Rachel Ellenwood is one of two new 2019 recipients of Education Northwest’s Steven R. Nelson Native Educator Scholarship. Now in its third year, the scholarship program strives to increase Native representation in the field of education by supporting students in the Northwest who are pursuing a master’s degree in policy, leadership, technical assistance, research or a closely related field. See our feature on Payton Bordley who also received a 2019 Nelson scholarship.
For Rachel Ellenwood, serving on the Lapwai School District’s Indian Parent Committee was an eye-opening experience. The district has a significant majority of Native students from the Nez Perce Tribe but only a handful of Native educators.
She had seen firsthand that Native students often get more out of school when they have teachers from a background similar to their own. “The main thing is representation and lack thereof,” she says. “It’s difficult to learn from non-Native teachers when they are trying to teach us about our own tribal history and the history of other tribes and First Nations.”
“In my undergraduate studies, the college I attended was built on Nez Perce ancestral land, and I was often the only Native student in my classes. When a non-Native instructor was trying to teach us about my own people, that’s when I thought, ‘I could teach this class.’ For me, learning about my own culture is a lifelong process, but I definitely believe we should be telling our own story whenever possible.”
Rachel, or Chedda, as she is called by family and friends, is currently earning a teaching certificate through the Washington State University (WSU) College of Education AlterNATIVE project. She has also been accepted into a master’s program in communications at WSU and will work with a Native mentor to study how cultural suppression impacts Nez Perce students in the Lapwai School District.
Her past accomplishments as an undergraduate include twice winning the prestigious Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall scholarship—the first ever student from WSU to receive that honor.
She was also involved in multiple clubs at WSU, serving as president of the Native American Women’s Association and as vice-chair of the Ku-Ah-Mah club (the name means cougar in the Nez Perce language).
“My presence as a Native person was very much needed,” she says of her college experiences. “I was involved in the campus community and often tried to educate others about the history of the land and the uniqueness of the area. I wanted to raise their awareness that they were living in Indian Country. I wanted them to know that we are still here. I had classmates who thought the Nez Perce—and other Native peoples—were extinct.”
A confluence of these and other experiences—including a lifelong passion for learning about Native history and language—has led her to pursue a path as a teacher. She has high goals for herself and for her community. She hopes to apply what she’s learning in her master’s program to teach dual-credit high school history and Native language courses in the rural Lapwai community, where limited education resources are available.
“My master’s program committee members will help guide me to become a strong teacher and a role model so that others can follow in my footsteps,” she says.
Learn more about the Steven R. Nelson Native Educator Scholarship Program.