An eighth-generation descendant of Sacajawea helped ensure the design and logo of the new Sacajawea Middle School more authentically reflect its namesake.
The new building opened for business on the South Hill Tuesday, replacing an aged brick structure built in 1959.
Sacajawea was a member of the Agai-Dika band of the Shoshone tribe, whose ancestral lands of the great basin include present-day Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada. Much of the symbolism in the school’s original branding nodded to coastal Salish people, of no relation to Sacajawea, said descendant Lacey Abrahamson.
Spokane Public Schools and branding group Helveticka consulted with Abrahamson for the culturally accurate rebrand.
“I want her memory and her spirit to be portrayed in the most positive and accurate way possible. And it’s also good for the public to understand that there are different tribes,” Abrahamson said. “There’s over 570 Different federally recognized tribes in the United States alone. And many of us have our own cultural designs, we use our own colors, we have our own language, we have our own ceremonies. Sometimes it’s all mushed together when people don’t realize how unique each and every tribe is.”
Abrahamson’s fingerprints are all over the new logo. The more geometric shape of the thunderbird takes influence from Shoshone beadwork. Designers added yellow, inspired by the sun central in Shoshone culture, to the school’s colors of red and black. Even the direction the thunderbird faces, towards the East, was Abrahamson’s idea.
“That’s where the sun rises,” Abrahamson said. “I told them every day is a beautiful gift from the Creator. Every morning when the sun rises, our people pray and thank the Creator for another day.”
The thunderbird itself is a symbol of strength, resilience and protection, according to Helveticka designers. The construction of the school’s building itself resembles the mascot, with “wings” of classrooms separated by grade levels.
“That’s probably my favorite thing about the design of the building,” said Tiffany Kiragu, ASB vice president and eighth grader at Sacajawea. “It shows a lot of character and how the school really is spirited and based on the thunderbird.”
Abrahamson, who resides in Spokane, is an enrolled member of the Shoshone tribe and a direct descendant of Sacajawea’s brother, Chief Cameahwait. On her father’s side, she has Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Colville ancestry.
She attended Tuesday’s first day of school ribbon-cutting dripping in intricate beadwork handmade by her family, and feathers and animal pelts, all traditional Shoshone garb. She paused to answer questions in between posing for photos with parents and alumni of the school, including Sonja Sallquist, who attended Sacajawea in 1960.
Raised to revere her ancestor, she hopes Sacajawea’s legacy and historical contributions will persist among the students who matriculate through the school.
“Sacajawea was a symbol of peace and cultural connections between the non-Indian and Indian. They needed her to get across the way to the ocean, because when there was a group of men walking into a tribe, it was considered a war party, but with Sacajawea and baby being with her it was considered peace. They pretty much owe their lives to her,” Abrahamson said. “I would say she’s a symbol of peace. My mom was saying she’s a symbol of adventure and learning.”