Patricia Whitefoot influenced generations of Indigenous students

Closeup of Patricia Whitefoot.
Patricia Whitefoot

Women’s History Month

Throughout March, WSU is featuring stories of women whose contributions to society have helped shape the university and the world.

At home in White Swan, Washington, on the reservation of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Patricia Whitefoot has evidence that her decades advocating for Native American education have been well-spent.

“I’m seeing many of the students I worked with in teacher training who are now our teachers,” she said.

She’s also gratified that she’s helped generations of students and families learn about tribal sovereignty, civic engagement, and cultural preservation.

To recognize her work as an education leader and mentor, Whitefoot will receive an honorary doctoral degree from Washington State University this spring.

Whitefoot’s influence has been felt across the country during her long career.

She served as the Supervisor of Indian Education for Washington and was appointed by the Obama administration to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Council on Indian Education. She has been Education Chair of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians for more than 25 years. She has also served two terms as the President of the National Indian Education Association.

Most recently Whitefoot has focused on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people, serving on a task force convened by the Washington Attorney General’s office and on the federal Not Invisible Act Commission, appointed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

Whitefoot’s connection with WSU began when she was a young educator working in counselor support at White Swan High School on the Yakama Reservation. In the early 1970s she chaperoned a group of students from White Swan to visit the university. It was such a positive experience that, “I’ve always made certain our students had the opportunity to participate in many of the programs WSU offered, particularly for middle- and high-school students,” she said.

As the years went by, Whitefoot became more involved with WSU. She has served on the university’s Native American Advisory Board and the Native American Health Sciences Tribal Advisory Board. She’s advocated for WSU priorities at the federal and state levels. And she helped with the development of the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal.

After all the successes, all the honors, Whitefoot said she’s slowing down — a little.

“I’m currently volunteering at home, taking a little break,” she said.

But her aim hasn’t wavered.

Said Whitefoot, “I just want to do important work that needs to be done around education, youth leadership development, and parent engagement.”

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