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One of the most turbulent years in history with a global pandemic, racial tensions, and a historical riot on Capitol Hill, paved the way to what became landmark decisions moving forward.

Junior senator Kamala Harris from California became America’s first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president. Rep. Deb Haaland became the first Native American to oversee Tribes and Federal Lands as Secretary of the Interior.

A record number of Native American candidates are heading to Congress. The Huffington Post reports six Indigenous candidates won their House races, which means the chamber will now have the most Native lawmakers ever serving at one time. Four of them are returning members.


From turbulent times to changing times, the Pacific Northwest was not to be left out. The Ellensburg School District made Washington state history with its decision to name the town’s new elementary school after Kittitas Band tribal elder Ida Nason Aronica, the great granddaughter of Chief Owhi, who helped shape Kittitas Valley history in the 19th century.

Ida Nason Aronica Elementary School, being built north of the current Mount Stuart Elementary School, will feature several groundbreaking educational tools in teaching about the tribes indigenous to the area, as well as information within the school in both English and Ichi-skin Sinwit, which translates into “the words we speak.”


“I think the name is really important and really cool. It’s great there is new representation for Native Americans,” said Ellensburg High School senior Madelyn Snow, whose family history is connected to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation in Pablo, Mont.

“I think it’s a start at recognizing Native people and a good representation. A lot of my school mates aren’t even aware that Native Americans are still in the area or there were many cultures here before their ancestors.”

Yakama Nation Archaeologist Jon Shellenberger just smiled at the foresight of the school district.


“The fact that it happened in Ellensburg before it happened in Yakima is absolutely amazing,” said Shellenberger, who received his bachelor’s degree in anthropology (2004) and master’s degree in science resource (2006) from Central Washington University.

“And, the fact it is a Native woman is stunning. It is meaningful because of what Ida represents in the Native history in this valley. When you talk about the people of the Kittitas Valley, she is the first name that comes up. She was like this time capsule of information to the people that lived here.”

Naming a school after Ida Nason Aronica is especially meaningful, because at one point in time there was a call for the total removal of all Indians in the Kittitas Valley to make room for the settlers that wanted their land, water and the fishing rights.


Ida was in her 90s when she was interviewed for the PBS Documentary “Everything Change,” in 1986. As the matriarch of the Kittitas, she lived to be more than 100, and in her lifetime, she experienced enormous changes that came to her beloved Kittitas Valley. She was a caretaker for the culture, and that will be on display at the school as part of its educational resources.

“It’s really awesome for Indigenous people,” Ida’s granddaughter Sia Aronica said. “She really understood the value of walking in two worlds and the need for new leaders among our Native kids.

“This will give knowledge to our young people and provide inspiration. Grandmother continued the teaching of the tribe throughout her life and now we will continue to carry that forward knowing we have the strength of our ancestors behind us.”


The first inhabitants of the Kittitas Valley were the Psch-wan-wap-pams (stony ground people), also known as the Kittitas band of the Upper Yakama. When Lewis and Clark passed through the Northwest in the early 1800s, there were thousands of combined Yakama and Kittitas in the area.

The valley also was a gathering place. The old Indian race track is still traceable in the Naneum area where bands would gather to feast, sing and dance. All that will be intergraded into the learning process, Ida’s youngest son Allen Aronica said where he stood looking over the valley where his family has lived for generations. His voice softened as he looked out over the place where seven longhouses used to be.

“It’s quite an honor (to have the school named after her) because it’s a way to keep the family history and tribal history alive. It will give us a chance to tell a side of the story that never gets told,” Allen said with a laugh. “So many of our elders have passed on. I think it’s important for not only the Indian kids, but it gives others a chance to understand that we’re all in this together.”


The Ellensburg School District narrowed the naming selections to three names, including Owhi, the great warrior Chief of the Kittitas Band of Northwest Plateau Indians, and Che-lo-han, which was the largest Indi n encampment in Kittitas County, before selecting Ida Nason Aronica.

It will name the inter-courtyard Che-lo-han, a modern day gathering place, and recognize Chief Owhi’s accomplishments with a biography display. Directional signs such as office or band room or exit, will be listed in both English and the Kittitas language, Sahaptin. Plans are still being ironed out, but Ida Nason Aronica Elementary school will be a first of its kind in Washington state.

The new school is historical, not just in naming a Native American woman, but the Ellensburg School District had the foresight to recognize the original inhabitants in the Kittitas Valley. The Daily Record reached out to offer a voice to several Native Americans about their thoughts on the matter.

Sawyer Snow (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation)

The Ellensburg 7-year-old is a second grader at Valley View Elementary and has cultural ties to the Flathead Reservation in southwest Montana. He likes to hunt and fish and spends time on the reservation two or three times a year.

“My grandfather taught me to be proud of my heritage,” he said. “When I go over to Montana, we visit the bison herd and learn about them. I like listening to the drums at the powwows and watching the dancers. I think the name for the new school is very cool.

“This is important. It’s not like on the reservation where are a lot of Native people around. Naming the school helps us remember the Native people and how they lived.”

Emily Washines (Historian at Yakima Valley College)

“This is a heartwarming recognition of her family’s long standing connection to the Kittitas Valley,” Washines said. “She shared so much about Native people through tours and talks. It seems fitting to carry her name to a place of learning.

“She was born in the 1800s and still has a living son, this shows the Yakama people’s connection to the history of that time period.”

Carson Snow (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation)

The Ellensburg 15-year-old is a freshman at Ellensburg High School and spends a great deal of time on the Flathead Reserve learning about his culture and language.

“It seems like I’m living in two different worlds. Living in Ellensburg and a city that doesn’t recognize Natives much. Then going over to Montana and the reservation, it’s a different home,” Carson said. “People in my class or friends didn’t even know that Indians were still around here. My (immediate) family is not enrolled, but my grandparents are.

“Naming the school feels good. I’m proud that our (Native) heritage is coming to life, because for a long time we were just hidden. Knowing they actually acknowledge us is really cool. We’re still here and a part of the American west.”

Sia Aronica (Kittitas)

Sia Aronica, 46, graduated from Central Washington University in 1998 where she had the support of a Native American group on campus. Her generation has made impressive attempts to reconnect and learn more about various cultures and the language of each nation. As a foreign language instructor at Morgan Middle School, she had both Madelyn and Carson Snow in class.

“This is really phenomenal for Indigenous people,” she said. “Grandmother wasn’t a superstar. She was just an ordinary woman, humble, caring and loving. But she fought hard for the land, the sacred places and her legacy was that she was always willing to share, whether it was knowledge or food or whatever she could do to make life better.

“The fact that we’re acknowledged is important, but to pay tribute to a Native woman is amazing for this community. It’s huge and it doesn’t matter what your culture of heritage is. This is a big deal.”

Jon Shellenberger (Yakama Nation)

“Having studied history in the valley, I was blessed to talk to Allen Aronica a few years ago on a project. He taught where the Kittitas were living. It was a gathering place with tribes and people coming from all over the place,” he said. “Allen told me when the tribal people went fishing down at Celilo, squatters came in and took over the land they were living on.

“Fishing was abundant on the Yakima River and at Lake Cle Elum, but when the dams were built in Keechelus (1917), Kachess (1912), and Cle Elum (1933), it killed off the remaining fish run and Celilo became the place to go. Yet through all of this, Ida was born and survived massive cultural change while maintaining her identity as a proud Kittitas Indian.”

Ammy Snow (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation)

The Ellensburg mother of three grew up off-rez, but spent summers with her father and grandparents in Montana. Her cousins danced at the annual powwow and she learned of her heritage, beadwork, leatherwork and language.

“We decided when my kids were a very young age that we would get over to the reservation and learn about the culture and our heritage as much as possible,” she said. “Dad would take us up to the mountains and he’d show us which mountain range his grandmother was born on.”

Her grandmother Lily Rose Courchane and father Douglas Alnes were a big influence in her learning process on the reservation, home to 65 percent of the 7,443 enrolled Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal members.

“Naming the school in Ellensburg is incredibly important to Natives,” she said. “We really do live in two worlds – one of our history and one with all its technology and advancements. It’s important for our kids to know both and now everybody can learn our history in the Kittitas Valley.”

Ida Nason Aronica Elementary School is expected to be completed sometime fall of 2022.


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