Honoring Our Elders

Loren Selam, Sr., Marlene Spencer Simla, Wanda Sampson and Delano Saluskin (pictured clockwise from top left)

Each November, Heritage University celebrates Native American Heritage Month by recognizing four Yakama tribal elders for their lifetime contributions to their community. This year’s honorees include a businessman; an artist and child welfare advocate; an ordained minister; and a former police officer, cultural preservationist and spiritual leader.

Delano Saluskin has a deep and abiding commitment to building the health and vitality of the Yakama Nation’s resources and its members. His foundation to serve Yakama Nation began through the encouragement of his grandfather, Alex Saluskin, who inspired his grandchildren to obtain a college education. Much of his life has been dedicated to helping the tribe develop its economic sovereignty. During his 15 year tenure as the Tribal Director, Saluskin, helped to build several of the Nation’s most prosperous industries including Legends Casino, Yakamart and Yakama Forest Products, which provides much-needed jobs for tribal members and funding for programs and services. He joined Tribal Council in 2012 and continues his service today. Along with his commitment to the economic success of the Yakama Nation, Saluskin is passionate about the physical and spiritual wellness of his people. He is a strong advocate for mental health programs that provide holistic wrap-around services that encourage our young people to turn to traditional teaching instead of gangs, drugs and alcohol.

Wanda Sampson is a licensed and ordained minister who leads the Yakama Valley Fellowship, which was first started by her late husband decades ago. She spent 43 years in social services helping people at their time of greatest need before retiring eight years ago to devote her time to the ministry. In addition to the monthly spiritual revivals that she leads, Sampson is a dedicated volunteer with Noah’s Ark Homeless Shelter in Wapato, Washington. She and her friends provide monthly potluck meals to the people who rely on their services and gather and fill backpacks with hats, gloves and necessities to distribute to those in need each winter.

Lonnie Selam, Sr. is a protector of people, a preserver of the culture, and a spiritual leader. Raised by his grandparents, he grew up learning the traditional ways, speaking the language and moving around as they followed the seasons and the foods. These early learnings instilled in him a deep connection with his culture and commitment to help the Yakama people. He spent ten years as an officer with Yakama Tribal Police before being appointed by Tribal Council to preserve the Yakama cultural heritage through the Nation’s Cultural Resource Program. He spent 18 years working to build the prosperity of the Yakama Nation and to protect its sovereign treaty rights as a member of Tribal Council. Even now he continues his service as a spiritual leader with the Toppenish Long House.

Marlene Spencer Simla is a talented artist and a tireless advocate for children. She attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe before transferring to Ft. Lewis College in Colorado to earn her bachelor’s degree and later earned a master’s degree from Heritage College. Throughout her lifetime, Spencer Simla has helped hundreds of children and young adults build a foundation for life-long learning and to find safe and loving homes. She spent 17 years as a center director with early childhood education, and 22 years working with children and family welfare services. Spencer Simla’s paintings have graced numerous publications and have been shown at the Yakama Nation Cultural Museum, the Central Washington State Fair, and the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. She is a storyteller who rewrites and illustrates Native American legends.

The four elders were recognized during a ceremony at Heritage that kicked off the university’s month-long celebration. A series of ads that feature their stories and images ran in the Yakama Nation Review and the Yakima Herald during the month.