Yelm district celebrates Native culture with graduation and moving-up ceremony

13 students from all levels honored


Yelm Community Schools honored 13 Native American students with a graduation and moving-up ceremony in the Yelm High School commons on Sunday, June 2. Eight students, including three soon-to-be high school graduates, and their families attended the ceremony and received certificates and leis.

The celebration also marked the retirement of YCS Native American Educational Coordinator Elizabeth Satiacum, who spent more than two years in the district and 25 years in education. 

YCS Superintendent Chris Woods and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Cadero-Smith thanked Satiacum for her service, and Nisqually Tribe member Hanford McCloud and his family sang a tribal song for her.

“I’ve been in education for 25 years, and through the years, I’ve been able to witness a bunch of seniors graduating, and it really means a lot to have this because it means that there’s hope for the future,” Satiacum said. “All but two or three of the students have post-graduation plans. That’s really exciting to know, whether they go to Job Corps or the military or college, that there’s a new hope.”

Satiacum described herself as the students’ “educational auntie” because she is not a teacher or a parent, but she supports them in any way she can as the Native American educational coordinator.

“If they’re doing really well in school or in sports, I get to be their biggest cheerleader. But if they start stepping over the line and their grades are failing or they’re not going to school, I help guide them to get back on track,” she said. 

Despite the positive growth of the Native American education program at YCS, which includes cultural activities, events and curriculum that educate non-Native and Native students of the importance of Native culture and traditions, Satiacum said she is afraid for the future of the program with the failure of the district’s levy. She added that, while part of her pay comes from the federal government, some of it comes from the school district.

“By law, each school needs to have a Title VI program, and I am a Title VI coordinator. If my program is not a priority, then that means the Native students are not a priority, and they will be impacted a lot,” she said.

As Satiacum retires at the conclusion of the school year, she vows to continue to support the district and the Native program.

“I wish everybody the best. I am always up front with the students about how, even though I’m not going to be around, I’ll still be around,” she said. “I’m really proud of the students. There’s some students that need the extra help because they’re struggling financially, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes school is their getaway from home. I’m uncertain about what’s going to happen next year for them, but I would love to stick around and make sure that everything’s going to be all right. I have to trust the system and that the system will take care of the students.”