Medicine Wheel mural honors essential employees

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

The Medicine Wheel, sometimes referred to as the Sacred Hoop, has been used by generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing. It embodies the Four Directions – often interpreted as the four aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical – all of which come together to symbolize the cycle of life. For healers, the Medicine Wheel often represents an omnidirectional perspective on health care. A perspective known as holistic healing, which considers the whole person – mind, body and spirit – in the quest for optimal wellness. 

During the midst of a global pandemic, the Tulalip Tribes shut down all non-essential departments for several months, but the quest for wellness continued at the local health clinic where nearly one hundred health care workers and support staff were deemed essential. These employees carried out their daily responsibilities to the Tulalip community while COVID-19 steadily penetrated the reservation. Their commitment to uplifting health opportunities and bringing about wellness to their patients is now immortalized in a remixed Medicine Wheel mural. 

 “After COVID hit us here locally, I was inspired to cheer people up and boost our sense of team accomplishment here at the clinic. This mural is to honor all our essential staff who worked tirelessly during the tribal-wide shut down,” explained muralist Mark Dewitt, facility maintenance supervisor. “From administration to dental to medical, even some behavioral health specialists, and all my maintenance and custodial crew, together we made sure the Tulalip Health Clinic remained open and available for all its patients.”

The mural is a can’t miss feature along a back hallway of the health clinic. Eighty-two vibrant handprints represent unique signatures from the clinic’s essential employees. Dewitt said it was a process tracking down each employee and finding time for them to leave their proverbial mark on the mural, but the final product was well worth it.

“Everybody loved it. From the leadership staff down to maintenance, it was a great team building exercise that let everyone know it took each and every one of them to make this place function smoothly,” said Mark. He also noted the wheel’s center hub, a beaver, represents the maintenance team. Beavers build, they maintain, they’re always busy and they’re dam good.

As the number of confirmed cases in Tulalip peaked in late November and steadily decreased since, in addition to an enthusiastic embracing of the Moderna vaccine by Tulalip tribal members and employees, there is a renewed sense of optimism for the future. On the business side, the Tulalip enterprise is back to business as usual, albeit with social distancing and mask-wearing protocols now in place. 

One wall in the health clinic will always serve as a striking reminder of the essential hands that worked together to ensure the quest for wellness never came to a halt. Like the Medicine Wheel, the community’s dynamic self was prioritized and continues to be treated holistically.

While adding the finishing touches to his mural, Dewitt reflected back to March 2020 and an unprecedented tribal-wide shut down. “We stuck it out, we were here for the community, and together we fought this battle and survived,” he said. “And these are the hands that did it all.”