The award recognizes and salutes selfless dedication and commitment to the WSU Vancouver community through participation in campus activities, leadership on behalf of WSU Vancouver, and dedication of time, talent and resources toward advancing WSU’s mission.
Tribal Elder and Historian, Cowlitz Tribe
Mike Iyall is passionate about education, history and ecology. All of those come together in his work with WSU.
He is a member of WSU’s Native American Community Advisory Board and WSU Vancouver’s Equity and Diversity Advisory Board. He has deep partnerships at Pullman in the Office of Native American Programs and Relations. In 2002, for the Cowlitz Tribe, he signed the Memorandum of Understanding between WSU and local tribes promoting cooperation and acknowledging that WSU occupied land formerly inhabited by Native American peoples. The MOU, first signed by six tribes in 1997, has now been signed by 13.
The goal of the MOU was to improve the university’s efforts to provide educational services to Native American populations and to better promote understanding of Native American issues. Iyall has committed himself to that effort. He started scholarship programs at WSU and ran a tuition assistance program for the Cowlitz Tribe, which today serves about 240 students all over the world.
Iyall has long been a trusted advisor to WSU Vancouver’s Chancellor. He mentors the new coordinator of Native Programs at WSU Vancouver. He has held WSU and WSU Vancouver accountable for building relationships of respect, trust and reciprocity across tribal and Native American communities. He is working on signage for the Vancouver campus that will identify native plants by their traditional names and uses. He attends nearly all programs and events on Native and Indigenous affairs at WSU Vancouver.
After retiring from a 37-year career as a factory mechanic, Iyall went to work for the Cowlitz Tribe. There was a lot of catching up to do—the tribe was not federally recognized until 2000 and did not have a reservation until 2017. He served on the tribal council for 46 years, founded the Cowlitz Natural Resources Department and the Cowlitz Transit Program and managed the Cultural Resources Department. He is also the Cowlitz tribal historian.
Why did he get so involved? “Because it needed to be done,” Iyall said. “We’re a hugely understudied tribe. I wrote a grant and built a research library. We submitted 160 pieces of evidence for our reservation court case.” (That would be the 15 years-long struggle to establish a reservation and casino.)
A born storyteller, Iyall contributed to the Confluence Project’s Story Gatherings—videos featuring the stories of Native elders. These stories are part of the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, which represents the histories and cultures of the tribes and is archived at WSU, the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress and elsewhere.
In one video, Iyall addresses the question: “What is it like for you to be Cowlitz?” He said: “I believe it was always the hope for not just federal recognition but the acceptance that we were here, that we were once here, that we are still here.” The benefits of acceptance as a tribe, he said, would provide “the opportunity to protect our homelands. You know, protecting the environment… You’re born with an obligation to protect your environment, but you’re also born with a beautiful appreciation of your environment.”
Iyall and his wife, Joan, live in Olympia. They have a grown daughter and son and three grandchildren.
Past award recipients
2020 – 2021
Lynn Valenter, Vice President of Finance and Treasurer, Reed College
2019 – 2020
Michael C. Worthy, President and CEO of WW Payment Systems, Inc. and WSU Regent
2018 – 2019
Steve Horenstein, Horenstein Law Group
2016 – 2017
Dan Harmon, Hoffman Construction
2014 – 2015
Riverview Community Bank
2013 – 2014
2011 – 2012
2010 – 2011
2006 – 2007
Joe King, King and King
2005 – 2006
Bart Phillips, CREDC
2003 – 2004
Ed and Mary Firstenburg
2002 – 2003
Scott Campbell, The Columbian
2001 – 2002
2000 – 2001
1999 – 2000
1997 – 1998
Jane Cote, Bob Weis and
1996 – 1997
1995 – 1996
1994 – 1995
Joe Johnson and
1993 – 1994
1992 – 1993