Saturdays are for Storytelling

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

The traditional language of the sduhubš is strong within the Tulalip community. And it is apparent that with each passing year, Lushootseed continues to grow stronger as more and more of the tribe’s membership develops a connection to the language of their ancestors. 

Thanks to a partnership between the Lushootseed department and the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy, the language is introduced to the academy’s students as soon as they are enrolled in their birth-to-three program. Lushootseed is now often present throughout a tribal member’s academic career, from early head start all the way to college, as the Lushootseed Language Warriors hold classes at local schools to impart their tribe’s ancestral teachings to the future of Tulalip. 

In addition to teaching the language at schools, the Lushootseed department does an excellent job at extending their lessons to the entire community by offering classes, both online and in-person, every year. They also make it a priority to ensure the language is accessible at all times for their people, with the development of a fun digital app, an engaging and informative website, and by hosting a handful of community events. And now, the Lushootseed department is taking over Saturdays by dedicating one hour of storytelling to the community over the next several weeks. 

Said Lushootseed Department Manager, Michele Balagot, “Most of our Lushootseed classes are all tied into stories. That’s where you learn how to do the grammar and get the teachings from each story. Toby Langen (Lushootseed Revivalist), that’s how she taught us, was through stories. I was thinking of different ways that we could get the language out there, and I thought why don’t we just do stories, here in person, that’s how we used to do it back in the day anyway.”

The first storytelling gathering was held on February 4th, where Lushootseed Warriors, Natosha Gobin, Thomas Williams, and Kylee Sohappy kicked-off the weekly get-together and shared a few traditional stories with a number of Tulalip families. 

Throughout the duration of the global pandemic, the Lushootseed department brought their lessons to the world wide web by hosting classes on Zoom, and they received a great response from the people during the mandatory stay-at-home order. After seeing the success of the online classes, the Lushootseed Department decided to livestream the storytelling gatherings for those who are unable to attend in person. And if the first event serves as an indication of how many people the department can reach online, the remainder of the classes are sure to be a hit, as that livestream garnered close to 1k views, as well as numerous interactions, comments, and shares. 

“These gatherings also help our teachers, so they’re more comfortable telling stories,” Michele expressed. “Everyone was excited about this, but we do have some teachers who are new and have never told a story in front of people before, so they were a little nervous. One of them was Kylee, and I heard she did a great job with her story.”

“I told Her First Gift Basket,” Kylee beamed with pride. “It was a story from Vi Hilbert, retold by Michele Balagot, and illustrated by Michelle Myles. It’s one of our first hard book cover copies that was published, and we’re hoping to publish more by the end of the year.”

She continued, “I was excited to be a part of our first gathering with the community, so others can become familiar with the language, because it’s an important thing to pass on to everybody in the community.”

The classes are held at the Lushootseed department, inside the library of the old Tulalip elementary school. With many Lushootseed Warriors on their team, Michele explained that the language instructors will rotate storytelling duties throughout the coming weeks. And since the gatherings are held on the weekend, Michele left it to the discretion of the Warriors to choose a time that works best with their schedule outside of work. 

So be on the lookout for flyers, e-mails, and social posts as the storytellers of the week will be sharing the details of when the gathering will take place, and where you can catch the livestream. And you better believe that the Lushootseed department has much more planned for 2023, be sure to stay tuned to the syəcəb and Tulalip News as they reveal their upcoming happenings. And as always, do yourself the favor of checking out their website,, which is updated frequently and beautifully showcases the lifeways of the Tulalip people, and shares much of their ancestral teachings. 

“We’re trying to reach anybody who wants to hear a story,” shared Michele. “We encourage families to come because you can learn together with your child and then you can speak it in your home, that’s what we aim for.

“I hope this gets more people interested in learning our language and learning the stories from our ancestors. We need more people involved, so we’re trying to get the language out there any way we can. And if anybody has any suggestions about what they would like to see or like us to do, then send me an e-mail ( and we will consider it.”