Carrying on the traditions of her education-oriented family, Marisa Jones, ’23, Ed.D. Educational Leadership, is fulfilling her sacred obligations to future generations.
For Merisa Jones, education isn’t just important, it’s a responsibility, to yourself and, more importantly, to others. “It’s our sacred obligation, relational accountability,” she said. “This is what we do and this is our place within the community to give back for generations to come.”
Jones is a member of the Lummi Nation. As such, she is carrying on a tradition. “I come from a very education-oriented family,” she said. “My mother is a school principal and a Ph.D. student at Western Washington University. My maternal grandmother is dean of Indigenous studies at Northwest Indian College. My paternal grandmother served on the school board for a long time.”
There are a lot of people to admire in Jones’ family, including her grandfather. “My grandfather was a tribal council leader and he had a passion for education,” she said. “He was one of the leaders within the tribe that fought for funding for the [Lummi] tribal school because of the external barriers students faced within the public education systems.
Education played a major role in colonization. For years, the federal government forcibly removed Native and Indigenous children from their families. These children were sent to boarding schools where they were stripped of their culture and forced to assimilate. “My grandfather knew that education for Native Americans comes with a lot of hurt, anger and pain,” said Jones. “He also knew that education would be a part of our healing and would help us be a more self-sufficient, thriving community.”
Born and raised on the Lummi Nation reservation in northwest Washington, Jones graduated from the Lummi Nation Tribal School in 2008. Afterward, she started taking classes at Northwest Indian College. Jones took a break but ultimately returned and completed her bachelor of arts in human services. “While at Northwest Indian College I became passionate about how I could help my people heal,” she said. “I started to focus on how we could use the educational system as a tool to build a strong sense of identity and belonging.”
With this idea in mind, Jones opted to pursue a master’s degree in public administration at The Evergreen State College. “I was also part of an Indigenous cohort at Evergreen,” she said. For her master’s thesis, Jones conducted a group research project on identifying what the original vision for the Lummi Nation School was. “When I finished I felt like I had more questions than answers,” she said. “I really wanted to know more about how we could create belonging through educational sovereignty.”
Jones got the opportunity to dig into this topic as part of the Muckleshoot cohort. The cohort is a collaboration between the Muckleshoot Tribal College and UW Tacoma’s School of Education to establish an Indigenous-focused Ed.D. educational leadership doctoral degree program. Courses are built around Indigenous-centered curriculum as well as Indigenous approaches to teaching and learning.
“My dissertation looks at educational sovereignty and how we can ensure belonging,” she said. “In my research I’m trying to address the impacts of colonization and how we can use the education systems as a tool to help incorporate language, culture and history within everything we do. There’s a generational gap due to colonization, so how do we fill that gap by reincorporating that knowledge within our tribal school. I’m especially interested in mentorship and transitions.”
A lot has changed in the three years Jones has been in the cohort. “Two of us in the cohort, including myself, had children,” said Jones. “There were heartaches and death and people getting COVID but we were always there for each other.”
Jones plans to use what she’s learned to shape policy. She currently works as a chief policy analyst with the Lummi Indian Business Council within the tribal chairman's office. “I’m in the position where I can create policy that will help implement change for our tribal school and for all our Lummi children,” she said.
In this way, Jones is fulfilling her sacred obligation to future generations, an idea she extends to the Ed.D. program at UW Tacoma. “I can’t wait to see the next cohorts to come because they’re only going to push it farther than we did,” Jones. “We laid down this road and the next cohort is going to build on that.”
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