Lindsey Kosaki '20 | Neah Bay, WA

Each year during spring break, Gonzaga students, along with staff and faculty advisers embark on trips to communities across the country, participating in service immersion experiences through the Center for Community Engagement’s Mission: Possible program. During their experiences, students explore the complex realities affecting these communities and reflect on their role and the ways they can engage with these issues when they return to Spokane.

This year 36 students traveled to four different sites , including Denver, CO, San Francisco, CA, Sisters, OR, and Neah Bay, WA. The following is Lindsey’s reflection on her experience in Neah Bay as a participant on Mission: Possible.

During my time at Gonzaga, I had never done anything like Mission: Possible before. My roommate came back from Neah Bay and spoke highly of the stories and experiences she had, which inspired me to go out of my comfort zone and apply for the trip my senior year. While living in Washington nearly my entire life, I have learned a lot about the indigenous populations that use to occupy all the Pacific Northwest territory, but never had any real immersion experience with the Native people or interaction with how they live. Going to Neah Bay was a unique, and special experience for a lot of reasons. Going to Gonzaga, the word “community” is often used to describe the campus, but I believe that we witnessed the true meaning of community while in Neah Bay.” Not only are the community members friends and neighbors, but most of them are family and they are all supporters of each other. The support was clear from the toddlers in the museum work offices, to the pastor praying for individual community members by name during his sermon. 

Taking part in working in the Makah Cultural and Research Center Museum was an extreme privilege. While sorting and organizing papers into binders I was able to catch a glimpse at the rich history of the Makah tribe and contribute to the preservation of the culture. Every day I would sort through songs, stories, and writing in the Makah language. We worked in the language office where the Makah language teachers would prepare their class materials and do further research on the language. One of the teachers in the office told me that no one is truly fluent, but they continue to study every day to teach the children and prevent the language from dying. The museum, to me, was one of the most impressive parts of Neah Bay. The walls are bursting with rich history and artifacts telling the stories of the whaling tribe and how they lived in the coastal area. Not only does the tribe think of their artifacts as assents, but they named individuals in the community that were assets to them as well for knowing how to do things like basketweave and storytelling. Before this experience, I had not ever thought of individuals specifically as “assets” but while in Neah Bay, it made complete sense. I think that everyone in that community is an asset, elders, and children included. In their close-knit community, everyone relies on each other, so in that way, everyone is an asset contributing to keeping and preserving the Makah culture. Without question, many members of the community help out each other without being prompted to or even being asked. It is clear to see a community that exists in Neah Bay by the outward kindness and care people have for each other.

While we may never understand the full scope of hardships they faced, I am proud to have learned about the Makah and their story, and have heard their peace. I hope for the Makah tribe to strengthen and stand their ground when it comes to outsiders coming in to protest whaling practice, when their land is violated, and when their culture continues to age and be threatened by the western ways of thought and living. This journey has changed my perspective and widened the horizons for what I think about people, and what it is to be in community with one another.

Sun rising over an ocean landscape