Last month, a group of Philomath High School students spread the word about the history of the Siletz Indians and the tribe’s importance to the region. And next month, the students will turn their attention to Martin Luther King Jr., who led the American civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The Philomath High School Student Racial Equity Committee “empowers voices of color and provides a voice for change within our district,” according to a description of the group on the PHS website.
“The need for a club like this, I feel, is very crucial,” said Isabella Monstwillo, who is co-president of the group. “Creating a safe environment is important to me because every student deserves to feel like they belong.”
Speaking in front of the Philomath School Board earlier this month, adviser Denee Newton and Monstwillo described the committee’s activities. Newton said the group started near the end of last year.
“Students approached me about specifically empowering the student voice specifically from our student groups that we hear from the least and they’re doing some pretty amazing things and having some pretty awesome conversations about sharing the various rich cultures that exist right here in our district,” Newton said.
Monstwillo estimated that membership is now up to around 15 members. Through the help of Newton, she said the committee created and distributed a survey among the student body.
“This gave us a measurable means of the comfort level of our peers and areas we can improve to create a more equitable environment,” Monstwillo said.
The students meet during lunch on Wednesdays.
“Last month, we hung up posters around the school for Native American Heritage Month,” Monstwillo told the School Board. “We all agreed that it was of importance to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of indigenous people since this was their home first and especially, it’s important for our ties to the Siletz tribe.
‘As one of our posters actually put in, we wouldn’t be Warriors without warriors.’ — Isabella Monstwillo, PHS Student Racial Equity Committee
“As one of our posters actually put it, we wouldn’t be Warriors without warriors.”
Newton said that as part of the group’s Native American Heritage Month project, the students interviewed a Philomath School District employee who belongs to the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.
“I think that was a really huge learning experience for the students … just getting a glimpse into some history that probably a lot of our students didn’t know about a tribe that’s really close to us,” Newton said.
Newton shared her takeaways from listening to the interview.
“The original reservation was 1.1 million acres and was created in 1855,” she said. “Thereafter, the Siletz tribe was essentially terminated for various reasons. The land shrunk to 10 acres and has kind of fluctuated since then. In the ’70s, the city of Siletz gave some of the land back.”
Newton also explained the tribe’s name.
“The reason it’s called the Confederated Tribes of Siletz is that not all of the Native Americans that are a part of that are Siletz Indians but are from various different tribes,” she said. “I’m not sure how many people know that, but it was pretty rich to hear and pretty interesting to hear it from a member of the tribe who works in our buildings and could share his stories.”
Newton said the students learned that they could read more about the Siletz story by reading a book entitled, “The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe,” which is available in the PHS library.
Monstwillo said the group also plans to create more awareness and reflection for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will fall on Jan. 17.
“These students are really amazing and they’re doing some amazing work that they really want to share with their district,” Newton said. “I’m learning a lot from them.”
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