The new senior director of the Seattle University Indigenous Peoples Institute, Jill “tsi sqʷux̌ʷaʔł” La Pointe, may be new to the role but her connections to campus run deep.

Though Jill “tsi sqʷux̌ʷaʔł” La Pointe just started as the new senior director of the Seattle University Indigenous Peoples Institute, she and her family have long been intertwined with the SU community.

And her roots run deeper still into the Indigenous communities of the Puget Sound region.

“There’s a unique opportunity to provide support to Indigenous students and faculty to really raise awareness on campus as a whole about Indigenous peoples and Indigenous knowledge and ways of being,” says La Pointe. “The culture is the First People and language of this land.” 

She sees her role as educating both the tribal communities and the non-native communities about the possibilities and opportunities here at Seattle University. 

“The school’s mission and vision align so well with the cultural values that I was brought up with,” La Pointe says. “I just can’t imagine it not being appealing to the tribal communities.”

La Pointe’s grandmother is Upper Skagit elder Vi “taqʷšəblu” Hilbert (1918-2008), the renowned teacher and preservationist of the Lushootseed language. Lushootseed is a member of the Salish language family, spoken from northern Oregon to central British Columbia. Hibert is the namesake for both Seattle University's Vi Hilbert Ethnobotanical Garden as well as Vi Hilbert Hall.

Through student outreach and support, the Indigenous Peoples Institute, founded in 2016, provides a community for Indigenous students and raises awareness about issues important to local and global Indigenous peoples. It fosters opportunities for mentorship, brings programming and activities as well as opportunities for students to meet artists, writers, scholars and elders from Native American, Alaskan Native and First Nation communities.

La Pointe is a member of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and is also a Nooksack descendent. In addition to her role at SU she is also the director of Lushootseed Research, a nonprofit founded by Hilbert, dedicated to continuing her work. 

“With the background that I have in Lushootseed language and culture, and also my experience having been an Indigenous student at a university campus, I'll understand some of the unique needs of students and be able to offer that support,” says La Pointe. 

La Pointe was first immersed in Seattle University in 2006 when her partner, John La Pointe, attended the School of Theology and Ministry, leading them to relocate from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. At the same time Pat Twohy, S.J., who has worked extensively with tribal communities throughout the Northwest and Canada, had relocated to Seattle University and the three spent time together learning about their new home.

“The longer I was around Seattle University, the more I grew to really appreciate and respect the core values and mission of the school,” she says.

Father Twohy says La Pointe is uniquely suited for the position not just because of her depth of cultural knowledge and leadership qualities, but also because she knows what it means to work herself through school.

“She knows what’s involved just from her own experience and her own effort to make it in academia and I think that’s very important—knowing it from the inside of what students might be feeling,” says Fr. Twohy.

The Indigenous Peoples Institute is donor-funded and relies on support from the community. To give to the IPI, visit the College of Arts and Sciences Give Now page and select the “Indigenous Peoples Institute.” 

Written by Andrew Binion

Thursday, March 7, 2024