Amy Eveskcige followed a winding road home.
As a rebellious teen growing up in Tacoma, she dropped out of school and landed in foster care. But she credits a rediscovery of her Puyallup Indian heritage and support from family and tribe for pulling her back from what could have been a disastrous path.
Today, armed with a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Washington State University, she is preparing to take the reins as superintendent at Chief Leschi Schools, operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. She will be the first Puyallup tribal member to head the school, which educates nearly 1,000 students from preschool to high school.
“I truly could not have done it without the support of my community,” Eveskcige said. In her culture, she added, “the honor of one is the honor of all.”
Eveskcige, who moves to her new post full-time on June 1, is currently an administrator in Tacoma Public Schools, where she has led staff recruitment and worked on implementing a new teacher evaluation system.
She has broad experience in South Sound education circles, having held leadership positions in the Vashon Island, Puyallup and Tacoma school districts. She was also an administrator of the Muckleshoot Tribal School in Auburn and previously worked as a secretary, teacher and elementary principal at Chief Leschi.
As Eveskcige prepared to begin her new work, she talked with The News Tribune about her personal and career path.
Q: You are the first member of the Puyallup Tribe to head Chief Leschi. Do you feel the burden of history or do you just want to get in there and do the job?
A: I want to get in there and do the job. I think the burden comes from a desire to fulfill the hopes and dreams of folks like my father.
I think about the things he did, the things my foster family has done, and all our ancestors who have fought so hard to allow us to have an education and to allow us to have all the things we have today. That’s a huge obligation to fulfill.
I’m so blessed to be provided the opportunity to serve. It’s a little emotional for me.
Q: Tell me about your dad, who took part in some of the early protests over fishing rights on the Puyallup River.
A: My father died when I was about 2. He was part of the American Indian Movement. In 1972, he was traveling back from (a gathering at) Alcatraz when he was struck by a car. The only way they were able to identify him was by the tattoos on his hands.
Q: Talk about growing up in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood with your mom, who is not a Native American.
I realized just recently how poor our family was. I remember a fire truck pulling up in front of our house and bringing us gifts. I remember going to the Safeway on Hilltop, and more than once, the checker told us that our groceries had been paid for. Somebody had paid for us.
I realize what our family must have looked like to others. This beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman, and her brown-skinned children.
She tried to take care of me and my hair. My hair is very different than her hair. I’m sure we just looked like these rugrat kids. My mother was trying to take care of her kids and she was always baby-sitting others, too. We must have just looked like a mess.
Q: You dropped out of school. Now, you’re going to run one. Tell us a little about your early school experience.
I was a good student. But at home — I’m the oldest and the only girl — there was a lot of pressure from family.
I dropped out of the ninth grade at Jason Lee Middle School. It was in the ’80s, when there was a lot of turmoil on the Hilltop. It was a rough school.
As I was becoming a teenager, my mom and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. So I ended up in foster care and I bounced around from house to house.
Q: Were you raised culturally as a Puyallup?
When I was little, there was a period of time when I was on the reservation. My mom had me participate with the Indian Education program in Tacoma, and I had my first regalia there.
But it wasn’t until I was placed in my foster home in Yelm that I learned a lot of the very traditional cultural things.
I lived with a Puyallup family, the McClouds. I was very, very, very blessed to end up in that home. It saved my life.
Q: When you finally woke up at some point as a teenager and said, ‘This is not something to run away from, my heritage, this is something to embrace,’ what did you do?
I stood on the periphery of that culture, kind of looking in. Then suddenly, I was welcomed into the circle.
I really paused, to learn as much as I could, to be respectful and to understand. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged somewhere.
Q: What got you back on track with your education?
I got married when I was 17. My mother-in-law really wanted me to finish school. Something about it just clicked on for me. I wanted to be able to participate in events and just be part of a school environment again.
I looked for options. Clover Park — it was a vocational technical school back then — was the one that made the most sense to me at the time.
I rode the bus. I lived off of 38th and Alaska (in Tacoma), there by the mall. I remember riding the bus back and forth all the way out there. There was part of me that was afraid that if I stopped, I didn’t know if I would have the energy to start again.
But at the same time I was terrified. I was terrified whether or not I would be good enough to make it.
Q: Your were also working full time?
I worked full time (at Chief Leschi) as the secretary in the middle school at the time. We were still at Cascadia, the old brick building that’s no longer there. That’s where we started. I went to school full time and I worked full time. I got my high school diploma.
I was encouraged to go to college by many of the elders around me, including (former) Leschi Superintendent Linda Rudolph. They saw potential in me that I didn’t see.
I went to Pierce College, attended evening classes and got my associate’s degree in two years. I wanted to go on but didn’t know if I’d be able to.
My auntie lives in the North End, over by the University of Puget Sound. We’d see (the campus). But it was not a place for us. We were never told it was an option. Our family just didn’t do that.
I was encouraged to go into teaching, because of what folks saw in me when I was working as a secretary. I applied to the University of Puget Sound three times, and the third time I was accepted.
Q: It seems like your career in education has taken you to Chief Leschi and to the Muckleshoot school, but you’ve also worked for local public school districts. What was the draw?
I was at Leschi originally, when we were working on an interlocal agreement with the Puyallup School District. That took a number of years to negotiate and put into play. It was finalized in 1997. I learned a lot about public schools.
I wanted to work with an administrator who understood social justice, understood what it was like to have an integrated curriculum. At the time, that was Monte Bridges. He was at Vashon (as superintendent). I had met him through the superintendent’s program at the University of Washington.
Q: A lot of people don’t understand the history of Native Americans and education in this country. But when you talk to the older people, and hear about that boarding school experience, and the intentional separation of children from their culture, it really is just one or two generations away.
It’s not that far away. My father (and stepfather) were both adopted out before they were 3. They went to non-Native families.
Our local families had no idea where they were. It happened just one generation ago. What was lost was their ability to understand and communicate in the language. If you don’t have that language, then you’ve lost your identity.
Q: Do you have plans for new initiatives you want to start at Chief Leschi?
I don’t know if it’s about starting, or fulfilling the original plans. And that is to be a state-of-the-art, nationally recognized educational system.
It’s not just cultural, as in looking to the past, but it’s finding how we infuse technology and culture together to help our students make any choice, for wherever they want to go in life.
We will do that together, as a community. It will be parents providing feedback. It will be the Tribal Council giving their input.
It’s going to take all of us together to realize that dream. It’s not just about me.