Barry Warren didn’t want to be a baseball player. Or a doctor. Or lawyer.

It’s not the typical response from a child, but when Warren was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said school principal.

Warren (’19 Principal Cert.) recently realized his dream through a program at Washington State University’s College of Education that supports the recruitment of Indigenous teachers and school administrators.

Barry Warren sits outside Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center at WSU
Barry Warren (Courtesy WSU College of Education)

Warren is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. His grandparents grew up and went to school in Inchelium, a town on the reservation’s eastern border, nestled against the Columbia River. Warren grew up in Spokane, but has fond memories of time spent with grandparents during the summer.

“I always loved it there,” says Warren, who attended Spokane Falls Community College, majored in elementary education at Moody Bible Institute, and earned a master’s degree with an emphasis in upper elementary reading from George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

A summer internship brought him back to the Colville Reservation, this time to Nespelem. “There’s where I got my first Native language experience,” he says. “I got to take language with an elder in Nespelem. They said I was getting educated for the next generation. That kind of stuck with me.”

In an effort to work more closely with Native students, he took a teaching job in Hunters, south of Inchelium and across the river from the reservation in unincorporated Stevens County. He ended up staying eleven years. “I knew I wanted to get my principal certificate, but the timing just never seemed to be right,” Warren says.

Then he got a call from WSU.

Warren learned of the Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit Native Teaching and Learning Community Project, part of a four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education and also funded through the Washington State Professional Education Standards Board. The name comes from the Nez Perce language and describes how Indigenous people view and understand teaching and learning. WSU Pullman is located on the traditional homelands of the Nez Perce Tribe. The “coheart” of students—as the program calls them—examines the intersection of Western education with Indigenous knowledge systems.

Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit helped pay for his principal certification—and gave Warren an unshakable feeling. “I just kept having this feeling while I was doing this that I was going to end up on the Colville Reservation,” he says. “I didn’t know what exactly that meant or what it would look like, but I had this sense that I was working toward it. I really cherished the idea of getting back to my family and my homelands.”

After Warren finished his principal internship with the Chewelah School District, he applied for various principal positions, all of which would serve some population of Native students, but none of which were on the Colville Reservation. He kept getting rejected.

Then he learned of an opening in Inchelium. “I thought, ‘Uh oh, this might be it. I don’t know if I’m ready.’” As soon as he walked in for his interview, doubt faded to excitement and—even more importantly—comfort. “It was just a natural fit,” he says. “I went into my interview, and there were pictures of my grandpa on the wall of the school because he was a World War II vet and they honor their veterans really well there.”

That history and Warren’s own perspective were as important to the school district as they were for him. He got the job. The hardest part would come before the end of his first year: COVID-19. With the pandemic came associated tech challenges.

“Everything is online, and I Zoom more than I ever have before,” he says. “The online platform is tough out here because of our limited internet access. But I’m doing everything I can to help our staff online, over the phone, every way possible.”

Through it all, Warren aims to keep his sense of humor. While everyone at school misses the students, he says, there’s one facet of his job that’s much easier with them gone. “I haven’t had to deal with too many discipline issues,” he jokes.

In all seriousness, he says, “I’m excited to serve on the Colville Reservation. It’s just such an honor.”

Barry Warren with Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit project WSU faculty Francene Watson (at left) and Renée Holt.
Barry Warren with Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit project faculty Francene Watson (at left) and Renée Holt. (Courtesy WSU College of Education)