Knowledge of Culture

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 is just months into her role as senior director of the Seattle University Indigenous Peoples Institute (IPI), she and her family have long been intertwined with the university 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 about her role and that of the IPI. “The culture is the First People and language of this land.” 
As the institute’s senior director, La Pointe will work to educate both the tribal communities and the non-Native communities about the possibilities and opportunities available 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.

Community for Native Students

Through student outreach and support, the Indigenous Peoples Institute, founded in the fall of 2016, provides a community for Indigenous students and raises awareness about issues important to Indigenous peoples.

“It was a nice spark of hope in an otherwise dismal time,” says Professor Christina Roberts, who co-founded the institute and served as director until La Pointe took over. In its third year on campus the institute moved into its current space in the Xavier Global House after being housed first in Roberts’ office and then the Matteo Ricci Institute. Roberts remains connected with IPI as its faculty director.

The IPI fosters mentorship and supports and elevates programming and activities for students and the campus as a whole to meet renowned artists, writers, scholars and elders from Native American, Alaskan Native and First Nation communities. Past guests of the IPI include historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States and Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Chief Seattle Club Executive Director Derrick Belgarde, ’13, ’15 MPA, says it is important to have resources on campus like the IPI for Indigenous and Native students.

“Natives tend to feel very isolated and alone in city settings,” says Belgarde. “There are not a lot of Native communities to make one feel connected and to give them a sense of belonging, especially in higher ed. Groups like IPI are crucial for well-being and retention.”

Connections to Campus

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.”

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 for decades worked extensively with tribal communities throughout the Northwest and Canada, 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.

To help support the endowments dedicated to the Indigenous Peoples Institute, both the Indigenous Peoples Institute Patrick Twohy, S.J. Endowment and the IPI Endowed Scholarship Fund, contact Katie Chapman in University Advancement, or (206) 398-4401.

Written by Andrew Binion

Monday, July 1, 2024