Regalia has evolved, just like us

By Tulalip News intern and Heritage student Lilly Jefferson

My name is Lilly Jefferson, I am the syeceb intern. Unfortunately, the school year is almost over, which means my internship will soon end. So, let’s go out with a bang! Here is my final article for the 2023-2024 school year. To date, I have written about myself, the ‘Free Palestine’ movement, and connections between Tulalip and Hawaii. Now, I’d like to cover a heavier topic.

Over the last few weeks, there have been individuals and even some families in our Tulalip community that have been policing each other about where and when we can or can’t wear regalia. These cultural gatekeepers are forgetting that regalia can mean anything to any one of us. 

There’s not one definition for what regalia means. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can look however you dream it to be. It can be however your spirit chooses to express itself. Regalia can be Salmon Ceremony style, smokehouse style, or powwow style. It can be a ribbon skirt and paddle vests. It can be cedar hats and cedar skirts, or wool skirts and wool vests. It can even be as simple as moccasins and a beaded medallion. Then there are all kinds of regalia that can be made from animal skins, furs, and feathers.

I think a lot of this recent conflict is because we are still in trauma from Tulalip Indian Boarding School. The reason I say this is because we are still fighting each other instead of helping each other. There’s still so much shame and hatred and blame being passed down through generations. Our people never came from that. Our people valued self-regulation, were loving, and caring, and were just for the people. All this other stuff came from the trauma directly rooted in the boarding schools. 

Healing is important because when we sit in our bad feelings for too long it can start to take over our lives. It can turn into depression, bipolar-like behaviors, and addiction, and it can take us into a really bad place. Now, just because it can turn into that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel emotion. During boarding school times, the kids who would cry or show emotion got beat and thrown into jail. Our elders were those kids. 

The definition of trauma is when we experience very stressful, frightening, or distressing events that are difficult to cope with or out of our control. Our elders were shown that emotion and being themselves wasn’t okay. They were not allowed to wear regalia, speak their language, nor practice their traditions. It was like everything they ever knew was not okay anymore, and they were alone in it too. They didn’t have their aunties or uncles or moms and dads there for them. They had to go through traumatic events on the daily all alone. 

I come from a long history of powerful women. My mom is Shawnee Sheldon. My Aunties are Theresa Sheldon and Courtney Sheldon. My grandmother is Toni Sheldon, the first woman paddler on Tulalip’s canoe crew. They are very strong women and I am very fortunate to have had these supporters showing and teaching me what regalia means to me. They taught me not to be scared to wear my regalia. They showed me not to be scared to sing and dance and speak my language. 

Every aspect of me is because of them. I wear my regalia to feel strength and protection, I wear it to show who I am and where I come from. I wear it as a representation. I wear it to express myself. I wear it to honor my family, spirit, and ancestors.

I’m just a 16-year-old who is passionate and has a voice that speaks loudly. If I said anything you didn’t like or agree with, then I hope you at least heard me because we all deserve to be seen, heard, loved and respected. I hope I inspire Native youth to have a voice and an opinion in more things related to this. I want to let you know that you are powerful and I hear you. Keep going and don’t be scared to learn new things, take healthy risks, and have fun.

But most importantly, always be proud of who you are and where you come from. Don’t be afraid to represent your family proudly. I’m not afraid to be myself and I never will be.