Promoting overall wellness for our youth

Article by Micheal Rios; photos by Micheal Rios and courtesy of Sarah Sense-Wilson

Promoting the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of today’s youth, especially teenagers, is largely a labor of love. It’s difficult enough getting them to give their social media accounts a break, put their cellphones away, and actually focus on educational activities, let alone holding their attention long enough to get them to interact in a group setting. Yet, it is in the commitment to our youth, to their well-being and personal growth that brings about positive changes in lifestyle, relationships, and overall wellness.

Enter the Tulalip Tribes 5th Annual Wellness Conference and its dedicated day, May 16, to promoting overall wellness to our community’s youth.

“Our youth flourish when provided guidance, tools, resources, and encouragement. They thrive when we set good examples of self-care, and live by example. Our individual and collective actions are always far more meaningful and impactful when we are embracing challenges, and having an open mind for learning and taking the time to nurture healthy relationships,” eloquently states Sarah Sense-Wilson, Wellness Conference Coordinator. “I believe our conference really embodies these values and the presenters and workshop leaders exemplify traditional and cultural values we want our children and youth to follow.”

Approximately 90 students from Heritage High School, Marysville-Pilchuck High School, Totem Middle School, and Marysville Middle School were shuttled to the event hosted within the Tulalip Resort Casino’s Orca ballroom. The adolescent youth were treated to a large and healthy buffet-style breakfast after filling out their registration cards and putting on a name tag. As they settled in keynote speaker Layha Spoonhunter (Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho, Oglala Lakota) took center stage.

Layha is a youth consultant, motivational speaker, Two Spirit Native citizen, and vocal advocate for Two Spirit people. He provided honest, open and engaging discussion on LGBTQI (a common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed community), Two Spirit, and Allyship advocacy.

Layha describes Two Spirit as a “person who has both masculine and feminine identities.” He says it is a spiritual term that encompasses Native culture, language and history. His expertise and experience as a youth spokesperson and advocate for Native youth empowerment bridges differences and strengthens relationships among groups of community members. Layha offered his story as an example for other young LGBTQI and Two Spirit individuals to express themselves and embrace their identities.

“Build an environment of fairness and openness within your community. Stand up against stereotypes and racism. Stand up against bigotry and discrimination,” resounded Layha to his largely youth audience. “Take pride in your identity and use it to make positive change.”

Following the keynote address, the youth were given the choice of three interactive and experiential based workshops to attend. The three diverse workshop presenters were specifically chosen for their ability to reach our Native youth in a variety of ways.

Credentialed Native American mental health specialist and award-winning artist LisaNa Red Bear offered her workshop attendees the opportunity to create a mural art project. Participants engaged in three experiential learning art exercises that support a better understanding of complications associated with smoking. The hands-on creative art project was a hit, as the Native youth’s artistic abilities shined.

“We see an amazing level of creativity expressed by youth who engage in artistic activities. When they allow themselves to imagine and sit still long enough to allow that creativity to flow through them, the results can be awe-inspiring,” reflects LisaNa on the impact of her art mural workshop. “Young people have creativity inside them, innately, and it just depends on whether or not it’s nurtured or repressed.”

Grammy award-winning artist Star Nayea led a Project R.I.S.E Up workshop. She empowered the youth to create video vision statements that involved creating handheld signage decorated with personalized cultural artwork. Participants then took turns filming their own P.S.A. style videos. Star’s unique ability to reach youth and engage them in expressing their ideas, thoughts and feelings led to some amazing video production both individually and collectively. The youth offered messages of hope, vision and inspiration for believing in yourself and living a drug free life.

“Kids just want to know that we, as adults and teachers, are legit. They want to know that we are there for all the right reasons, that we care about them, and that they can thrive from the knowledge and experience we offer,” says Star. “It’s so important for their voices to be heard and for their faces to be seen as they speak the words. It’s one thing to have thoughts and a whole other thing to rise up and share those thoughts, to inspire. In making the P.S.A. videos they help to inspire one another and their community.”

The third workshop option was called In the Spirit of the Story. The tradition of storytelling is a way of passing down, teaching vital lessons, and of course entertainment with a purpose. Gene Tagaban (Tlingit) is an incredibly skillful, knowledgeable and talented storyteller who led this workshop. Using story as a medium for empowerment and self-expression, Gene connected with participants in a deep and meaningful way which transcends all generational differences. The power of storytelling was illuminated through his interactive workshop as a tool for teaching, healing and growing.

“Offering our youth a range of different interactive workshops was intentional and purposeful. We are always wanting to reach our youth for supporting their interests and appeal to their generational issues,” explains Sarah on the importance of workshop variety when working with youth. “Community wellness requires positive action, not passive existence. Some have to work harder because we are up against more barriers, walls, and obstacles. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to ourselves, our youth, and our community to strive to do better and be better.”

Concluding the youth wellness day was a very special Native Hoop Dance

performance by Tulalip tribal member Terry Goedell. Several youth were brave enough to join Terry on stage and receive a tutorial on hoop dancing basics.

There’s a popular saying in Native communities, “be careful in the decisions we make today as they will impact the 7th generation – our grandchildren’s grandchildren, grandchildren.” Respect for this wisdom continues to guide events like the annual Wellness Conference, where a commitment to preparing Native youth for a brighter future is on full display.

Strengthening resiliency for our Tribal community

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

On Monday, May 11, and Tuesday, May 12, the Tulalip Resort Casino will host the Tulalip community as we come together to partake in the 3rd Annual Community Wellness Conference. The event, sponsored by the Tulalip Tribes Problem Gambling and Stop Smoking Programs, starts at 10:00 a.m. and ends at 6:00 p.m. on both days in the Orca Ballroom, with open registration starting at 9:00 a.m. This year’s conference will be a special occasion for all attendees, as we are invited to hear the motivational words and experience the remarkable talents of Native celebrities from across North America.

Highlighted by day one keynote speaker Gyasi Ross, author and storyteller, day two keynote speaker Vaughn Eagle Bear, comedian and actor, and a special performance by DJ crew A Tribe Called Red, the Community Wellness Conference will be sure to keep attendees engaged and interests peaked as we learn how to channel our energies into positive experiences.

“Our theme is strengthening resiliency for our tribal community,” explains Ashley Tiedeman, Smoking Cessation Specialist and co-coordinator of this year’s wellness conference. “This year all of our speakers will be talking about various ways of channeling our energy and efforts into positive and productive ways. It all goes back to expressing our emotions in a healthy way. Instead of using our emotions and energy in a negative way, our speakers will demonstrate how they create a positive experiences using various forms of expression through art and culture.”

Learning new methods of expressing our emotions and channeling our energies in new ways is often difficult, especially when being communicated to by outsiders. To alleviate this process and make it not only engaging but relatable as well for our community, all this year’s speakers and performers are Native.

“That’s the great thing about this year’s conference, too, is that we have these dynamic speakers, these interesting performers, all these great people that are coming to uplift our community, and they are all Native,” continued Tiedeman. “The community is going to be able to relate to everybody. The youth, because we want all students from 8th graders to high school especially to attend this conference, they will able to relate to these speakers and performers. I think that is what’s so special about this year’s conference.

“We’ve had youth say to us, ‘when the Tribes bring in these outside experts to speak to us, we don’t really get to express our thoughts and feelings. It’s more like we are being talked at’. That won’t be the case with this year’s Wellness Conference. The content will be engaging and relatable. Also, we will have talking circles to end our day one session. There will be an adult talking circle and a youth talking circle, to make each age group feel more comfortable giving voice to their thoughts and feelings. With our talking circles people get to share how they feel and engage with one another.”

A Tribe Called Red is a DJ crew who blend instrumental hip hop and dubstep-influenced dance music with elements of First Nations music, particularly vocal chanting and drumming. They will be performing on Tuesday, May 12, from 2:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. We are hoping to have as many youth as possible attend their performance and take in the very unique, electronic powwow music. Parents please bring in your middle school and high school students after they are finished with school on that day. Those who arrive promptly before 3:00 p.m. will receive a CD by A Tribe Called Red and can have it signed by the members of the group.

As additional incentives to get community members to come out and participate in strengthening our resiliency, each attendee will receive a gift bag full of goodies. A signed copy of Gyasi Ross’s book of stories and poems titled Don’t Know Much About Indians, a storytelling DVD by Roger Fernandez, and a CD from A Tribe Called Red are just some of the goodies.

Our very own Rediscovery Program will also be present during the conference. They will be providing each of us with hands-on experience, teaching us how to make two traditional types of medicine: lip balm and smudge kits.

“The idea behind this year’s conference is learning all these ways of channeling your energy, your emotions and feelings, but basically your energy through arts, activities and culture,” says Alison Bowen, Family Haven Program Manager and fellow co-coordinator of the conference. “We know everyone has a lot going on. It may be good stuff or bad stuff or just stuff you feel overwhelmed by. We want you to witness first-hand and learn about all these different ways of expressing what you are going through. Like aerial performance! How many people have ever seen an aerial performer? I’ve never seen one. It’s exciting to say we will have an aerial performer showcasing her abilities and that just might open someone’s eyes to possibilities they hadn’t previously considered.”

Mark your calendars and set a reminder so that you don’t miss out on what is sure to be an exciting and uplifting learning atmosphere for the Tulalip community. The 3rd Annual Wellness Conference is open to the entire Tulalip community, so long as they are 13 years or older.

“We want our tribal elders to be there. We want our tribal youth to be there,” said Tiedeman.

Hopefully the Orca Ballroom will be filled to capacity with our Tulalip tribal membership as we come together for two days full of Native speakers, presenters, and performers.

The following is the complete list of speakers, artists and performers who will be featured over the two-day Wellness Conference:

  • Gyasi Ross (Blackfeet Nation, Suquamish Nation). Author, lawyer, speaker and storyteller.
  • Tanaya Winder (Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, and Duckwater Shoshone Nations. Performance poet and writer.
  • Red Eagle Soaring (multiple tribes represented Native youth theatre.
  • Matika Wilbur (Tulalip and Swinomish. Photographer, project 562.
  • Andrea Thompson (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) .Cirque Artist.
  • Vaughn Eagle Bear (Rosebud Sioux, Colville Tribe). Comedian, actor and motivational speaker.
  • Roger Fernandez (Lower Elwha Band of Clallam Indians). Artist, storyteller and educator.
  • A Tribe Called Red (Grand River Mohawk, Nipissing First Nation, Cayuga First Nation). DJ crew, electric powwow.


17441_Community_Wellness_Conference_2015_poster (8.5 x 11 emaila



 Contact Micheal Rios,