,” Tleena said. “I feel like the program is going to explode and grow and help our tribal communities.”