The Asian Hall of Fame honors its first Indigenous inductee

Virginia Cross, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe’s chairwoman for over four decades, was chosen for her devotion to economic and educational issues.

Virginia Cross, chairwoman of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe

Virginia Cross, chairwoman of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, became the first Indigenous person inducted into the Asian Hall of Fame in a Nov. 18 ceremony at Seattle’s Sky View Observatory. The Asian Hall of Fame was created by Seattle's Robert Chinn Foundation with the purpose of ending anti-Asian hate by lifting up Asians making considerable contributions to the world. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

Three quarters of the world’s Indigenous people are in Asia. They have their own cultures, languages and history, with parallels to the Indigenous people of what is now the United States in their fight for liberation and empowerment for their people. With this in mind, the Asian Hall of Fame has expanded the scope of its inductees to recognize Indigenous leaders from all over the world. 

On Nov. 18 the Asian Hall of Fame, a nonprofit focused on educating the public, promoting Asian excellence and charitable work for racial equity, chose their first Indigenous inductee, Virginia Cross, chairwoman of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. Cross was elected to the Muckleshoot council in 1980 and as chairwoman the following year, making her one of the longest-standing elected officials in Washington. Over the past four decades she has helped elevate the Muckleshoot and their efforts to properly steward their land, flourish economically and create further educational opportunities for their people.  

 

A unifying force

Maki Hsieh, president and CEO of the Asian Hall of Fame, explains the organization was established 18 years ago to elevate and recognize Asian leaders. The founders’ intention was to educate the public to overcome misconceptions and negative perceptions of Asian people in the hope of creating opportunities for the next generation. The other major goal is philanthropic impact: The Social Justice Initiative program works to increase hate-crime reporting, and the Brain Injury Program supports in-hospital family visits for survivors of hate crimes and domestic violence, among other traumatic events. 

Hsieh said she is excited about opening the Asian Hall of Fame’s global platform to amplify Indigenous stories in 2019. She believes that the Asian Hall of Fame can be a unifying force connecting the Indigenous people of what is now the United States with the Indigenous people in Asia, and Asian Americans with Asians from Asia. 

“I think it's the right path to peace and it's the right way to make some really dramatic global change,” Hsieh said.

Cross agreed that Asian and Indigenous people share similar stories. She recalls a Japanese family who lived across from her childhood home who never came back after Japanese people were incarcerated in so-called internment camps during World War II. Cross, like Hsieh, believes the Asian Hall of Fame can be a conduit for creating understanding and change, and said she is proud to accept the honor. 

“Asian Hall of Fame respects the identity and the unique individuality of each and every Indigenous tribe, whether they're federally recognized or not,” said Hsieh. “We will never say Indigenous is Asian, but we do know that there are many shared similarities, including overcoming adversity and including power that can be amassed if our voices are united.”

Virginia Cross, chairwoman of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe

Virginia Cross, chairwoman of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, speaks after being inducted into the Asian Hall of Fame at the Nov. 18 ceremony at Seattle’s Sky View Observatory. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

Virginia Cross, chairwoman of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, speaks after being inducted into the Asian Hall of Fame at the Nov. 18 ceremony at Seattle’s Sky View Observatory. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

A lifetime of devotion

Hsieh points to Cross’s tremendous leadership of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe for more than four decades as one major attribute that inspired her nomination. Cross has dedicated a lifetime to the betterment of the Muckleshoot, who have seen monumental growth under her guidance. One major factor in this growth has been the Muckleshoot Casino, which Cross calls one of her biggest accomplishments as a leader. Casino revenue has supported jobs, housing and scholarships for Muckleshoot kids, among other services that weren’t possible before the casino. 

“[Cross is] a real leader for the advancement of equity for women leaders in the United States,” said Hsieh. “She should be on a coin!” 

When Cross was growing up on the reservation in Auburn in the 1950s, her community had no electricity, plumbing or running water. Today the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe is one of the largest employers in King County and has donated more than $25 million to charities statewide. With the revenue from the casino and other investments Cross has influenced, the nation is now able to provide social services for the well-being of Muckleshoot citizens and contribute to the broader economy through charitable donations and employment. Cross received the Bill Kyle Memorial Award in recognition for these contributions from the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce in 2016. 

Cross also served as the director of Indian education for the Auburn School District for 22 years, when she helped shape the relationship between local schools and the Muckleshoot by involving the nation’s leaders in school programming and encouraging district officials to learn more about the nation. 

In 1973 she helped launch Native education programs in school districts in King and Pierce counties, hiring native educators to work in those schools to tutor students and address any other needs the kids may have had, from tutoring to social services. Cross believes that this may have been the first time these districts collaborated directly with Native students and educators. During this time, Cross also prioritized addressing Native graduation rates. She believed it was important to meet kids where they were at, and wanted to give kids who struggled to conform to the public school structure a chance to learn at their own pace. 

“When I graduated from high school at Auburn, I was the only Muckleshoot that graduated that year,” Cross said. 

So she helped create a program that provided cultural enrichment opportunities and advocacy for both students and their families, and pushed back the start time to 10 a.m. The program, named the Virginia Cross Native Education Center in her honor, was created over 25 years ago as a drop-out retrieval program for Native high schoolers. Today it provides students with educational support to meet high school graduation requirements as well as the emotional and social encouragement necessary for them to seek higher education opportunities. 

For her work in education, Cross became the sixth person inducted into the Auburn High School Hall of Fame in 2012. 

Great leaders listen

But Cross says that her achievements aren’t just hers. Nine other members on the council have contributed to the progress she is so proud of. She believes that a good leader listens. “I've tried to be in the community as someone that people can talk to, someone that they can come to for information,” Cross said. “I just listen and try to do something about their concerns.”

Cross is being recognized for looking beyond herself to ensure the prosperity of her people and inspiring unity and change among those with shared adversities. 

 

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