American Indian Studies Department Announces Securing $1.45 million grant from Mellon Foundation

Submitted by Mckenna M Dorman on
View from Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center
Traditional Foods - Red Huckleberries
AIS Professor Tami Hohn (Puyallup)
UW Canoe Family, č̓away̓altxʷ ʔiišəd, Shellhouse Canoe Family
Sacred Breath: Storytelling & Writing Series

The Department of American Indian Studies (AIS) at the University of Washington, Seattle, is pleased to announce funding from the Mellon Foundation (Mellon) Humanities in Place Program. Over the next three years, a $1.45 million grant award will fund the expansion of existing AIS symposia, the creation of Indigenous student-centered activities, and place-based Indigenous research at the University of Washington and at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle’s Discovery Park.

On the cusp of celebrating 55 years as the home of Indigenous knowledge at UW, this transformational funding comes to AIS at a time of departmental growth and recognition as a national and international leader in American Indian and Indigenous studies research, teaching, and service. “This incredibly generous funding from the Mellon Foundation Humanities in Place Program enables AIS to extend and deepen its long-established ties to Pacific Northwest communities, lands, and waters. We’re thrilled to have this support for our place-centered programming in the service of Indigenous language, culture, and history,” said AIS Chair Chris Teuton, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Recent departmental developments include hiring additional full-time Native faculty and staff, the expansion of faculty and student research opportunities, and greater support for Native and Indigenous students. The Mellon funding will directly support the mission to incorporate Indigenous knowledge tied to place, honoring the rich history, culture, and traditional knowledge from the lands, waters, and first peoples of the southern Salish Sea region and beyond.

The projects include the creation of the Daybreak Star Walking Tour: a public history research project on the center’s 20-acre site.  “We are continuing to tell our shared story of Native presence, action, and perseverance in the heart of the city of Seattle.” said Mike Tulee, an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation and executive director of United Indians of All Tribes.  This public history project created in collaboration between UW AIS and Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center will result in a walking tour on Daybreak Star’s 20- acre site, complete with permanent signage that tells the story of the takeover of Ft. Lawton; the historical era in which the takeover took place, including information about fish-ins, the Boldt Decision, and other activist-led initiatives of the 1960s and 1970s in the Puget Sound; the Coast Salish history of the site, including village names and histories; the history of Daybreak Star; and information about contemporary activities at Daybreak Star.

The funding will also aid in the creation of the AIS Language Resource Center: a clearinghouse for the teaching, research, and dissemination of Southern Lushootseed, the heritage language of the Southern Puget Sound, and other Indigenous languages of the region across the Puget Sound.  Led by AIS Teaching Professor Tami Hohn (Puyallup), a leading authority on Southern Lushootseed, the heritage language of the Seattle area, the AIS Language Resource Center will provide research and teaching materials with which to listen to and record languages, as well as resources to meet with tribal community language revitalization partners.  This project seeks to normalize Southern Lushootseed for the region and the world.

Existing programs to be expanded through this funding include the “Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Symposium”, an annual signature regional and international food sovereignty event, hosted by AIS in partnership with the Seattle-based Native-led non-profit organization Na’ah Illahee Fund. This event serves to foster dialogue and build collaborative networks with regional, national, and international Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, tribes, and organizations around Indigenous foods, food sovereignty, health, and treaty rights.

Additionally, AIS’s successful bi-yearly event, “Sacred Breath: Indigenous Writers and Storytellers”, which has brought local Indigenous writers and storytellers to campus to showcase how the power of written and oral words ground us in place. Building on the success of these events, AIS will create a new, annual Indigenous Storytelling and Writing Festival to be held each Winter Quarter.

Finally, support will be provided to the newly created UW Canoe Family, as they joined Tribal Canoe Journey in the summer of 2023 and onward, pulling their own seafaring canoe to the host tribe location on the Salish Sea.  Tribal Canoe Journeys is a renowned annual summer event that brings together Indigenous peoples from the Pacific Northwest to journey from their homelands across the Salish Sea in traditional sea-faring canoes to a host tribal nation site. Founded in 1989 by Emmett Oliver (Quinault), father of the late AIS faculty member Marvin Oliver, Tribal Canoe Journey has become a catalyst for a renaissance in PNW tribal cultural revitalization.

About the Department of American Indian Studies

The American Indian Studies Department at the University of Washington has been the home of American Indian and Indigenous knowledges at the University of Washington since 1970. The Department advances and promotes knowledge integral to Native peoples through research, teaching, and community service. It is the largest and most comprehensive program of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, visit

About Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center

Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle’s is led by the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. Established in 1970 through a direct action Native American takeover of the Ft. Lawton military base in Seattle’s Discovery Park, Daybreak Star’s 26,400 sq. ft. building opened in 1977 and sits on a 20-acre wooded site in Discovery Park.  For more information, visit


About the Andrew Mellon Foundation

The Andrew Mellon Foundation was founded in 1969 to strengthen, promote, and defend the arts and humanities as essential to democratic societies. For more information, visit