In 1970, amid a wave of student activism to create a more diverse and inclusive campus, a group of Native American UW students made two requests of the University: establish an academic center for studying Indigenous history and life, and create a student cultural center on campus. The UW met their first request that fall by creating what is now the American Indian Studies Department.
The students’ second request would remain an unfulfilled dream for decades—until 2015, when wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (the Lushootseed name for “Intellectual House”) opened its doors, thanks to the help of public, private and tribal support. Designed in the style of a Northwest Coast Salish longhouse, the 8,400-square-foot structure features a 600-person gathering hall paneled in cedar. A cultural home for American Indian and Alaska Native students, faculty and staff, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ is a welcoming space for the entire community, hosting tribal summits and events as well as gatherings for the University and the wider public.
But the original vision called for more: Workshop space for Native American arts such as woodcarving, weaving, painting and beading. Support services like counseling and an elders’ lounge. Meeting and gathering spaces for Native students, faculty and staff to strengthen community. Phase 2—deferred due to the Great Recession and now scheduled to open in late 2026—will finally complete that vision, providing a Native art lab, a student study space and lounge, and an outdoor garden and gathering space for community-led learning about Indigenous plants and medicines. Continued philanthropic support can help make this promise a reality—and uplift Native life at the UW.
“wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ is the heart of the Native community on campus,” says Intellectual House Director Chenoa Henry (Tulalip). “Fulfilling the original vision by completing both phases of this project makes that heart bigger and beat stronger.”