When the Washougal Learning Academy leaders decided to select a school mascot and logo last summer, they wanted the chosen symbol to represent more than the academy itself. They wanted it to be, in their words, “something special.”
They accomplished their goal by collaborating with a local Native American tribe, forming what they hope to be a long-lasting and positive relationship along the way.
Cowlitz Indian Tribe member Sarah Folden, an Olympia-based artist, created the academy’s “eagle,” which was introduced on the school’s website earlier this year.
“We love it,” Jason Foster, the academy’s principal, said. “Everybody we’ve shown it to loves it. We’re so excited to be able to show it off.”
Once Foster decided that the second-year online school needed a logo, he reached out to his students and their parents to receive feedback and suggestions. He gave them only one guideline: “In our district, we have a lot of Pacific Northwest animals, so let’s kind of keep it in the same vein.”
“We then went through the selection process and ‘Eagles’ was chosen in part because they’re about flying above it all, rugged individualism, seeing far into the distance, and that really resonated with the kids, and that became the No. 1 pick,” Foster said.
After the eagle was selected, school leaders started thinking about ways they could use the new identity to honor the heritage of the area, floating the possibility of partnering with a local Native American tribe.
Foster reached out to the Cowlitz Tribal Council, a Longview-based board of directors that governs the affairs of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, a group of Southwestern Coast Salish and Sahaptan people living mostly in Western Washington. He was directed to council member Suzanne Donaldson, who agreed to meet with him and discuss his ideas in more detail.
“The first thing I told her was, ‘You can absolutely say no,’ because we recognize that people make really bad decisions about other people’s cultures sometimes,” Foster said. “She was under the assumption that we were talking because of the recently passed regulation around using Native American symbols for schools and how you have to get permission from the tribe. I was uninformed and didn’t know that was a thing. Immediately she was like, ‘Oh, you’re doing this because it’s just the right thing to do?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what we want to do. We want to collaborate. We don’t want to take anything from anybody. We’d love to share.’”
Donaldson told Foster he should contact Folden, the Cowlitz artist, and ask if she might be willing to create a logo for the school.
Folden used a Coast Salish design style inspired by 3,000-year-old relief carvings and the school colors of black and purple to create the logo.
“I originally wanted an eagle with the wings spread out high so you’d have a ‘W’ shape with the wings and the head, and she talked to her mentor and consulted (her peers) and said that wouldn’t represent the way that this art would’ve been done,” Foster said. “I said, ‘OK, let’s do it the way it would’ve been done. Let’s make sure (we do it right).’ We wanted to be very specific to that art style and didn’t want to westernize it just for the aesthetic for our school. It needed to be an actual collaboration. She came back with this fantastic vision of this eagle in purple and black, our school colors.”
Cowlitz Tribal Council members completed the process by unanimously approving the school’s use of the artwork.
“I think it’s a best-case scenario of what happens when everybody comes to the table with respect and listens as opposed to dictating (the circumstances),” Foster said. “It was just really, really cool to be a part of.”
The Cowlitz Tribal Council has agreed to provide Washougal Learning Academy students with tribe-based learning materials during this school year, according to the school’s website.
“We’re always happy to collaborate,” Donaldson said. “We welcome (the opportunity), especially if it’s the right thing to do. Depending on what the needs are, we’re always happy to have conversations.”