Samish Indian Nation

An artist rendering by Jose Cardero, who was on Spanish expedition in 1792, depicts Samish people paddling out to meet explorers on the ships the Sutil and Mexicano in the Guemes Channel.


Students in the Anacortes School District this year will start learning more about the history of this area and the native people who still call it home after thousands of years.

The district is implementing a curriculum called Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State, and it’s doing it in partnership with the Samish Indian Nation.

The curriculum is essential to bringing in the history of area people in a new and innovative way, said Samish Education Program Manager Denise Crowe.

As a lifelong resident of Washington living along the Salish Sea, Crowe always engaged with tribal connections her family had in this area. Still, she found herself “woefully ignorant of the human history in this place that goes back thousands and thousands and thousands of years.”

Crowe said all who are fortunate enough to live here should be grateful and consider it a responsibility to learn about the native populations.

“The Samish people were not just here historically but are very much alive and are very much carrying forward their culture and traditions,” she said.

Crowe went through Washington schools and without a real understanding of native people of this area. She hopes this curriculum will change that for students.

It was developed at the state level after the state Legislature in 2015 passed Senate Bill 5433, which directed schools districts to start teaching tribal history to students. The legislation directs districts to implement the program when they review or change their social studies curriculum.

Five years later, that’s happening now in Anacortes. The district looked at updating the curriculum several years ago, but didn’t end up doing so, new Assistant Superintendent Becky Clifford said. So when she and new Superintendent Justin Irish started planning their first year at the district, they ranked evaluating curriculum as a high priority.

Previous Assistant Superintendent K.C. Knudson had already opened up lines of communication with the Samish Indian Nation and was working on bringing Since Time Immemorial to Anacortes when he resigned earlier this year.

“That conversation had already started,” Clifford said.

The current curriculum came under scrutiny in recent months by a group 

of Anacortes School District alumni who want to see more representation and history taught in the schools.

This Since Time Immemorial curriculum is just one part of that, though the entire social studies curriculum will be reevaluated this year, Clifford said.

All 29 recognized Washington tribes helped develop Since Time Immemorial, which has approval from all the tribes and is available for free for school districts.

The district can take the curriculum and then work with tribal nations in their area to include more specific local information, Crowe said.

Anacortes leaders have worked with Crowe and her fellow staff members at the Samish Indian Nation to bring in that local knowledge to the curriculum.

The curriculum was going to be introduced to Anacortes students during summer programs this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays. It will be in place this school year, though, Clifford said.

With an all-remote start to the year, things can start moving forward, Crowe said.

“My role is helping teachers and administrators feel more comfortable engaging with this curriculum,” she said.

The program doesn’t just fit into social studies classes, Crowe said. Training will help teachers in several subjects, including science and English, work the curriculum into their classes, too. 

That way, learning about area history and tribal people isn’t just one segment of education that the teacher would bring to students and move on.

“This is long-term work,” Crowe said.

Teachers can also give out projects that students can continue on their own, bringing in their parents and families.

“This is a deep, rich curriculum,” Crowe said. “It helps students connect with the place around them, with both local human and natural history.”

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