Since Time Immemorial is a new monthly series featuring community members whose families have been here since time immemorial. The ancestral knowledge carried by Lhaq’temish (Lummi), Nooksack, and other Coast Salish peoples is knowledge about how to live in our shared home in a good, life-sustaining way. We live in a time when we need to restore our relationship with Mother Earth and with one another. We are grateful for these stories, told in the words of each featured individual.

LUMMI TRIBAL MEMBER Dr. Lexie Tom is the Education Director for the Lummi Nation. She formerly served as Dean of Cultural Immersion, as well as on the Lummi Indian Business Council. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When or how did you realize that education was your passion?

I really struggled in public school when I was in K-12, I always felt very different. I was never a kid that raised her hand or blurted out the right answer. I remember sitting in elementary school and the teacher would be like, “Oh, we’re doing our Native American unit now,” and I would sit there waiting to hear or see something that was relevant to my life, but most of the time that connection was never made.

When I started at Northwest Indian College, it was a completely different experience. I realized that maybe I do have some skills, maybe I do know how to write, maybe I am the type of person that can get involved in the college setting and extracurriculars. So at college and then as I went on for my master’s and PhD, I started learning about Pacific Northwest biology and history and Lummi history and Lummi language and federal Indian policy. The curriculum finally connected for me.

In your experience, what are some ways that culture affects education, and how does that play into your work?

Children are taught in our longhouses that they’re there to take in as much information as they can. You don’t speak, you listen. And then, at a certain point, you will have enough information to then share. So in school, sometimes if a teacher is too energetic, too eager, is wanting to ask questions of the students and get feedback and get responses from them, the students might take a step back.

The way we see the world is different. There was a study about how young kids drew their world. Often when we think of a kid’s drawing, we think of a horizon line with animals on the ground below the line and the sun and clouds and birds above that line. But a lot of Indigenous kids drew pictures like you’re looking down on a landscape from up above. There’s no horizon line, animals are all around the page. People who come from oral traditions are not taught, “Here’s a book and you read this line and you read it from here to there.” You’re taught in a completely different framework, the way things are sequenced and organized is completely different.

Photograph by Cocoa Laney

That has a big impact on the way we assess in education. Like, are we assessing the right things? It comes back around to a question that I ask a lot, which is, “How do we know what we know, and who gets to decide?”

We need to ensure that people know that multiple systems of knowledge exist in the world, and they’re all valid. We, in oral traditions, already have all kinds of knowledge and science and research. All of that exists in my community, we just don’t call it by those same names. It’s important to me to advocate for our knowledge, and to advocate for the validity of our ways of knowing in educational systems.

Is there a teaching or a story or an experience that has really shaped who you are?

My parents instilled in us the importance of knowing who we are and where we come from. My mother has spent a lot of her life learning about our history and our culture and our language, and she’s always been a big advocate for education. She’s also a genealogist, so even as children we had lessons about our family connections here at Lummi and all over Salish territory, which has really grounded me as a tribal person.

When not at work, how do you spend your days?

I have two children, three stepchildren, a dog, and possibly one more dog. So I have a pretty full house and full schedule. I’m also a part of a canoe club that was founded by my sisters and my mother. We do the intertribal canoe racing circuit every summer from May to the end of August, racing and training every single day. We try to include our families, so we have a kids’ crew that gets out there and races. It’s something that really keeps us all grounded and disciplined.

Hy’shqe, thank you so much

About the Writer:

Julie Trimingham is grateful to make her home on traditional Lhaq’temish territory, and to work for the Sacred Lands Conservancy (, an Indigenous-led 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the life, culture, and sanctity of the Salish Sea.