Community unites to honor our ancestors, pledges to get drugs off our rez

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Nearly 200 hopeful community members united on March 13, the last Saturday of winter, to raise awareness about an insidious enemy that continues to rage through so many Native American reservations: drugs.

“Getting drugs off our rez is such an important issue for our people because its affected every one of our lives,” explained Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “Every one of us has had someone in our family that’s suffered from addiction or passed away too soon because of drugs. We’ve had more than fifty deaths in the past year and the highest percentage of the deaths was from overdose, specifically due to fentanyl.”

While coronavirus continues to top headlines nationally, the drug epidemic has only gotten worse. Forced into isolation from family and friends due to COVID cautions, some have turned to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of today’s times. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 83,000 people lost their lives to drug-related overdoses in the 12-month period ending in July 2020. Making matters even more worrisome closer to home, the Drug Enforcement Agency ‘s Seattle division said earlier this month there was a 92% increase in fentanyl seizures last year and that trend is only going up. 

What is Tulalip to do? Chairwoman Gobin offered an optimistic outlook when she expressed, “It is so difficult to combat this drug epidemic, but we can do it together as a community. We’re looking at new ways to help with our medical assisted treatment facility, that should be ready by this fall, and additional clean living housing for our people. It does take that extra effort when you see someone falling to give them a hand up. Yet, we know our people are not disposable. We have to keep our hands out for them, welcoming them back to a brighter future.”

Uniting the community together under a common cause and bringing people together under the banner of a brighter future is what the Honor Our Ancestors, Get Drugs Off Our Rez rally intended. Based on the overwhelmingly positive vibes that were created and outpouring of support for loved ones battling addiction, it’s safe to say that goal was accomplished. 

On the Saturday afternoon, the clouds broke and the incessant rain stayed away allowing for three hours of radiant sunshine to beam down on the hundreds of participants proudly wearing their affectionately messaged t-shirts. After meeting at the Youth Center, 65+ vehicles formed a caravan that traversed through Tulalip’s residential neighborhoods. 

The parade of cars was led by Tulalip police and fire departments, utilities staff and Sacred Riders MC. Tulalip citizens of all ages were seen running from their homes to greet the caravan with a loving smile and friendly wave. 

Following the caravan’s excursion through the neighborhoods, participants reconvened outside the Gathering Hall to share heartfelt message and uplift spirits with a coastal jam. Tulalip’s honor guard presented the colors prior to Thomas Williams blessing the occasion with a Lushootseed prayer.

With positivity and an emphasis on honoring the ancestors, the Get Drugs Off Our Rez rally offered everyone in the Tulalip community must-needed support and a connection to culture through traditional songs, prayer, and not taken for granted notion of togetherness. 

Walking their talk. Voices from the rally:

Family enrichment manager Josh Fryberg: “What’s been said throughout the day is its going to take each and every one of us to fight for our people, fight for the current generation, and fight for our future generations. At the same time we want to honor our ancestors. They fought so hard and sacrificed so much for all that we have today. It’s our responsibility to fulfill the vision our ancestors had by doing our best to live our lives in a good way.”

Youth council chairmam Kaiser Moses: “It means so much and warms my heart to see you all here today showing how much you care about our community. Drugs are unnatural to our way of life. Drugs were absent from our people’s history until only recently and they’ve become so taxing on our spirits since their unwelcomed arrival.

We need to look out for our youth and we need to look out for our future generations. It’s not just certain people that must take up this responsibility, its every single one of us. Reach out to people who you wouldn’t talk to and open up to them. By opening up to others, you create opportunities for them to open up to you. That’s how we deepen our bond to one another as a Tribe.”

Drummer, singer, and PowWow dancer extraordinaire Jobey Williams: “Our ancestors fought for us. They fought for us to have what we have today, and to see so many gather here today to get our people clean means a lot. It shows we’re still willing to fight for one another and get our people together on the right path so we can walk as one. This is just the start, only the beginning, but we are going to get our people back. We are going to help the ones suffering and get them back in the sacred circle.”

Lushootseed teacher Natosha Gobin: “While driving in the caravan I was crying tears of joy for us being here together. I’ve missed us being together as a community so much. I also cried tears of loss while thinking of my brother because I knew I was driving for him and with him. I think of my niece who is lost in the struggle. Reaching out to her every day, begging her to choose life. I pray that at some point our loves ones who are struggling realize how much they are loved, realize that we have not lost hope, and realize they are not alone. We drove around today honking our horns, waving our flags, and saying ‘I love you’, creating so much positive energy all for them.”

Tulalip elder Donald ‘Penoke’ Hatch: “We lost another young tribal member. She was only 22 years old. We need to take care of our young people a little bit more. That’s why we paraded around; to show we’re here to uplift those who are down and pray for protection for who need it. It’s so important we continue to help each other a little bit more than we did yesterday, and help a little bit more tomorrow than we did today. That’s the path to fighting this drug epidemic that takes the lives of so many of our young people; togetherness.”