By Micheal Rios, Tulalip Tribes
During the week of January 27, an incredible act of graciousness occurred as the Tulalip Tribes leadership chose to offer every single teacher and support staff of Marysville School District (MSD) an opportunity to circumvent Governor Inslee’s priority list and receive the potentially lifesaving Covid-19 vaccine. Tulalip understands the invaluable role educators play in the lives of our youth and as such exercised tribal sovereignty in deeming all MSD staff a high priority.
“After taking care of our own tribal members, we thought it was appropriate to take care of our teachers because they take care of our kids,” explained Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “We know the value of taking care of the community, especially those entrusted to educate our youth. This is awesome being able to help out local communities and Marysville School District.
“To offer the vaccine to the teachers is phenomenal because it means our students will be able to get back to school and their teachers will remain safe,” she added. “By offering the vaccine to our teachers and other [essential service workers], we’re making our entire Tulalip community safer. It’s a means to get through this time together, so that we can again gather normally, have our traditional ceremonies and celebrate life again, together instead of apart.”
It’s been over a month since Tulalip received the much heralded Moderna vaccine. Over that time resources were directed at getting as many Tulalip tribal member households vaccinated as possible. Then emphasis was put on employees of Tulalip’s essential businesses. Now, the tribe is committed to its local educators as they prepare to reopen select grade levels in the coming weeks and hold in-person learning once again.
When the tribe reached out to MSD and informed them of the vaccination opportunity, the school district surveyed every staff member asking if they wanted the vaccine. Nearly 90% responded with ‘yes’.
From Wednesday, January 27, thru the following Friday, school district personnel travelled into the heart of the reservation to visit the makeshift vaccination distribution center that was the Tulalip Youth Complex. Highly excited and appreciative teachers formed a socially distanced line that wrapped around the building and went down Totem Beach road while waiting to be vaccinated.
“Today exemplifies the amazing partnership that Marysville School District and the Tulalip Tribes have,” said school district superintendent Jason Thompson shortly after receiving his Covid-19 vaccination. “It’s difficult to not get emotional because I’ve personally witnessed so many teachers come into our offices to fill out their necessary medical forms for today and they were in tears. They couldn’t believe they were getting this opportunity. We’re so fortunate and it’s simply amazing the tribe is doing this.”
A majority of MSD faculty would have been forced to wait weeks, if not months, to be eligible for a vaccination at city, county, and state hospitals under Governor Inslee’s guidelines. Being a sovereign nation, Tulalip does not have to adhere to the Governor’s office and has sole discretion over how and to whom it distributes the vaccine. This critical distinction is viewed as a timely miracle that helps protect loved ones within the community.
“I live at home with my father who is high-risk and having this opportunity to get vaccinated to protect him means so much. This means the world to me,” described 27-year-old Tanner Edenholm, a para-educator for Quil Ceda Elementary. “We’re all a family within the Tulalip community, and I appreciate so much how the tribe is protecting its community and saving lives through its vaccine distribution.”
A huge sense of relief and hope for the future was shared by the hundreds of teachers and support staff, from bus drivers to cafeteria workers, who together make it possible to have a safe and instructive learning space for the school district’s young students. Many of whom are eagerly awaiting a return to the class room where they can be reunited with friends and entrusted educators who are viewed as family.
“It’s really important for us to get our students back safely, and part of that is protecting our staff. Getting vaccinated adds that layer of protection so that we can get our students back sooner rather than later,” shared Principal Kelli Miller of Heritage High School. “It’s important for our kids to know that we are doing this for them because we miss them so, so much and can’t wait to see their beautiful faces in real life again. I’m hoping that when we are able to share the same physical spaces again that we all lean in and support each other. Creating that healthy environment where we can all continue learning and growing together is just around the corner, hopefully.”