The Long Tent as a vehicle for empathy

On May 19, 2017, Whitman College signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). The agreement signified a formal commitment to collaborate on the creation of Native American-focused curricula, in addition to various other initiatives focused on Native American recruitment at Whitman and other institutions of higher education.

Yet, as Yakama and Nez Perce tribal descendent Lonnie Sammaripa Jr. explains on this week’s episode of the Whitman Wire Podcast, the Long Tent event may be the spark that moves those initiatives further forward. 

Stella Sammaripa, a language technician for the Nez Perce Tribe adds that the events of the week serve as a reminder that ways of thinking can change, especially given increased education.

The following interview is just one question and response from a longer interview conducted by podcast reporter Apichaya Jiracharoenying with the Sammaripas, and has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Wire: So, could you say that the Long Tent is the first step for Whitman College to connect more with Indigenous people?

Lonnie Sammaripa Jr.: There have already been first steps. The people who have been thoroughly involved in creating these vast presentations or inviting speakers in the past. Seven years. That when they’ve been trying to put this on the map that there’s an importance of this integration, this type of integration, especially because there’s no real land acknowledgement for CTUIR, or Walla Walla or Cayuse lands that they’ve been doing this.

Now, it’s not to say anything against them on how they did it, but it was not well-received. There have been people who went to these things and did not have an understanding of what they were talking about. These speakers that they’ve invited over—there is an intention and a purpose. 

Overall, there were a lot of inquiring minds here at Whitman. In particular, students that Wednesday, for example, Fred Hill came here to present on regalia or feather work. Fred Hill Sr. was asked questions about tribal politics, which was something that he wasn’t even there to talk for. Now, we have people that throughout this week can actually answer those questions. 

Could this be the event that sparks that for here or this area? I hope it [is], but the intentions and the purposes of this are to heal what’s been done because of the Whitman myth. It’s not going to be able to rewrite it because you can’t [re]write history. It’s there. [We want] to educate on it with our speakers, with this immersion and experiences. 

We hope to plant a seed that will continue to grow after this through the students, through the staff, through the faculty. Through everyone that was involved from the higher-ups to be better about this narrative, because there’s a lack of representation of the Indigenous perspective.

A lot of everyone who is here is non-native. The numbers even show that there’s no real representation from anybody who’s native here at all. There’s no program, there’s no Indigenous studies. There’s nothing that’s here. That’s the present. 

We’ve told everyone it is now your cultural responsibility, that, with whatever you get out of this, be that sponge; share your story. Talk about what you’ve experienced here throughout this week. 

We’re not promised that you’re going to get to hear these speakers or hear us ever again, as our elders have told us before, we’re not promised tomorrow.

Stella Sammaripa: Have [a] real understanding of our cultures, and understanding that we’re not all the same, but it doesn’t matter because we can all still work together towards a similar goal of respect, of cultural sensitivity, of empathy, true empathy at that. What we hope that you would be able to gain from our knowledge is that we go through life, a lot of the time, selfishly. We travel by ourselves and we gain this, we gain that. We take, we take, we take, and that’s just the consumerism part of our lives.

But what I want to also really bring forth is that we need to be able to change that way of thinking. Otherwise, global warming can continue, and will continue. These injustices of racism, systemic racism, we see that happening because, for whatever reason, no one is empathizing with each other. 

This can really help play into a part of understanding each other, to stop certain things, to really be aware of our surroundings, and what we as individuals can do to change those ways of thinking. I know that can be overwhelming, but it’s something that needs to be done.


This is only a snapshot of The Wire’s conversation with Lonnie and Stella Sammaripa. For the rest of the interview and more reflections on the Long Tent with IPECC President Cheysen Cabuyadao-Sipe, listen to this week’s episode of the Whitman Wire Podcast, releasing at 11 a.m. on Friday, April 29. Full episodes of the podcast can be found here