Shadow of the Salmon

Preparing students with 21st century skills

Reviewed by Ella Inglebret and CHiXapkaid (D. Michael Pavel)

The salmon serves as an indicator species reflecting the overall health of the natural environment in the Pacific Northwest. For Native American tribal members, the salmon has played a central role in sustaining communities both historically and in contemporary daily life. Based on the importance of the salmon to all people living in this region, tribal leaders, environmental organizations, government agencies, and educators formed a partnership to create curriculum resources that bring awareness to the status of the salmon population as it interconnects with the broader ecological system. The outgrowth of these efforts is the Shadow of the Salmon curriculum, designed to prepare eighth- grade students with 21st century critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills as they address environmental issues.

Building partnerships for education

The recently completed study, “From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the Educational Achievement of Native Americans in Washington State,” ( identified the formation of partnerships between tribes and schools as critical to promoting the educational achievement of Native students. The report echoed the Millennium Agreement signed by state and tribal leaders in 1999 by recognizing the contributions that tribes can make to education for all students in Washington State. The Shadow of the Salmon curriculum serves as an example of how Native cultural knowledge can help inform problem solving and development of potential solutions regarding environmental concerns.

Tribes contributed to the development of the Shadow of the Salmon curriculum through the leadership of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission who brought together multiple partners. Additional contributors who saw the possibility of enhanced education opportunities through partnership included the environmental organizations: Salmon Defense, the North- west Straits Commission, Environmental Education Association of Washington, Hood Canal Coordinating Committee, and Adopt-A-Stream Foundation. Washington State agencies also assisted, including the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Department of Ecology. Educational organizations and institutions involved were the Washington State Indian Education Association, Washington State University, University of Washington, and the Pacific Education Institute. Further assistance came from the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the Boeing Corporation.

A partnership product

A key component of the curriculum-development partnership involved communication with members of local tribes to learn about and portray the perspectives of Native people. The outcome of this partnership, the Shadow of the Salmon curriculum, is a multi-media product consisting of a docu-drama and a curriculum guide. The docu-drama tells the story of Cody Ohitika, a 15-year old boy from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, who comes to the Pacific Northwest to visit his Coast Salish relatives. He learns about the importance of caring for and respecting the natural environment through stories, observation, and hands-on experiences shared by youth, elders, and other community members. More specifically, he participates in an environmental studies class with peers, observes the consequences of an oil spill, and watches his relatives take measurements to monitor the health of a stream near a hatchery. The curriculum guide provides a variety of materials and activities to complement presentation of the docu-drama. These include traditional stories of the salmon with suggested discussion questions and follow up activities. A section on stewardship presents watersheds, as part of an ecological system heavily impacted by human use. Challenges to the sustainability of the salmon population are discussed, focusing on hatcheries, hydropower, harvest, and habitat. Suggestions are made for related information sources that can be explored through the internet. Communication skills are enhanced as students and teachers explore diverse communication modes, such as storytelling, art, music, and dance, in addition to meeting with local tribal members to hear their perspectives regarding the natural environment.

Building critical thinking and problem solving skills

Real life interactions between humans and the natural environment are portrayed in the Shadow of the Salmon curriculum as they relate to the decline of the salmon population. Students are provided with opportunities to build their critical thinking and problem solving skills as they analyze the challenges faced by salmon through- out their life cycle. The curriculum guide provides opportunities to explore potential solutions and to take action through being a “doer” and not a “worrier.” For example, after viewing the docu-drama, students are encouraged to research news articles regarding environmental issues of relevance to their local community. They then critique suggested solutions and identify ways they can personally take action to address identified concerns, such as through removing litter or planting trees along a stream.

Additional suggestions are provided for activities that promote the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills that align with Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) in various content areas, such as science, math, reading, writing, and communication. Implementation of the curriculum might involve tribal and non-tribal experts serving as guest speakers to talk about what sustainability means, to provide information on local challenges, and to lead a discussion on the pros and cons of strategies being used to address these challenges. Students might gather information by taking a field trip to a fish hatchery or to a salmon habitat restoration project. As an alternative, students might explore the land and water resources located on or near their own school grounds and produce a “Schoolyard Report Card.” These activities then provide the basis for planning an “Action Project” to be carried out by the class. This might involve adopting a stream for cleanup or reintroduction of salmon. Students can then develop a presentation for a local government, tribal, or educational group to gain support that can then lead to implementation of their “Action Project.”

Extending existing educational efforts

The Shadow of the Salmon curriculum is designed to build upon environmental education efforts that already provide out- door education experiences for students in schools. For example, 600 schools currently participate in the Salmon in the Classroom Project, sponsored by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (http:// This project provides students with the opportunity to receive salmon eggs that they raise in the classroom. Salmon fry are eventually released into local waterways that biologists have determined to provide suitable habitat. The Salmon in the Class room Project has served as one focal point for partnership development. For example, the Yakima Basin Environmental Education Program brings together the Yakama Nation, state and federal agencies, irrigation districts, private groups, municipal and county agencies, and individual land owners to offer the Salmon in the Classroom experience to students and teachers in the region. The Shadow of the Salmon curriculum parallels and extends the Salmon in the Classroom Project as students learn about the natural environment through activities, such as mapping and monitoring the status of their local watersheds, participating in environmental fairs, communicating with local community members, recording cultural histories associated with the waterways, and exploring potential responses to the dilemmas encountered.

Concerns pertaining to environmental issues and sustainability of natural eco-systems in the Northwest have resulted in the formation of additional partnerships developed to enhance educational opportunities. The Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group partners with the Skokomish Nation and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Nation to provide educational opportunities for students enrolled in schools in the Hood Canal watershed. The Stillaguamish Tribe has formed a relationship with nearby schools to provide hands-on educational opportunities at its fish hatchery. Through the Dungeness River Audubon Center, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the River Center Foundation, and the Audubon Society come together to provide river-monitoring field trips and other educational opportunities regarding watershed management. The Shadow of the Salmon curriculum provides an additional and readily accessible resource to enhance the educational efforts of these collaborative groups.


Environmental issues pose one of the greatest challenges for humans across the world today. In the Pacific Northwest, the salmon serves as an indicator species reflecting the health of the overall natural environment. Recognizing the significance of the salmon to all people across the region, Native American tribes partnered with environmental organizations, government agencies, and educators to develop the Shadow of the Salmon curriculum. This curriculum provides a tool for promoting the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills for eighth-grade students as they learn about and address real-life environmental concerns. The curriculum is designed to build on existing environmental education efforts and serves as a tool to promote cross- cultural communication and relationships.

Availability of the Shadow of the Salmon curriculum

The Shadow of the Salmon video and curriculum guide are available, upon request, from the Indian Education Office of the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction (P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504, 360-725-6160). The video can also be viewed online at http://www.Salmon and the curriculum guide can be accessed at edu/nativeclearinghouse/achievementgap/. A document displaying the alignment of the Shadow of the Salmon curriculum with state standards can be accessed at http:// native-american.asp.

Ella Inglebret is an Associate Professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Washington State University. Her research examines factors associated with Native American student success.

CHiXapkaid (D. Michael Pavel) is an enrolled member of the Skokomish Nation and Professor of Higher Education at Washington State University. He specializes in promoting American Indian and Alaska Native educational access and achievement.