Class of 2024 celebrate being ‘dreamt into existence’

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

On the evening of Tuesday, June 11, the Tulalip Tribes hosted a memorable banquet in the resort’s Orca Ballroom for eighty-two recently graduated high schoolers. The graduates, a combination of Tulalips and other Natives from within Marysville School District, were surrounded by friends and family in the Four-Diamond setting, making for an ideal setting to celebrate their latest rite of passage – reclaiming their educational future.

Klayton Sheldon and Mariana Richwine were announced as 
Tulalip boy and girl of the year winners.

This latest crop of graduates is part of a generational movement comprised of Native students desiring to reclaim their educational futures by achieving academic success enroute to earning their high school diplomas. Historically, Native communities like Tulalip have faced systemic barriers in education, including underfunded schools, cultural insensitivity, and policies that aimed to assimilate rather than celebrate their heritage. However, through perseverance, community support, and inclusive initiatives, our Tulalip students are increasingly crossing the high school finish line, an accomplishment that can significantly impact the trajectory of their personal and collective futures.

 “I want to start by thanking all of the parents, families, and members of our education team for being here and bringing their good energy into this space so we can uplift our graduates,” said Director of Education, Jessica Bustad. “We are so grateful to have an education division made up of seven different departments full of team members who put their hearts into all the work that they do to support our community’s youth.

“Coming together as a community to honor all our Native graduates is one of the most important things we can do. Our graduates are a true reflection of resilience, dedication, and perseverance. As we are spiritual beings in this human experience, it is important we honor our roots. Our ancestors laid a strong foundation so that we could be here today. We honor them by being proud of where we come from and doing all that we can to reclaim, revitalize, and preserve the way of life our ancestors sacrificed so much for. In being intentional about this work, our people ensure that they always show up as their best selves.”

Cody Barnett earned the male IEPC scholarship.

For many Native students, graduating high school is not just an academic achievement but a reclaiming of their identity and heritage. Education systems have often sought to erase Native cultures, most infamously through boarding schools where Native children were forbidden and often punished from speaking their traditional languages and practicing their traditions. 

Today, Native students and their communities are reversing this trend by integrating cultural education into their learning experiences, such as what’s been achieved within Tulalip’s Early Learning Academy, Quil Ceda Elementary and Heritage High School. Marysville School District has aided the cultural integration movement by offering Tulalip’s ancestral language, Lushootseed, as an elective class taught within certain schools. Schools that offer Native language courses and culturally relevant extracurricular activities help students see their education as an extension of their cultural identity, not a replacement for it.

“We have been dreamt into existence,” explained banquet keynote speaker, Gene Tagaban (Tlingit, Raven Clan). “There was a time they didn’t want us as Native people to even be born, yet here you are. You made it through birth. You made it through elementary. You made it through middle school. You made it though high school, and now you are graduating. That is the power of our ancestors who dreamt and prayed for the resiliency of their future generations, which is you all in this room today. Each and every one of you have been dreamt into existence.”

Community involvement continues to play a crucial role in supporting our high school students as they seek diplomas to broaden their future pathways. Tribal leaders, elders, and parents are increasingly active in school boards and educational planning, ensuring that the curriculum and school policies reflect and respect their cultural values. Mentorship programs that connect students with Native professionals, like what is implemented through Heritage’s ‘big picture learning’, provide local role models to reinforce the idea that academic success and cultural pride can fuse a career ladder’s foundation.

Kamaya Craig earned the female IEPC scholarship. 

Indian Education Parent Committee scholarship awardee Kamaya Craig embodies that professional and cultural fusion in a way that dismantles the misbegotten narrative that Natives can’t thrive in the academic setting. Her father Dr. Anthony Craig is a professor at the University of Washington and her mother Chelsea Craig is a vice principal at Quil Ceda Elementary. Together, they’ve raised a daughter who graduated high school with an astounding 3.7 GPA, but more than that she intends on following in her parents’ footsteps and decolonizing local education systems from within.

“I plan on furthering my education at Evergreen State College where I will join the Native Pathways program and pursue a degree in education,” shared the inspirational 18-year-old, Kamaya. “I am passionate about creating curriculum where our Tulalip students can learn about our actual Tulalip elders and past ancestors. There is so much wisdom and cultural grounding we can learn from our own people, it just needs to be made accessible to the younger generation. I’d love to be a part of making this happen.”

When asked what she thinks of those who continue to push the narrative our people can’t succeed in the classroom or on the college level, she responded, “It’s imperative that we decolonize these education systems from within. In order to accomplish this, we need our people to get educated. I love learning and want to see our future generations learn all the things so they can find their true passion, whatever it may be.”

The impact of increasing high school graduation rates among Native students extends beyond individual success. Like Kamaya and her fellow young Tulalip matriarch Mariana Richwine, who will be attending Lesley University in Massachusetts in pursuit of a criminal justice degree, educated Natives are more likely to return to their communities and contribute to cultural preservation, economic development and positive health outcomes for their people. They become advocates for their people, using their voices to influence policy and career pathways previously thought unattainable.

To recap, the graduation banquet for the class of 2024 was a celebration of being dreamt into existence by their ancestors, and a recognition of the significant importance high school diplomas have become for our inspiring youth leaders. They aren’t just a piece of paper, they are a symbolic cornerstone for community empowerment and self-determination.

Ribbon shirt making with Winona Shopbell-Fryberg

By Wade Sheldon, Tulalip News

On a cozy, rainy Saturday afternoon, June 15, the Hibulb Cultural Center was alive with a shared sense of creativity. The unique ribbon shirt class, led by the renowned Tulalip artist Winona Shopbell-Fryberg, brought together a diverse crowd. From the Sauk-Suattle Reservation to local enthusiasts, everyone was united in their eagerness to delve into the art of creating their ribbon shirts.

The ribbon shirt, whose origins are deeply rooted in the Great Lakes and throughout the Prairie, Plains, and Northeast tribes, carries a profound historical significance. Shopbell-Fryberg explained, “These shirts were created as replacements for war shirts when there was a shortage of hides to make them.” 

Following the French Revolution, extravagant clothing decorated with ribbons went out of style and was exported to the Americas. There, the French traded silk ribbons along with metal for knives and cookware, bells, small mirrors, glass and brass beads, guns, alcohol, and wool blankets to the Native Americans in the latter part of the 18th century. By the 19th century, Europeans noticed that many tribes had incorporated ribbon work applique into their culture.

Shopbell-Fryberg is widely recognized as a respected cultural leader. She is revered for her exceptional beadwork on earrings and medallions and her expertise in creating ribbon skirts. Her classes offer invaluable guidance to those looking to acquire these skills, and given the success of her second ribbon shirt class, it’s evident that her teachings are highly sought after. 

“I’m self-taught in making ribbon shirts,” Shopbell-Fryberg said. “My son needed a shirt, so instead of finding a pattern, I used one of his existing shirts to create my design. I have been teaching various classes for over ten years. This is my second ribbon shirt class, and I would like to teach more classes if there is a demand.”

Her hands-on teaching approach effectively demonstrates simplified methods for creating ribbon shirts. Anyone with basic sewing machine skills can quickly master these methods. By breaking down the project into manageable steps, she instills confidence in individuals with limited sewing experience, showing them they can achieve success.

One of those who was there to learn a new skill was Tulalip tribal member Bryce Carpenter-Juneau, who said, “It was easier than I thought. I was nervous about the sewing going into it because my wife usually sews. So, I figured I would try to learn myself. That way, I could help her out in a pinch. I enjoyed the class, and instead of just purchasing a ribbon shirt, I thought it would mean more to make one myself, knowing my sweat went into it. I would definitely retake this class.” 

“I made a ribbon shirt about 20 years ago,” said Hermina O-Raven from Sauk-Suattle. “I like this style because you can use anybody’s shirt as an outline instead of buying a pattern. I enjoyed the class, but we always want it to be longer. I couldn’t finish my shirt, but with the start I got from the class, I will be able to finish it at home.”

As the afternoon concluded, participants left the Hibulb Cultural Center with new ribbon shirts and a deeper connection to their heritage. 

For more information on workshops and other events at Hibulb, visit their website at www.hibulbculturalcenter.org.

Rez Reads: Summertime Edition

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Whether you’re catching some rays by the relaxing shores of the Salish Sea, out harvesting traditional foods in the natural world, or looking for something to capture your attention to pass the time while working in a firework stand at Boom City, make this short list of Indigenous novels your companion this summer for some fun, entertaining, thrilling, and emotional reads. 

Each of the following books are filled with rez humor, traditional lessons, and haunting tales that ultimately bring attention to issues that we face as Indigenous people in 2024, such as boarding school trauma, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women/People, and substance abuse/addiction. 

What makes all of the stories so powerful and inspiring for the Native community is the fact that most of the main characters must recall and rely on their ancestral teachings to get through a number of dilemmas and survive the story. What that looks like in today’s modern society is half the fun, and it’s what makes each of these books certified page-turners. 

If you are an audiobook listener or old-school paperback reader, be sure to pick up a copy of these works to help support Indigenous art and writers. Happy reading!

Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange

Following up his classic debut, There, There, Tommy Orange returns with an emotionally heavy novel that takes a deep dive into the assimilation era, and the trickle-down effect it’s had on tribal families for multiple generations since. 

Wandering Stars is technically a sequel and revisits some of the main characters from There, There and digs into their family history. However, Wandering Stars can easily be read as a standalone. But there are several references and connections between the two novels, so if you have the time and haven’t read There, There, just yet, we highly recommend it!

“Extending his constellation of narratives into the past and future, Tommy Orange once again delivers a story that is by turns shattering and wondrous, a book piercing in its poetry, sorrow, and rage—a masterful follow-up to his already-classic first novel, and a devastating indictment of America’s war on its own people.”

Never Whistle at Night:  An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology by Shane Hawk

Fair warning, some of the stories in this book will stick with you for several days and are downright scary. We’re talking ghosts, monsters, curses, hauntings, sinister revenge plots. But of course, you were probably able to surmise that on your own from the title, as the message to Never Whistle at Night is embedded into the brain of every Indigenous youth, adult, and elder all across the nation. 

In this book, we are introduced to nearly thirty original stories by well-known Indigenous authors like Stephen Graham Jones, Morgan Talty, Kelli Jo Ford, Nick Medina, Norris Black, Waubgeshig Rice, and many, many more.

“Many Indigenous people believe that one should never whistle at night. This belief takes many forms: for instance, Native Hawaiians believe it summons the Hukai’po, the spirits of ancient warriors, and Native Mexicans say it calls Lechuza, a witch that can transform into an owl. But what all these legends hold in common is the certainty that whistling at night can cause evil spirits to appear—and even follow you home.”

Indian Burial Ground by Nick Medina

Like most of Nick Medina’s works, Indian Burial Ground, is extremely difficult to put down once you get started. With fast pacing and short chapters, you are sure to fly through this book in no time.

Through his stories, Nick Medina tackles Indigenous issues head-on. In his bestseller, Sisters of the Lost Nation, Medina does an excellent job of bringing attention to the MMIW epidemic and its effects on a tribal community. The two underlying themes that he explores in Indian Burial Ground are teen suicide and alcoholism. 

In an attempt to make this recommendation completely spoiler free, we’ll leave the shocking mystery to you. But what we will share is that Medina ramps up his storytelling ability and has the reader following two timelines; one in present time and the other occurs during the summer in the 80’s. 

All Noemi Broussard wanted was a fresh start. With a new boyfriend who actually treats her right and a plan to move from the reservation she grew up on—just like her beloved Uncle Louie before her—things are finally looking up for her. Until the news of her boyfriend’s apparent suicide brings her world crumbling down. But the facts about Roddy’s death just don’t add up, and Noemi isn’t the only one who suspects something menacing might be lurking within their tribal lands.”

Where They Last Saw Her by Marcie R. Rendon

Set on the Red Pine reservation in Minnesota, this novel follows Quill as she decides to take it upon herself to find answers after another woman from her rez goes missing. Out of all the fantastic reads on this list, Where They Last Saw Her, has the highest rating across all platforms, including Goodreads, Amazon, Audible, and Apple books. 

Trigger warning, this book touches on difficult subjects that Indigenous women unfortunately often experience such as violence against women and sex trafficking. This book is raw, heartbreaking, as well as powerful and educational, and Rendon masterfully provides insight and perspective on the MMIW/P epidemic. 

“As Quill closes in on the truth behind the missing woman in the woods, someone else disappears. In her quest to find justice for the women of the reservation, she is confronted with the hard truths of their home and the people who purport to serve them. When will she stop losing neighbors, friends, family? As Quill puts herself, her family, and everything she’s built on the line to make a difference, the novel asks searing questions about bystander culture, the reverberations of even one act of crime, and the long-lasting trauma of being invisible.”

The Indian Lake Trilogy by Stephen Graham Jones

Truth be told, every single literary piece of fiction by SGJ should be on everybody’s TBR list. Ahead of The Indian Lake Trilogy, Stephen Graham Jones became famous for weaving in traditional stories into contemporary reads with a horror twist. However, this series isn’t that. Sure, there may be callbacks to certain Indigenous legends and lore, but the main character in this series is a badass Indigenous teen girl, Jade Daniels, whose love for slasher films may just save her life as well as her loved ones. 

The three novels of the trilogy are: My Heart is a Chainsaw, Don’t Fear the Reaper, and The Angel of Indian Lake. This series is like a cross between Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and the entire Friday the 13th film collection. The Indian Lake Trilogy is a must read. It is gory, beautiful, and most importantly, it teaches a significant lesson about caring for the land and the impact colonization has on sacred territories. 

“You won’t find a more hardcore eighties-slasher-film fan than high school senior Jade Daniels. And you won’t find a place less supportive of girls who wear torn T-shirts and too much eyeliner than Proofrock, nestled eight thousand feet up a mountain in Idaho, alongside Indian Lake, home to both Camp Blood – site of a massacre fifty years ago – and, as of this summer, Terra Nova, a second-home celebrity Camelot being carved out of a national forest. That’s not the only thing that’s getting carved up, though – this, Jade knows, is the start of a slasher. But what kind? Who’s wearing the mask? ….. Go up the mountain to Proofrock. See if you’ve got what it takes – see if your heart, too, might be a chainsaw.”

The Moon Series by Waubgeshig Rice

This series is comprised of two novels: Moon of the Crusted Snow and Moon of the Turning Leaves. Many of you can easily buy into the premise of this series as lots of Indigenous families have experienced this at least once in their lives, albeit at a much smaller degree. This is especially true for those who call Tulalip home and have dealt with days-long power outages from windstorms, where we felt disconnected from the world. 

These books take place on a remote reservation, far away from the conveniences of city-living. When the entire rez loses power and communication from the outside world, tribal members have to hunker down and survive a long and cold winter. Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months as they return to their traditions and are able to get by on the strength of community alone. However, things take a fast and dark turn when the people agree to take in non-Tribal refugees who are fleeing a post-apocalyptic society. 

“With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow…. Blending action and allegory, Moon of the Crusted Snow upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn.”

Summertime Gatherings

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

The season of sunshine is here! Already, we have seen the temperatures rise to the mid-70s at Tulalip and many can’t wait for all the fun opportunities that summer has to offer. While this time of the month is dedicated to celebrating grads and dads, we wanted to give our loyal syəcəb readers a glimpse into the future, by sharing a list of all the local upcoming events that are planned on the rez over the next few months.

The Tribe has numerous events scheduled to help engage the community in summertime activities, which includes plenty of cultural gatherings, fundraisers, and celebratory get-togethers.

Not too long ago, we put together a list of tribal events happening at Tulalip, which many associate with the beginning of summer, such as the Salmon Ceremony, the Stick Games Tournament, and the War Canoe Races. However, there are so many great things taking place this year, we had to break the list down into two separate articles.

So, have Siri, Alexa, or Google open up that calendar app, and be sure to set reminders for each of the following events, because this will be a summer to remember for sure!

Boom City – Open Daily 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. through July 4th

  The Northwest pyrotechnic capital is officially back for the Fourth of July! For generations, Boom City has been the go-to spot for those looking to celebrate Independence Day with a bang. Tulalip entrepreneurs get to show case their business acumen while flexing their tribal sovereignty to sell fireworks that are banned in nearby cities. Each summer, Tribal members set up their vibrant and creatively designed stands at the lot located behind the Tulalip Resort Casino.

  The stand owners have innumerable types of fireworks available for purchase including cakes, firecrackers, bottle rockets, sparklers, Roman candles, fountains, smoke bombs, pop-its, and many more. 

Boom City also offers a designated area for people to enjoy their fireworks in a safe and legal manner. Several food vendors are sure to be stationed at Boom City as well, serving up tasty delectables such as Hawaiian shaved ice, frybread and tacos.

Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention Program U-Pick Farm Day

June 20, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  This summer’s U-Pick Farm Day will be hosted at Garden Treasures Nursery & Local Farm. Copy and paste this address into your preferred map app for directions to the farm: 3328 WA-530, Arlington, WA 98223. The event is organized by the Diabetes Care and Prevention program of the Tulalip Health Clinic and is a great way to learn about the produce you consume and how it is grown and harvested. 

In previous years, families gathered fresh vegetables and brought them home to incorporate into their meals.

The U-Pick and Farm Tour is open to all Tulalip tribal members, Tulalip employees, and patients of the Tulalip Health Clinic. Veronica ‘Roni’ Leahy, the Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention program Coordinator, shared, “When it comes to being with the plants, it’s about that connection that we have to them because the plants give us the nutrients that we need in our bodies. But they also feed us emotionally, because of how you feel when you’re harvesting the plants. And then to be able to talk about the spiritual side of our plant relatives and how we feel about them is important. 

“When you start thinking of your food as a type of medicine, it helps in the sense of a spiritual connection. That has been one our teachings here; feeding our Indian. Feeding who we are and satisfying that. I think the satisfaction comes not just from eating it and keeping within us to nourish our bodies, but it also comes from learning how to plant it, how to care for it, how to harvest it, and then prepare it. It’s this whole process that we do and that’s what we try to show here. These foods are the gift of health. And to see the kids, to see the adults, and the elders enjoy that, is truly a gift.”

27th annual Lushootseed Language Camp

Week one July 8 – 12; Week two July 15 – 19

  Registration for Language Camp is now open! The camp tends to fill up quick and is limited to 50 kids per week. So, be sure to reach out to the Lushootseed Language Department for a sign-up form to get your kiddos enrolled in this cultural enriching day camp. 

This year’s Language Camp is open to Tribal youth between the ages of five and twelve. During each fun-filled week, the kiddos learn several teachings of the Coast Salish culture including weaving, smudging, beading necklaces, and harvesting local plants, like devil’s club, for medicine and ceremonial art. 

Throughout the five-day camp, the young Language Warriors will be fully immersed in their ancestral language, as well as in the Tribe’s traditional stories and songs, through a combination of interactive lessons, including outdoor play and a series of visual programs that are taught on tablets.

Leah’s Dream Foundation 10th annual Golf Tournament  – July 13

Leah’s Dream Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to empowering children and young adults who are on the spectrum. The foundation was established in 2015 by Tribal member Deanna Sheldon, whose daughter, Leah Stacy, is diagnosed with apraxia. 

By hosting events and get-togethers for the local youth living with autism and disabilities, the organization provides a safe space where the kids can simply be themselves and build friendships within the special needs community.

  This tourney is beloved by golfers all across the county, as it provides an opportunity for hundreds of players to hit the links of the Battle Creek course while advocating for inclusion, promoting awareness, and raising funds for the special needs community of Tulalip and Marysville. 

The golf tournament is an event that Leah looks forward to every year and she is always quick to lend a hand by posting sponsor signs all throughout the 18-hole golf course.

To sign up for the annual golf tournament, please visit LeahsDream.org for more details.

Camano Island State Park Day Camp Trip – July 15

  The Diabetes Care and Prevention program is on a mission to educate the community about the disease that affects our people by the masses. In addition to their U-Pick and Farm tour, they are hosting another informative outing that is focused on promoting healthy eating and living habits to either prevent or help manage diabetes.

This particular event promises some fun in the sun as those who attend will spend a day out in nature, enjoying the scenic views of the Camano Island State Park. The excursion will be ADA accessible, with ADA restrooms nearby, and will include easy beach walks as well. 

A number of speakers are scheduled to share their knowledge at the outing, including THC team members, and representatives from the American Diabetes Association and the Puget Sound Kidney Center. 

The day camp trip is in collaboration with the Tulalip Senior Center, which will be providing transportation for Tribal members, as well as the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department.  

To sign up or acquire more info, please give Roni a call at (360) 716-5642. 

spee-bi-dah – July 20, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  Connecting multiple generations and families, the summertime potlatch celebrates the lifeways of the Tulalip people with a cookout on the beach.

Held on a yearly basis, on the water, sands, and pebbles of the spee-bi-dah beach, the gathering provides tribal members a chance to socialize with friends and family while also traditionally harvesting and preparing the foods of their ancestral diet, including salmon, clams, and crab.

  A main attraction of the day is when the community ‘pulls together’ by using the traditional method of seining to capture fresh shellfish for the traditional clambake. That, of course, is in addition to a horseshoe tournament, swimming in the Salish Sea, and enjoying some rezzy laughs with all the deadly aunties and uncles of Tulalip. 

Canoe Journey – Tulalip Landing – July 27

Earlier this year, the Ahousaht First Nations Band rescinded their all-tribal invite to their homelands for the 2024 Tribal Canoe Journey. This was due to a lack of space, resources, and time needed to host such a large gathering.

While many were disappointed by the news, it also inspired the very first Youth Paddle when Puyallup stepped up and announced that they would host a journey geared exclusively toward the future leaders of our respective tribal nations.

While enroute to this year’s final destination at Puyallup, the youth, traveling in traditional cedar dugouts, will make a quick visit to Tulalip on July 27. 

Celebrated during the summertime by multiple Coast Salish tribes and First Nation bands, the canoe journey affords tribal members the opportunity to connect to their ancestral way of life. 

By navigating the Salish Sea, the kids will be exposed to several traditions, songs, foods, and dances as they journey from one village to the next.  

  Tulalip is currently holding canoe practices so the youth can build up their endurance. You can catch the Canoe Family down at the Marina on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., as the youth put in work in anticipation of this year’s paddle. Be sure to drop by if you’re interested in pulling during the 2024 youth paddle to Puyallup!

Tulalip Health Clinic annual Health Fair

August 2, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  Promoting overall health and wellness, the Karen I. Fryberg Health Clinic is once again hosting their annual Health Fair gathering this August. 

During the six-hour event, community members can visit a number of informational booths and learn the importance of prioritizing one’s health, and also pick up new tips on how to manage their medical diagnoses and concerns. 

In addition to helpful resources, the community can also receive free screenings and donate blood. And of course, the fan favorite fun run/walk will also be making its return to the annual health fair.

  This year’s event will take place at the Tulalip Gathering Hall.

3rd annual Pride Everyday Gathering

August 4, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

  Following two consecutive successful years, in which there were large turnouts, the Tulalip Pride Everyday gathering makes a comeback with the promise of even more fun, more dancing, and more delicious food. 

This Pride event is aimed to uplift and empower the voices of our relatives who identify as members of the LGBTQ+/Two-Spirit community.

DJ Monie will be spinning tunes during the event once again, so you can be sure to expect some fun dance competitions throughout the summertime celebration. Also returning this year will be MC Randy Vendiola, as well as Grand Marshal Sage Vendiola. Local Indigenous Author/Poet, Sasha LaPointe, will be the featured guest speaker during the gathering, and she will also be holding a signing of her book, Red Paint. 

The gathering also includes a Native earring contest, a ribbon shirt and skirt contest, and a number of games and activities as well. 

All ages are welcome to join the gathering to honor and support the local 2-Spirit and LGBTQ+ community. The Pride Everyday celebration is set to take place Gathering Hall.

Tulalip Foundation annual Salmon Bake Fundraiser in benefit of the Hibulb Cultural Center – August 17

  The Tulalip Foundation puts together an exquisite night that highlights Tulalip’s rich culture each August. While showcasing the songs, art, and history of the tribe, the Foundation hosts the Salmon Bake to help bring in funds to benefit the Hibulb Cultural Center’s exhibits, classes, and events.

  During the gathering, the museum opens up its exhibits to all those in attendance. And often times, several Tulalip artists are invited to hold live demonstrations in carving, looming, and weaving. 

Leading up to the Salmon Bake, the foundation acquires numerous donations from around the tribe to put up for bid during the silent auction. Those items include paintings, beadwork, sculptures, and cedar woven pieces, as well as gift baskets and gift certificates for the Tulalip Resort Casino. 

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for the announcements of the dates, times, and locations for the following events:

  • Tulalip Recovery Camp Out at Lopez Island
  • TPD’s National Night Out
  • Tulalip Elders Luncheon
  • Tulalip Education Division summer activities
  • Tulalip Boys and Girls Club summer activities
  • Cedar pulling harvest outings
  • Mountain Huckleberry harvest outings

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Mary Ellen Johnson-Davis went missing on November 25, 2020. She was last seen walking east on Fire Trail, a well-travelled road designated as the north border of the Tulalip Reservation. Presumed a homicide victim by local authorities, including Tulalip Chief of Police Chris Sutter, Mary’s absence looms large in the hearts and minds of her loved ones who are still searching for answers, hoping against hope that she’ll come home.

Three-and-a-half years after her disappearance, Mary’s sisters Nona Blouin and Gerry Davis have worked tirelessly with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) organizations, Tulalip Tribes leadership, social media groups, and other interested parties who are committed to giving a voice to the voiceless.

Two of those interested parties were French-American film maker Sabrina Van Tassel and former Tulalip Tribes vice-chairwoman Deborah Parker who share a passion for seeking social equity and political justice for often underserved, overlooked peoples. Their united effort to not let Mary’s story go silent and to place a cinematic-sized spotlight on the hundreds of Native American women who continue to go missing in the United States led to the creation of Missing from Fire Trail Road.

“Ten years ago, I was watching this incredible woman Deborah Parker as she was trying to include Native women in the reenactment of the Violence Against Women Act under the Obama Administration. That was the first time I heard about missing and murdered Indigenous women,” recalled the film’s director. As an investigative journalist and movie maker, Sabrina has directed over 40 documentaries. “Deb and I stayed in touch. As we grew and got older I always had the idea I would do a feature documentary on this great matter. 

“When I finally got the financing, I immediately called Deb and asked her to be my executive producer,” Sabrina continued. “We needed to do this together. This project is the really the culmination of two women, one Native, one non-Native having the urge to protect women.”

Deborah Parker

Carefully crafted in a culturally sensitive way, Missing from Fire Trail Road successfully shed light on the ongoing and continuously unsolved disappearances of Native women across the country. It elevates the story of Mary Ellen Johnson-Davis to open up a broader conversation about the violence and generational trauma suffered by Native communities, as well as the fallible laws and lack of credible investigation surrounding them.

From leaders like current Tulalip chairwoman Teri Gobin to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to Mary’s sisters and cousins, the 101-minute film threads an evocative but important narrative about these overlooked cases and the urgency for attention and action in these investigations. 

Sabrina Van Tassel, Deborah Parker and Teri Gobin.

After multiple years of production, Missing from Fire Trail Road had its much-anticipated world premier on June 8 at the Tribeca Festival. Held in New York’s East Village Theater, film production crew and allied organizations united their resources to ensure Mary’s sisters received the full red-carpet experience and were shrouded by the heart-felt support and endearing strength of their Tribe.  

“Our hearts and our prayers go out to the many advocates who do this important work each and every day, to the families who have missing loved ones, and to Mary Ellen Johnson’s family…this film is for you,” said executive producer Deborah Parker moments before the film’s silver screen debut. Her tireless work as an Indigenous leader and C.E.O. of the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition was absolutely critical to the movie’s making. “This film is for the missing and murdered Indigenous women. This film is for all those relatives across the land who want to see justice for our women. We deserve justice. That’s what this film is about, to tell this story of injustice and how we as a nation can come together because we deserve better.”

After the film’s debut, Director Sabina, executive producer Deborah, and Chairwoman Teri Gobin were asked a series of questions from media members and film critics. They did an admirable job of echoing the film’s poignant positioning of ongoing violence against Native women and the MMIW epidemic as a direct result of the Boarding School Era, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the intergenerational trauma sustained by the forcible removal of Native children from their homes by the U.S. government.

Photo courtesy FilmRise
Photo courtesy FilmRise

  The Tulalip delegation were invited to a special post-film reception where they were traditionally welcomed by the members of the Shinnecock Nation, a federally recognized tribe in New York. Songs of strength and healing were shared for Mary’s sisters and cousins in attendance, as well as prayers offered for the return of Mary. Film director Sabrina was also blanketed for her commitment to spreading awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women via the cinematic lens. It’s her intention to see the film receive national, if not worldwide exposure.

Nona Blouin and Gerry Davis

“It made my heart smile to see the theater packed with so many people from all over to hear our sister’s story. All this exposure is going to bring our sister home,” shared Mary’s oldest sister, Nona Blouin. “Having our cousins Lynette and Veronica Jimicum here with us has been a huge support because they’ve been with every step of the way. And having so many other tribal members here too is really awesome because it proves how much of a family our Tribe can be. We’ve grown so close to some who have becomes pillars of strength for us to lean on when we’ve felt weak. We are so grateful for that.”

“This entire process has been an emotional rollercoaster because the feelings always rush back anytime we talk about Mary, but it’s just amazing that film is finally out,” added Mary’s youngest sister, Gerry Davis. “Because we grew up in foster homes we’ve always felt estranged from Tulalip. It was Mary who brought us back home. It was Mary who brought us all together. Through these tragic circumstances, from us being taken away so young and then losing our sister, we’ve gained a tribe.”

The Tribeca Festival brings diverse audiences together while championing unheard voices through exclusive premieres and thought-provoking conversations. Mary was given voice through cinematic storytelling that was heard by viewers from around the world. They and all future viewers will know her case is still an active investigation. Tulalip Tribal Police and the FBI in Seattle are offering a combined reward of up to $60,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Mary Ellen Johnson-Davis’ disappearance.

After accompanying Mary’s sisters and returning from New York, Chairwoman Gobin reflected, “This film creates so much awareness to the general public about the challenges we have regarding MMIW and the inter-jurisdictional issues between federal agencies, state agencies, and our own tribal police. The more people watch, then hopefully the more people can understand the systems we’ve been advocating to change for so long. But perhaps even more important than that was our group being there to support the sisters. They felt just how much support they have, not only from their Tribal Council but their aunties, cousins, and other Native advocates who wanted to shower them with all the love and support they could.”

Tulalip leadership are actively planning to host a community viewing of Missing from Fire Trail Road on the reservation. Tulalip News will update community readers with the details after they’ve been finalized.

Milestones and Memories: Class of 2024 graduation ceremony


By Wade Sheldon, Tulalip News
The class of 2024 wore their traditional regalia during Tulalip Heritage High School’s graduation ceremony, held for the first time at the Gathering Hall on Wednesday, June 5. The momentous occasion brought together hundreds of friends, family members, and community supporters, united in a shared display of support for the 21graduates’ achievements.

As the event commenced, a group of students gathered at the entrance to sing an opening song for the graduates, followed by an uplifting performance of Tulalip culture bearers leading the students into the event. Holding the ceremony in Tulalip offered the students and attendees a meaningful opportunity to celebrate and display their diverse cultural heritage. They proudly displayed their traditions by wearing cedar hats, shawls embellished with co-Salish designs, and unique ribbons featuring money and treats.

The student-selected speaker, Tia Pinzon, a respected trauma-informed counselor for Heritage, delivered a heartfelt speech. Her words were a testament to the students, staff, and parents’ immense efforts and recognition of the collective support that guided them through their journey.

“Being uplifted and uplifting others is a crucial part of our growth and success, and it affirms our existence,” Pinzon shared. “If someone says you can’t make it, remember they don’t know your truth. They don’t see your resilience and power. Your ancestors know who you really are and what you are capable of.”

Pinzon concluded her address by encouraging the students to embrace this moment of growth and new experiences. She emphasized the importance of putting in their best efforts and stated, “If college is the next step you want to take, then you definitely belong there.” 

Damon Pablo, a member of the 2024 graduating class, played a pivotal role in bringing the graduation ceremony to the Gathering Hall. Reflecting on their efforts, Damon remarked, “I was a part of the crew that went to the board room and made it so the future generations could come to the Gathering Hall and have their ceremony here and graduate in their homeland. It’s awesome and a great privilege.”

Damon continued, “It’s a crazy feeling to be graduating. I couldn’t feel it until I arrived at the building and walked under the cedar arch. Now that school is over, I plan to take a year off and consider attending college somewhere.” 

After reflecting on their journey and the significance of graduating at the Gathering Hall, several students shared their thoughts on the milestone and their plans for the future.

“It feels great to be a graduate,” said Hazen Shopbell Jr. “Having our graduation at the Gathering Hall has been excellent. We fought hard to get the ceremony there; seeing it come to reality is fantastic. My plans for the future are to go to EvCC and study electrical engineering.”

Chano Guzman remarked, “It feels free being done and out of high school. Now, I can move on to bigger and better things. I plan on going to Wyoming to attend WyoTech and learn to be a mechanic.”  

As the evening ended, there was a feeling of accomplishment and excitement for the future. The Class of 2024 celebrated their academic achievements, honored their cultural identity, and set the stage for future generations to carry on this tradition. As they move on to the next chapter of their lives, the memories of this historic graduation ceremony will remind them of their strength and unity as members of the Tulalip community.

Fatherhood Café helps establish local Dad’s Group

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

It was a large turnout for the first Fatherhood Café at Tulalip, presented by the Tulalip Family Haven program and the Washington Fatherhood Council. On the morning of May 22, approximately 30 tribal dads participated in the four-hour event at the TELA gymnasium. Showing up with intention and a desire to learn, they all shared the common goal of becoming the best fathers that they can for their children. 

One of the major aspects of the Fatherhood Café is to connect the local dads with available resources to help them out along their journey. For this reason, there were several representatives from tribal departments like TOCLA, TANF, and the Village of Hope in attendance to answer questions and discuss the services they offer. 

This particular Fatherhood Café event was tailored for tribal members. It was also designed to help the dad’s open up and vocalize their struggles, as well as discuss possible solutions to the obstacles that they face as Indigenous fathers in 2024. Additionally, it gave them an opportunity to talk about what they would like to see from the Tribe and the community in terms of support and recognition.

The dads broke into small groups and brainstormed together about various topics and areas where they would like to see more support for local fathers, such as guidance through the justice system, assistance for dads in recovery, reunification efforts, reintegration after incarceration, child support, housing, employment, community gatherings, and cultural activities. 

Halfway through the event, the dads took a break to enjoy some delicious Hawaiian food, catered by Taste of Aloha. Raffle items were also awarded during the break and attendees walked away with some cool prizes like beaded drumsticks, Trickster basketballs, car seats, books, toys, kites, and Native Northwest water bottles. 

After the dads got a few jumpers off during an impromptu shoot around, they regrouped to engage in open dialogue and go over their notes from their earlier brainstorming session. This resulted in a bonding moment, where the dads where able to relate to each other’s experiences and build off each other’s ideas. 

By the end of the discussion, the dads put together a detailed list of changes they would like to see in the community on behalf of all tribal fathers, and also a solid plan of how to accomplish said changes. 

Sasha Smith, Family Haven’s Youth and Family Support Coordinator, explained that a number of the fathers were actively involved during the planning phase of the Fatherhood Café and provided insight as tribal fathers.

Said Sasha, “We had a committee of like six or seven local dads who showed up each week and shared ideas of what they wanted the café to look like, and what Dad’s Group is going to look like. The whole point of the café was to brainstorm what is working, what isn’t working, and what they would like to see happen. I think it really speaks volumes to what the community is asking for and needing. They’re saying they want support just as much as anyone else – that dads matter too and that they’re just as important as the mother in our families.”

As a group, the first event that dads planned for is a breakfast cookout that will take place on a regular basis, the second Saturday of every month. Their first get-together is planned for July 13, from 9 am to 11 am. Though the location has yet to be determined, the Dad’s Group assures any interested parties that it will take place at a local space on the rez. With the monthly breakfast meetups established, the group is now in the planning phases for other gatherings and outings, that they can enjoy with their kiddos, such as tours of the Tribe’s hatchery, as well as harvesting trips to gather cedar, berries, and salmon.   

Local father and Dad’s Group member, Benjamin Deen shared, “This was my first time coming to something like this, and it was exactly what I needed. Today I’m leaving here knowing that I can be a part of something, that I’m not alone. And also, with the knowledge that we need to embrace our future and come together to make change happen. There are opportunities out there and we need to find them and grasp a hold of them, because we are a community and we need to work together to build up our young ones, so they have a bigger, brighter future. I’m excited to see what we can bring to the community and I’m looking forward to sharing my experience and what I’ve been through to help other Native males know they’re not alone.”

Dad’s Group is open to all tribal fathers. If you would like to learn more about Dad’s Group, please reach out to Sasha Smith at (360) 716-4404.  

“It’s important to have that group of people who you can have that commonality of, it’s okay to not be okay some days,” Sasha expressed. “We also want to honor the uncles who are helping raise their nieces and nephews, the grandpas raising their grandkids. Anyone who identifies as a dad and is raising children should be supported, whether you’re in a healthy relationship or not, if you’re with your partner or not, if you never had a dad, if you weren’t raised by your family. We want to make sure our fathers have the support they need. We want to help give them the tools to be more successful and to engage in services, culture, community, and help them be that dad that they want to be.” 

Hundreds participate at Annual Stick Games Tournament 

STICKS AND BONES

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

The Tulalip Tribes Annual Stick Games Tournament was held during the weekend of May 31, and featured a total payout of $50,000. Over 130 teams competed for a chance to win the grand prize of $25,000 this year as Native families from all across the region journeyed to the Tulalip Amphitheater to try their luck in the tournament. 

The tournament is open to all ages and provides an opportunity for multi-generational families to learn, share, and enjoy the traditional game together.

According to stories passed down throughout the generations, stick games was originally introduced to the coastal tribes and First Nations Bands thousands of years ago. The traditional game is also known as bone games, slahal, hand games, and lahal. And while each tribe and band have different stories and legends pertaining to stick games, the origin story of the game is consistent throughout all Coast Salish nations.

Northwest tribes seemingly agree that the game was gifted and taught to the people by the Indigenous wildlife of our territory as a way to settle intertribal disputes like the rights to hunting and fishing grounds, and also as a means to prevent warfare between tribes.

During gameplay, two opposing teams, consisting of three to five players, face off against one another. The teams alternate turns, and sticks are used to keep score throughout the contest. A set of bones is discreetly distributed amongst the team that is in-play and the opposing squad must correctly guess where the bones are hidden and how many pieces the player has concealed in their hands. 

While the bones change hands between teammates, the team sings traditional family songs to distract their opponents from seeing who is in possession of the bones. The team with the most correct amount of guesses wins the game and advances to the next round. 

There are also several unofficial game pieces that slahal players can use to their advantage during the tournament. Such items include foldable lawn chairs, so that teams can quickly set-up against their opponents and move and play about the grounds, as well as pull-over hoodies, blankets, and bandanas that can be used to cover a player’s hands and prevent opponents from seeing where the bones are placed.

In addition to the main competition, several mini matches were also held during the tournament such as the three-man tournament and the kid’s tournament.

Professional Slahal Player and Ahousaht member, William Mack, travels from Nanaimo, B.C. to participate in the games each year, along with his family. Following the tournament, William shared, “We want to thank the Tulalip Tribes for hosting a great weekend of stick games. It was good to see our stick game family. We played six games in the main competition and won the three-man single elimination for $7,500!”.

ʔəsq̓ʷuʔ ʔə ti hikʷ siʔab yubəč Renewing the commitment of Salmon Ceremony

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

We interrupt this normally scheduled article introduction to offer you ancestral wisdom via the late, great Bernie “Kai-Kai” Gobin. The cultural luminary for whom the Tulalip Hatchery is named after was a devout fisherman, warrior for his people, and storyteller. In fact, it is within his story First Salmon Ceremony that the true meaning behind Tulalip’s now annual Salmon Ceremony gathering and celebration can be found.

The following 1,000 words are Kai-Kai’s as adapted by the Hibulb Cultural Center to read as a traditional story.

Long ago, the world was not like it is today. The stories show that animals could become people and people could become animals. A story will say that a person “put on his bobcat blanket” if Bobcat was the animal that this person could become. The stories also show that people and animals could talk to each other and understand each other. Long ago, then, when this is how things were, the salmon people and the ʔaciɬtalbixʷ had an agreement.

The salmon would come into the rivers each year and offer themselves as food for the people. The people would clean the rivers each year before the salmon arrived, and they would greet the salmon with a ceremony, and they would put the bones of all the salmon they had eaten back into the water. But as time went on, people became careless. There would be trash along the riverbanks and even in the water when the salmon came back. Often just some bones were returned; sometimes no bones were put back. Fewer and fewer salmon were arriving. People were thinking: “If this goes on much longer, we are going to starve.”

One day a young man was walking by the shore. He was asking himself, “Why is it that just a few salmon are coming anymore?” All of a sudden, the water rolled back, and up walked a person from beneath the sea.

“I have been sent to bring you back to the salmon village so you can get an answer to the question you have been asking,” he told the young man. “I will be your guide. There is another reason I was sent. Our leader is very ill. There is something he wants to say to you.”

The young man walked with the guide out to sea. The carpet of water rolled back over them until the young man looked up and could see fish swimming up above.

Then they arrived at the salmon village. It looked just like the young man’s village, with a longhouse, drying racks, canoes; the people looked just like the people in his village, except something was terribly wrong: everywhere he looked there would be someone with only one arm or no foot or half a leg.

“What misfortune has happened to the people of this village,” he wondered. His guide seemed to know what he was thinking. “You see what happens when your people do not put back all the bones,” he said. “When our people return to this home beneath the sea, parts of their bodies are missing.”

His guide took him to the longhouse where the leader of the salmon lived. This man had been very sick since his return from the river by the young man’s village. “We have brought you here to see if you can understand the nature of our leader’s illness. Perhaps it is an illness from your world.”

The young man was taken to a closed space at the back of the longhouse. An older man, very thin and wasted, was lying there with a fish hook stuck in the side of his head. The young man could see it clearly, but to the eyes of the salmon people it was invisible. “Young man, I hope you can help me,” said the leader of the salmon.

“I think I could help you,” said the young man. “But I am afraid that I would cause you a lot of pain.” The leader of the salmon asked for the help anyway. As soon as the young man had removed the fish hook, the salmon leader sat up, completely well again. “You have saved my life,” he said. “You have done a great thing for our people,” said the young man’s guide.

The young man stayed with the salmon people as an honored guest for some time. He heard about the agreement between his people and the salmon, how his people were to clean the rivers, welcome the salmon on their arrival, and take care of the bones. He had been unaware of these teachings.

When it became time for him to return to his people, the salmon began to teach him songs for a salmon ceremony, how to welcome the arriving King Salmon, how to sing a farewell as the bones were returned to the sea. The salmon leader spoke to him: “This is a message for you to take to your people. Because it is hard for them to take care of the bones of all the salmon they eat, we will agree that as a tribe they will take care of the bones of just the first salmon. After that, each person will decide how they want to conduct themselves. Each year we will send a scout to your village, and he will report back to us. If the river is clean and the ceremony is held and the bones of this scout salmon are taken good care of, we will come back each year.” 

The young man was given many gifts and sent with honor back to his people.The young man instructed his people about the teachings that had been entrusted to him, and for a while everything went well. Then some people started to complain. “It is too much trouble to gather up all these bones. Salmon have too many bones. Even if it is only once a year, it is too much trouble.”

The young man took the people down to the stream where the salmon were spawning. Some salmon were making their way completely out of the water, bruising themselves on the rocks, gasping for breath. Some with serious cuts in their bodies were resting in the pools before going on. Some had come to places where they had to jump ten times higher than any ʔaciɬtalbixʷ could jump, just to get to the next waterfall, where they would have to jump again. “Look how hard they are working to keep their side of the agreement,” the young man said.

And so, even to this day, each year the salmon scout arrives to see whether the ʔaciɬtalbixʷ will continue to live up to their side of the agreement. Each year, the scout reports back to his people about whether the ceremony was held, how his bones were taken care of and whether the salmon habitat was well maintained.

Each year, so far. That is the end.

______

We are now several generations removed from 1976’s revival of the first Salmon Ceremony spearheaded by Tulalip cultural pillars Harriette Shelton Dover, Bernie Gobin, Stan and Joann Jones, Molly Hatch, and Mariah Moses. Their collective efforts to bring back Salmon Ceremony to their people began by a simple gathering of the minds at Bernie Gobin’s house in 1970. The rest, as they say, is history. 

In her autobiography, Harriette recalls piecing together what she and her peers heard from their parents and grandparents of the annual, springtime tradition.

“When our people used to do the ceremony, it took hours and hours, and days and days. We felt we couldn’t do it that way; we had to sort of telescope it together,” she wrote. “I wrote what I thought, and we made a good outline: the introduction or the first opening song, the blessing of the longhouse. Then we met again to beat the drums … we sang what we remembered.”

What they remembered were the teachings the previous generations passed on to the current generation. Five decades later, that same method of passing on teachings via the oral tradition from one generation to the next was implemented at 2024’s Salmon Ceremony.

This year’s Salmon Ceremony was dedicated to Billy Gobin. He has been a dedicated and supportive figure to the ceremony since 1981. Billy was honored in the Longhouse and shared after, “My uncle Bernie has always been my true inspiration. He was my teacher and taught me to respect and honor the fish, always.”

  An estimated 400 people convened above the shore of Tulalip Bay on the morning of Saturday, June 1. Only a few hours after sunrise, the dedicated Tulalips and their Coast Salish relatives took in the lush Pacific Northwest landscape, reconnecting with friends and family while snapping photos galore, before commencing with the recommitment of a shared responsibility that is foundational to Salmon Ceremony.

“Salmon Ceremony is about giving respect to those that come from nature,” explained ceremony coordinator and recently re-elected Board of Director, Glen Gobin. “But it also teaches about giving respect throughout life and honoring those gifts that we get, and respecting our way of life in a good way. Part of that is making sure how we sing the songs, how we conduct ourselves, it teaches how to carry yourself in life. All of the songs have meaning, everything is connected. The songs encourage the people to carry themselves in a good way.”

Reflecting on the day’s turnout and all the participants of Tulalip’s youngest generation, Glen added, “Today was great. The Longhouse was full. The floor was extremely full. It’s great to have that problem, to have all the young people circling that floor and still coming through the door. The kids did great. The songs were all together, everything sounded great and everybody looked great. I think the ancestors would be very proud, and are very proud, of the work we are doing.”

Considering the fact so many proud culture bearers wore their finest woven cedar hats and headbands atop their head, while dawning shawls and vests adorned with abalone shells, miniature paddles and vibrant Native prints as they encircled the Longhouse fires in ceremony, it’s easy to conclude the ancestors were indeed proud. Glen, as Kai-Kai’s son, knows better than most how his father would’ve felt hearing the songs radiate from within the Longhouse, out of the roof vents, and into the heart of Tulalip Bay. 

Then, there is the lasting sentiment expressed by Harriet Shelton Dover when she described the ceremonies she attended as a child as, “Indians used to do ceremonies every year with the first salmon runs. They had big gatherings. The songs are for everybody: small children, older people, the whole Tribe – everybody.”

One could imagine a beaming grin, ear to ear, like that of the proudest great-grandma ever as she witnessed present-day Tulalips of all ages, from newborn to grand elder, filling the Longhouse while singing and drumming to their Salish spirit’s delight. Small children, older people, the whole Tribe, embodying a thriving culture in numbers previously considered unfathomable.

Back in 1970, Harriet Shelton Dover and Bernie Gobin shared a dream to bring back a ceremony dedicated to the first salmon runs, to fill the Longhouse floor, and to renew our people’s commitment as environmental stewards. In that respect, all those who made 2024’s Salmon Ceremony a huge success became the literal manifestation of those ancestors’ wildest dreams.

Airbender at work: Kendra Miller coaches BYU Ultimate to Top 12 ranking 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Ultimate Frisbee, often simply called “ultimate”, is experiencing a surge in popularity across college campuses nationwide. With more than 18,000 student-athletes competing on 800-plus teams, the college division is ultimate’s largest demographic, according to the sport’s national governing body USA Ultimate.

The popularity of college sports in America is not limited to NCAA varsity programs. Ultimate has proven that club sports can establish a rich tradition and elicit the same excitement and emotion from players, fans and alumni alike. Tulalip tribal member Kendra Miller checks all those boxes – player, fan, alumni – and one more, coach.

The 29-year-old played for Brigham Young University’s ultimate team for four years as a featured player. After her head coach departed following her senior season, Kendra was approached by school officials and asked if she was interested in filling the vacated head coach position. She graciously accepted and has been leading BYU ultimate for the past six years.

In her most recent stint patrolling the sidelines, Kendra witnessed the BYU Cougars skyrocket up the national rankings and sustain their early season success well into the postseason. The 2024 regular season lasted from early January through mid-April and resulted in a set of national rankings. BYU climbed as high as #10 in the entire country during the season and entered the Northwest Regional round of the postseason as #11, out of 800 eligible teams.

In an opportune twist of fate, the Northwest Regionals were hosted at the Skagit River Sports Complex (45-minutes north of Tulalip) in early May. This playoff tournament brought together the best of the best ultimate programs from the Northwest Region, which included the University of Washington, Oregon, University of British Columbia, and BYU.

After routing Montana by the score of 13-5 and then coming up just short to Oregon 10-13, BYU had an hour-long break before taking to the field again to face-off with U.W. During rest period, two BYU upperclassmen and team captains shared how much Kenda means to them as players and to their collegiate program.

“It’s been such a great experience being coached by Kendra. Something I really admire about her coaching style is she is strict and disciplined but in a way that motivates us to push ourselves to achieve the greatest things,” reflected BYU senior captain Madison Robinson. “For example, at our team camp that occurred before the season, she asked each one of us what are goals we wanted to achieve this year. She didn’t tell us what goals we should have or what goals she wanted for us. Instead, she listened to all of us and then worked with each player individually over the course of the season to progress towards achieving those pre-season goals we set for ourselves. That’s the best part for me, I think, is because she is such an outstanding ultimate player herself that she’s capable and willing to demonstrate to us what it takes to excel on the club and pro level.

“Something else that’s so amazing about Kendra is you have to realize our coaches aren’t paid to understand how insane it is the hours she puts in to make sure we have every opportunity to be the best team possible,” continued Madison. “For example, between practices she’s watching game film and cutting us reels to show what we did well, what we could do better, and adapting game strategy for our next opponent. She puts in so many hours behind the scenes just because she cares about our team and is committed to seeing us do well.”

Added junior captain Autumn Porter, “I couldn’t agree more. Watching Kendra play and then being coached by her is such an inspiration. She’s always pushing us to strive for reaching our full potential, which means always being open to learning new skills and never settling for anything less than 100% effort. Everything she does as a coach comes from her experience as a former BYU player and current pro. She also has the experience of playing with and against some of the best ultimate teams out there, plus she’s won nationals. So, for me, as someone who dreams of playing in the pro level, it’s like she’s teaching us how to play, practice, and act as pros even though we’re still in college. It’s a really unique experience and a welcomed one for those us who feel like we’re being prepared to play at the next level.”

Following the two BYU captains’ interviews, they reconvened with the rest of their team and got in a proper warmup before taking to the field to face-off with the purple and gold wearing Dawgs. BYU put up a valiant effort, losing by a close score of 11-13. They rebounded superbly by absolutely destroying their day’s final opponent, Oregon State, by a whopping margin of 13-3. 

“I’m so proud of this team, not just for how much they achieved on the field but also for how much each player has grown and embraced their roles on our team,” said coach Kendra. “We made school history by making it to the Regional round. This is an amazing accomplishment! Especially when you consider we were without one of our top players for this Northwest Regional Tournament. Making it here, earning wins against Montana and Oregon State, and battling to the very end vs. Oregon and Washington… there’s so much for these ladies to be proud of.” 

Upon the completion of BYU’s season, Kendra now shifts her focus from coaching collegiately to airbending on the most prestigious platform ultimate has to offer, Team USA. After an extensive series of workouts and qualifications where she performed with the nation’s best ultimate players, she was named to the 24-woman roster who will competing at the upcoming World Ultimate Championships hosted in Australia this summer.