Reaching the end of her first year of college, Kelly Hall was nervous. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was starting to get kind of anxious because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to major in,” Hall, now a senior, said.
After talking to her Literature professor Jenny James, Hall decided to look into her love of her own Native American heritage and the cultures of other tribes. Hall was connected with Suzanne Crawford-O’Brien, another professor from her first year. Crawford-O’Brien told Hall about a group on campus who was trying to create a new program of study relating to Native Americans.
The group’s progress slowed, but Crawford-O’Brien explained that an individualized major was an option for Hall. “I thought that it was a cool idea, but I never really thought that I would be able to be a person who was going to major in Native American and Indigenous Studies,” said Hall.
Crawford-O’Brien told her she “could be like a guinea pig for the major that they wanted to create for the school,” said Hall. “I was super excited about it.” Halfway through Hall’s sophomore year, the major was approved and she began studying tribal affairs.
Hall is a part of the Samish tribe, a Salish Coast nation from Puget Sound. She first visited her tribe in 2003 and was able to have a brief exploration of the culture by riding in a traveling canoe with her father. She didn’t, however, return for a number of years.
Following her sophomore year—and the declaration of her major—Hall received a grant from the Wang Center to go to her community and help research how to get more people involved with cultural events. Hall did not feel connected to her tribe upon arriving with them during her first summer there.
“I feel like I had an outsider perspective.”
Hall didn’t know anyone and didn’t have specific details about the Samish, so she had to observe those around her in order to learn important aspects of the culture.
“It took the whole first summer for me to really get that comfortable with even labeling myself as Samish,” said Hall. “I would say ‘the tribe’ or ‘Samish’ and I wouldn’t say ‘we’ or ‘our.’ At the end of the summer, one of the tribal members said ‘I think you need to start referring to yourself as a member because this is your home and your place.”
Last summer, Hall went on her first youth-led canoe journey. “It’s a really powerful experience to be a part of something that means so much to so many different cultures,” said Hall. The journey was an opportunity for Hall to meet peers from other tribes who are also interested in their cultures.
“A lot of things started to fall in place and make sense,” Hall said.
“You form a connection with everybody that you’re with on the journey. You overcome obstacles with them. When I started the journey, a lot of the people I was with were complete strangers, and by the end it was hard to leave,” said Hall.
Scattered membership has been an obstacle for the Samish, as they have no formal treaty or reservation, the tribe was officially re-recognized by the United States government in 1996.
“It has been good for our tribe in many ways because politically we’re able to get away from some problems that exist in other communities,” said Hall. “It has given our tribe a unique chance to really focus on culture.”
Hall believes that the geographic spread of Samish people allows for connections in other ways.
“We’re all a big family. I didn’t exactly understand that until I was back in my community,” said Hall. “I have shown my tribe that I am very interested and committed to learning cultural knowledge and preserving cultural knowledge and language.”
“It is also really important and valued when Samish youth are interested because that’s what we ultimately need to carry on our culture and traditions and language,” said Hall. “I care about what is important in the tribe and I want to do whatever I can to help serve my community and they recognize that.”
Hall will graduate this spring after finishing her classes within the Religion, Anthropology and History departments. She wants to work for her tribe in a cultural or language department.
“I don’t know where my journey will take me first, but know that I will end up working there and living there.” ◼︎