Tulalip Community Celebrates First Week of Unity Month

 

 

“What’s the day without a little night?

I’m just trying to shed a little light

It can be hard, it can be so hard

But you got to live right now

You got everything to give right now”

-Logic

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recently reported that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States with an estimated 44,193 deaths by suicide per year; for every suicide there are about twenty-five attempts. In the state of Washington, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death with 1,137 suicides each year. Suicide is the first leading cause of death among the youth in this state, ages ten through fourteen; and second leading cause of death for Washingtonians ages fifteen through thirty-four. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing the highest suicide rate in the country was amongst the young adults of the Native American community. For the age group of fifteen through thirty-four, Native America reported 1.5 times more deaths annually than the national average, with 19.5 deaths per 100,000 population; however, CDC noted that those statistics may be underreported by approximately thirty percent.

As suicide and suicide attempts are escalating in Native communities, tribes continue to search for a way to reach their young members. Suicide is a topic that many are not comfortable discussing. Whether it’s because of a lost loved one or even personal attempts and thoughts, the stigma around suicide often prevents people from having an open conversation about the risks, factors, and signs; let alone the pain, anger and grief that suicide causes.

Tulalip Youth Services is well-aware of the suicide crisis as the community has been personally affected over recent years. Youth Services often holds open-forums for the young adults of the community, creating a safe space where teens can open up to their peers to speak honestly about suicide. Last year, Youth Services hosted the first annual Tulalip-Marysville Unity Month, better known as #TMUnityMonth in the social media realm, to promote awareness about issues such as bullying, domestic violence, substance abuse and suicide within the two communities. Youth Services dedicates an entire week to each of these issues during the month of October and plans events and activities based on the topic to bring awareness, resources and education to the community.

The second annual Unity Month started with Life is Sacred week, focused on suicide prevention. Four, three-step suicide prevention trainings, taught by the Tulalip Crisis Response Team, were held for the community throughout the week. Training attendees were taught how to spot warning signs and how to respond when dealing with someone who is suicidal. The three-step suicide prevention class is taught nationally and upon successful completion, students are awarded a certificate by the QPR Institute. Both the institute and the trainings are named after the three-steps in the prevention: question, persuade and refer.

Crisis Response Team member, Yvonne Ito, explains the three steps stating, “Q is the question and the question is, are you planning on harming yourself, do you plan on killing yourself? People might not want to ask that question because they might not want hear the answer and are afraid of what the response will be. P – persuade someone to get help and R is refer them to the appropriate resource.”

Yvonne addressed the class during one of the trainings, asking “if someone told you they were going to harm themselves, where would you tell them to go?”

To which a youth, who wishes to be unnamed, answered, “I would refer them to the Community Health Department and get them in touch with some counselors. Obviously there’s the suicide hotline and get them support rather than telling them what they need to do and what they can’t do. Just letting them know that they have people who want them here and will listen to them. And also that they have me, that I’m always here to talk to and that I care.”

“Does anybody happen to know the suicide hotline number?” asked Yvonne. A group of young ladies answered, nearly in unison, “1-800-273-8255” before one of their peers added “you only know that because of the song.”

This year hip-hop artist Logic released a song titled 1-800-273-8255, the national suicide number. The song itself is told from three different perspectives; someone who is contemplating suicide, a friend offering words of encouragement and someone who is reflecting on a failed suicide attempt.

The unnamed student expressed that the song is extremely important in helping reach today’s youth stating, “I think that just the song’s title alone will save a lot of lives – I hope it does. It sheds a little light on a dark subject – you don’t have to listen to the song, or even be a fan of it, to save yours, a friend or anybody’s life, you just have to know the name.”

Frustrations were expressed, feelings were confessed and many tears were shed throughout the course of the four QPR trainings. Attendees were provided with plenty of resources and are now better equipped with the knowledge of how to prevent someone from committing suicide.

“The QPR trainings are important to our community, in particular, because we as Native Americans have higher rates of suicide in our community, with this training it can help us combat that,” expressed Youth Advocate, Deyamonta Diaz. “It’s not a cure-all but it does help for regular unlicensed folks, such as many of us community members, to help prevent and even talk with someone about suicide. The trainings also help bring awareness to some education around the topic of suicide in general.

“I think the youth responded well to the QPR’s in the fact that they were able to address any feelings that they had towards the notion of suicide; and [the trainings] also empowered other youth to feel like they now know preventative measures,” he continues. “The biggest takeaway that the community learned from the sessions are that suicide is preventable by anyone, not just mental health professionals; and that if anyone is in need of help – me, you, or anyone in the community can help them out. I think we are all aware that suicide has impacted our community recently but we can tackle this issue and help heal our people.”

The community showed up in large numbers to conclude Life is Sacred week with the Say Something Color Run/Walk. Color-runners, accompanied by a Tulalip Police Department and Tulalip Fire Department escort, traveled the distance from the old Boom City site to the Don Hatch Youth Center on the evening of Saturday October, 7. Youth Service team members excitedly waited to cover runners with multi-colored powder chalk at multiple check-points. Upon reaching the finish line, runners were treated to pizza and a live DJ as community members celebrated a successful first week of Unity Month.

Young Active Native Americans: We Choose Life

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Article and photos by Kalvin Valdillez

Unity Month, held in October, was designed by the Marysville School District and the Tulalip Tribes to unite the youth of the community to heal together and raise awareness to topics such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide. During Unity Month many events are held such as Friday Night Lights, a fieldtrip to the corn maze, and perhaps most importantly the Young Active Native Americans (YANA) Conference hosted by Tulalip Youth Council.

Focusing on healing and love, the October 18 conference included raffles, activities, and one insanely fun icebreaker where the youth played an adaptation of musical chairs.  Instead of chairs, they were assigned a random partner, and instead of sitting they had to find each other amongst the crowd within five seconds and touch each other (example: elbow to elbow or knee to forehead).

Native American activists Chad Charlie, Calina Lawrence, LoVina Louie, Mylo Smith, and Deborah Parker were in attendance to teach workshops and talk to the youth about leadership, self-care, suicide prevention, healthy relationships, and growing up on the reservation.

Tulalip tribal member Deborah Parker spoke to the youth about domestic violence, sexual abuse and how to have thriving healthy relationships as a survivor.

Tulalip tribal member Deborah Parker spoke to the youth about domestic violence, sexual abuse.

Tulalip tribal member Deborah Parker spoke to the youth about domestic violence and sexual abuse.

 

She states, “When you’re young, having good positive self-esteem is difficult especially if you’re a survivor of sexual abuse. I think in this generation we’re finally now openly talking about both sexual abuse and domestic violence. We’re now talking about the importance of having a healthy relationship not only with yourself but with others as well.”

Deborah continued by informing the youth of the recent findings of sexual abuse in Native America. She stated that this past April, research showed that 87% of young female Natives were abused and 83% of young male Natives were abused. She urged the kids to be aware because the abusers are usually people they know.

“I’m no longer ashamed to say I’m a victim of child sexual assault. I was embarrassed until I was 24 years old. Not often are the perpetrators unknown to us. Sometimes it’s going to be someone you love and trust like family. It’s could be a cousin, uncle, grandfather, and yes sometimes it’s even aunties. Do not be ashamed if it’s happened to you. That’s how we are going to break the silence and stop this. We’re going to speak the truth. Victims should not be shamed or blamed. We are going to raise our voices and raise awareness so the perpetrators who hurt us, won’t hurt others. We need love. That’s the foundation we need, and it begins by loving yourself. Self-love is so important. Believe in what you have, only you know what it is, and take care of it. And please take care of your spirit.”

Deborah’s speech prompted two tribal members, a youth and an elder, to share their stories.

Velda Gobin, Tulalip Education Manager and Tulalip Elder drew from her past experiences with abuse.

“[Sexual abuse and domestic violence] hasn’t changed since my generation. Its still happening and the same type of people are still doing it. When I was young I grew up in a dysfunctional family, there was a lot of drinking. My stepfather was violent and used to beat my mom all the time. I was the oldest so I had to hide my brothers and sisters.”

Velda went on to explain that although her stepfather physically abused her she was never sexually abused. She continued, “but I was molested by a cousin, a girl. It’s people you love and trust who usually do this. If it’s happened to you, I hope you speak to somebody because you shouldn’t have to go through this alone.”

Young Tulalip tribal member, Perfecto Diaz, had to express his thoughts and feelings to his peers. Deborah’s words sparked something inside him that made him take the microphone and address what he believes is a division between the adults and youth.

Perfecto stated, “I’ve been having a tough life so far. I know you guys talk a lot about love, but when you come around I don’t feel it. We don’t see it. I want to be a role model to these kids. I write music and poetry in my free time. I have things to say. I am a survivor and I’m still going through the struggle every single day. I went through beda?chelh and the system. I am angry but we need a positive role model, so that’s what I am going to be. There’s wicked people out there. They’re not playing games. I pray for every kid here going through the struggle because I’m out here grinding every day, going through it with you.”

Perfecto’s words resonated throughout the rest of the conference. Each speaker congratulated and thanked him for speaking his mind, including Comedian/Activist Chad Charlie.

 

Chad Charlie, Native American Activist, speaks to the youth of Tulalip about suicide prevention at the first annual Young Active Native Americans (YANA) Conference.

Chad Charlie, Native American Activist, speaks to the youth of Tulalip about suicide prevention at the first annual Young Active Native Americans (YANA) Conference.

 

Chad stated, “I want to say I have a lot of respect for [Perfecto], he spoke his truth. We need more young people to stand up and utilize their voice and speak on the reality of our world as Indigenous People.”

Chad has spent the last two months in North Dakota protesting alongside the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline. He talked about finding his path in life. Over the past five years Chad has been making a name for himself as a stand-up comedian. He states because of the name he built for himself, he was able to use his voice to reach a larger audience regarding this much bigger issue. Chad spoke to the conference attendees about suicide prevention.

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“I want to remind every single person that you all have a purpose. Regardless of how small or large those purposes are; they all mean something. It could be cooking, singing, writing poetry, making people laugh. Those purposes can change the world,” expressed Chad.

LoVina Louie, Native American Activist, gathered everybody and faced them towards a handmade sign that read We Choose Love. She then called Perfecto to the front of the crowd and had everybody place a hand on each other’s shoulder. “Perfecto said he heard a lot of talk about love but doesn’t feel it. I want to make sure that he and everybody in this room know they are loved.” LoVina then led the group in prayer, asking for a cleansing throughout the Tulalip community.

Tears were shed but there was no shortage of laughter. Serious topics were discussed and entertaining games were played. Both hugs and prizes were handed out. As the first annual YANA Conference came to an end, the youth of Tulalip began the healing process together.

 

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