One of the Muckleshoot cohort, Joannie Suina, ’23, Ed.D. Educational Leadership, is intent on restoring balance to the world.
My story begins in New Mexico where I was born to my parents, Lupita Suina (Pueblo of Cochiti, N.M.) and James R. Mathews (Vallejo, Calif.). As an 80s baby, I was immersed in my Native American and Irish + French roots, though the majority of my upbringing took place in my hometown of Cochiti Pueblo. As a daughter of my community, I have always dreamed of serving as a role model to my fellow Indigenous and non-Indigenous relatives through my work, both professionally and culturally.
Embarking on my professional and cultural learning journey began decades ago when I first stepped foot into spaces of knowledge-sharing as a little girl. I recall my infatuation for language and being inspired with the teachings that were shared with me. My eyes glistened as I quickly scanned each learning space that I was a part of, visioning where the path would take me. Such cultural spaces provided wholesome nourishment through ceremony and also the opportunity to further develop as a leader.
As a teen I began working with the Cochiti Keres Language Revitalization Program thanks to the loving encouragement of my mentor, David “Davee” Herrera who told me “Ha’tha’witz, you need to be a part of this circle.” He never saw me as less of a community member, as I struggled with my own mixed bi-racial identity which was made known to me by my peers and adults around me. In his eyes, I was Koo’qui’thii’meh. His words about being a part of our language and education circle in Cochiti forever stuck with me and I felt encouraged to teach and work within the community for a collective total of seven years. I worked in various positions such as coordinator, grant writer consultant and teacher. I absolutely loved connecting with my people.
Working within the local and national community has allowed me to draw upon my strengths and values. Puebloan teachings about the significance of corn – in all its forms, as a connection to the past, present, and future – are at the center of such teachings. For us as Pueblo people, this is much more than agriculture or subsistence; it is a way of life that revolves around our respective traditional calendars that varies from Pueblo nation to nation. It is the collective consideration of land, water, plants, animals, humans, the living and non-living inhabitants within the universe. Such cultural teachings bond us to our Ancestors and carve pathways between dimensions to allow for inheritance by weaving generational threads together.
As such, my educational journey led me to the University of New Mexico where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Native American Studies, with a focus in education and language. Receiving my degree in 2009 alongside of my 18-month old son, Evan, was a continued reminder of the future pathway that I would create for him and other children in my community to always believe in themselves.
Later on, my family grew and I gave birth to twin girls, Katelyn and Kaydence, and later was blessed with Karleigh. I continued to pursue post-secondary studies and in 2017 earned a Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law from the University of Tulsa, College of Law. Balancing my home life as a mother of four with my education was made possible by the support around me and also took tedious planning to carry out my studies. It was during this time I developed a deep love for coffee as early mornings and late-night study sessions were the only times that I was able to complete my coursework.
Like many Native women, I have been counted as a survivor of violence. At the age of 17 I was sexually assaulted and forever vowed to myself to conceal the ugliness of this memory, for fear of the stigma associated with being raped. My life, thereafter, was filled with both joyous and challenging moments that at times held me within such stereotypical statistics surrounding the experience of Native women in the United States, as well as overcoming the odds for everything that has been set out before me.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced me to work on my own personal healing journey by exploring such traumas and also taught me how to cope with the ongoing losses of family and loved ones, especially when ceremony came to a pause. It was at this same time I discovered the Muckleshoot Ed.D. program and felt spiritually driven to apply. Throughout my coursework I continued to witness a beautiful re-centering, or rematriation, of Native women’s voices as an inherent desire to uplift and nurture community and this is what I sought to focus my research on. This has also been an extension of my own work as co-CEO of Return to the Heart Foundation through the various funds we support within our portfolio of grant making.
Making space to share stories of hope, cultural longevity, and the possibility of cultivating community has been a focus of my work, both academically and artistically. As a graphic artist and the owner of Corn Pollen Consulting, LLC. I have had the opportunity to work with fellow grassroots organizations, tribal communities, and state and federal agencies to co-curate artistic representations of what it means to rematriate and heal. This work has also included bringing my Ancestors with me to all the spaces that I work within.
As we conclude our chapter within the inaugural UW Tacoma Muckleshoot Ed.D. program, I cannot help but sit with so much gratitude for all of the experiences that have been shared with me by the faculty, local community members, and my cohort sister colleagues. I have had the experience of hiking the traditional Indigenous and unceded territories of the Pacific Northwest as well as paddling within the traditional waterways of the Muckleshoot Tribe which has been a ceremony in itself.
Rematriating through land, kinship, and our value systems creates a togetherness that will ensure the continued sustainability of the respective communities that we work with and this is what I plan to continue to carry out after graduation. Though at times this may be hard work, it is certainly heart work. Our ancestors have been waiting for somebody with our strength to carry their name. You are the one who will break the cycle.
Former student Arabelis Wally has received a prestigious fellowship at Johns Hopkins University that will support her graduate work. The Thomas Scholarship is awarded to "exceptional students from ... minority-serving institutions to pursue PhDs in STEM fields ... ."
The average tire contains more than 400 chemicals and compounds, including 6PPD, a tire preservative that transforms to 6PPD-quinone in the environment. Researchers at UW Tacoma and WSU Puyallup discovered 6PPD toxicity. The Center for Urban Waters' Ed Kolodziej is quoted.