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It’s been a hectic stretch with the presidential election (and its aftermath) and the COVID-19 spike and restrictions, but we should not let the moment pass without giving a shout out to the Ellensburg School District for coming up with three excellent choices of names for the new elementary school under construction adjacent to Mount Stuart Elementary School.

The choices are:

• Chief Owhi

• Che-lo-han

• Ida Nason Aronica

Chief Owhi was the great warrior Chief of the Kittitas Band of Northwest Plateau Indians. Ida Nason Aronica was the great granddaughter of Chief Owhi, and another important figure in Ellensburg history. Che-lo-han translates into “great gathering” or “meeting ground.”

The naming committee consisted of Morgan Middle School teachers Nathan Bradshaw and Sia Aronica, and community member Andrew Caveness.

Upon hearing the names, it is striking that there are so few public buildings named after Native Americans in Kittitas County. There are some on the Central Washington University campus — Kamola Hall is named after a daughter of Chief Owhi.

Not to be overly critical but there is an overall lack of imagination with Ellensburg school names. Early elementary schools were Lincoln and Washington (now Ellensburg City Hall) — hard to go wrong with presidents unless history revisits them in a less than favorable light. Newer elementary schools, Valley View and Mount Stuart, fall into the category of “Naming buildings after things you can see from the window.” The district gets credit for not only naming Morgan Middle School after an educator but also keeping the name after the building was remodeled. We’ll also give them a pass on Ellensburg High School.

The Ellensburg School District will not go wrong with any of the three names under consideration.

While recognizing the area’s Native American heritage with a school name is important, it should just be a start.

Ellensburg schools do bring in Native American speakers for presentations but if there is one untapped category that holds the most promise for engaging students and enhancing their lives and the quality of the community it would be local history. In our case, local history did not start with first white settlers in the 1800s but stretches back centuries as told through the lives of Native Americans.

Probably the biggest mistake and shortfall of standardized-test driven education is it de-emphasizes history.

Throughout his career at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School School, Fred Krueger offered a local history class. In his case, the class focused on the rich ethnic mosaic of immigrant communities in the Upper County. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more engaging high school class. Krueger was an exceptional teacher but the subject also was fascinating.

Probably the most popular lecture series in Kittitas County has been Nick on the Rocks, where CWU professor Nick Zentner examines and explains the geological history of our region.

People are fascinated by how the area in which they live became the area in which they live. Again, Zentner is a top-notch teacher but topic also is amazing.

It is only our ignorance that keeps us from understanding and appreciating how the land in which we lived was shaped by the people who were here before we arrived.

Knowledge is so important. KEEN’s Get Intimate with the Shrub Steppe event’s greatest impact is that it helps local residents better understand and appreciate the environment in which they live. Knowing more about the shrub steppe environment actually leads to feeling better about where we live — understanding how special it is and how important it is to preserve it for future generations.

Similarly, knowing the people who shaped our present would make us better citizens. Appreciation leads to respect. This is all the more important because descendants of the Native Americans of our past, remain our neighbors today.

One thing a building name does is trigger the question, “What’s the story behind that name.” The answer should just be the start of a long, deep, valuable and life-enriching conversation.


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