Sapsikwala teacher education program celebrates 100 alumni

In United States public schools, only 6 percent of public schools have even one Native American teacher on their staff. Founded in 2002, the Sapsikwala Teacher Education program at UO is working to change that.

In collaboration with the UOTeach master’s degree program and the nine federally recognized sovereign Indian nations of Oregon, the Sapsikwala program provides a pathway for Native American students to actively engage with their culture as they earn their teaching license.

The program was founded on the idea that education strengthens Native communities. With the graduation of the 2021 cohort this spring, the Sapsikwala program will celebrate 104 alumni, 104 advocates for Native American education.

Alumni include Nicole Butler-Hooton, a 2004 graduate of Sapsikwala, member of the Apache and Siletz tribes, and Oregon’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. Butler-Hooton credits the Sapsikwala program for teaching her how to create a safe and inclusive classroom for all of her students.

“I know that having those roots in the Sapsikwala program and having curriculum based around our culture and our heritage made me feel safe, and it created a space for me. And that's what I hope to do with my students,” Butler-Hooton said.

Marty Pérez, a member of the Modoc tribe, graduated from the Sapsikwala program in 2008. He taught Spanish in Portland and Alaska for more than 10 years before pursuing a career in school administration.

“I wanted to think on the macro level of how to progress in this career in order to create macro-systemic changes,” said Pérez said, who now serves as assistant principal at Sam Case Elementary in Newport.

The graduating cohort of 2021 consists of eight students representing eight different tribes.

Jazmine Ike-Lopez is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and is seeking her Master of Education with her Sapsikwala cohort. After she graduates, she plans to pursue a doctorate in cultural and social thought in education and develop culturally based curriculums for her tribe.

“Learning with a Native American cohort allows me to be connected with individuals who understand my background in a way that is not always so easy for people who don't have relationships with Native communities,” Ike-Lopez said. “It also provides a space where we can connect with other Native leaders who are also working hard to make a positive change in their communities and are happy to help support each other in our journeys.”

Stephanie Wright is another member of the Sapsikwala cohort and a member of the Klamath tribes of Southern Oregon.

“Coming together as a group has made me feel included, and that gives me confidence in myself as a student, as a Tribal member and as a future teacher,” Wright said.  

To celebrate more than 100 Native educators, the first-ever Sapsikwala Alumni Summit will be hosted by program leaders this January. Stephanie Tabibian, Sapsikwala program coordinator and Shoshone-Paiute tribe member, said, “We hope to create more opportunities for alumni to engage with one another for mentorship and resource sharing.”

By Meghan Mortensen, University Communications