Traveling mural: Tulalip Healing Lodge residents utilize creative energy to thrive while on the road to recovery

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Laughter accompanied by feel-good beats filled up the workspace of about ten local tribal artists on a Saturday afternoon. Exchanging stories, positive energy and even some dance moves, the group happily worked on the traveling mural, a special piece of art that will be featured around the Tulalip reservation in the very near future. 

The artists, who are currently residents of the Tulalip Healing Lodge, are learning how to use their creativity as a healthy outlet while on the road to recovery. The Healing Lodge was first established in 2015 and has helped both Tulalip tribal members and those enrolled with other tribal nations attain and maintain a healthy and sober lifestyle. By providing a safe space to reside, away from bad habits and negative influence, the Healing Lodge also offers their residents group therapy, meetings and activities, giving their participants the opportunity to build community with others who are striving for the same goal. 

The Tulalip Problem Gambling program originally hosted an art therapy class at the Healing Lodge last spring, asking the participants to ‘paint from the soul rather than the brain’. The program enlisted Tulalip creative, Monie Ordonia, to instruct the class and the residents immediately fell in love with her teachings and good vibes. The group showed such incredible interest in the class that the Problem Gambling program decided to take their art therapy lessons a step further and asked Monie to lead the residents in the mural project. 

Over the past few months, the residents have gathered several times to work on the mural. Monie took the original artwork created by the residents, from the first art therapy class, and transferred them to one side of the four-panel mural. That side of the mural consists of a shark-whale in traditional formline, a star-eyed mask, a portrait of one of the residents, and a Salish woman wearing a cedar-woven hat. The opposite side of the mural features a Tulalip Canoe family coming ashore, with their paddles up, as an eagle soars high above them on the Salish Sea.

Last time we checked in on the project, at the end of summer, the group of artists just began outlining each of the pieces on the mural. At the time, the group also expressed a great appreciation for the project, which allows them the opportunity to zone-in on the task at-hand and escape to a creative space. 

“This side is about 75% done,” said Monie of the side featuring the canoe family. “The other side, I would say is about 60-65% complete. This project is about letting them know that using their creative energy is empowering, so that they can let go of their attachment to addiction and get into the thrive mode; to know that this is something they can do to help them in the healing process. When you’re doing something creative, you’re letting go of that feeling of ‘I’m not enough’.”

The amount of time that each resident spends at the Healing Lodge varies as each person’s journey to recovery is unique. That means that since the project originally started, several residents have come and gone throughout the months. Therefore, many recovering addicts had a hand in creating the mural, and also experienced all the benefits art therapy has to offer first-hand. Multiple studies show that art therapy assists greatly in addiction recovery, boosting self-esteem and reducing anxiety and stress levels, while also allowing the artist the space to go inward and address and resolve any personal conflicts they may be facing. The gathering on October 16, had the largest attendance and participation to date.

“There was a lot of amazing energy today,” exclaimed Problem Gambling Counselor, Robin Johnson. “When we first started this afternoon, there wasn’t enough room for everybody to paint. Everybody was excited to participate and when they came up here, they really put their hearts into it. We originally hoped to get it done with the people who started it, but this way, it gives more people a chance to put their energy into the canvas.” 

Monie echoed Robin’s sentiments stating, “Today was really a huge boost for everybody. I think that’s the most artists that we’ve ever had, and it was a joy to see them jump right in rather than be hesitant. They all did a great job and we got the most done today than we have in the previous sessions.”

In the coming weeks, as the residents put their finishing touches on the mural, the group will also discuss where they would like to see their work displayed. They already have a few places in mind including the Tulalip Administration Building, the tribal courthouse and the Tulalip Health Clinic. Once the four-paneled canvas is completely painted, Monie will varnish the mural before it is made available to the public, in order to protect the hard work of all the Healing Lodge residents. 

“I feel really proud,” said Monie. “For this to be their idea of what thriving looks like and can feel like, I’m excited to see it complete. I’m also excited that the mural will go out into our community and hopefully will inspire others. This is a piece of artwork that can help our people heal. People will look at this and not only see a beautiful mural, but feel the energy of it, feel the love that went into it and feel it’s healing presence.”  

Though the artists are excited to wrap-up the project, several people shared that they are happy to have at least a few more painting sessions left, so they can continue to express their creative energy while sharing good times with Monie and Robin, as well as with each other. 

“It’s soothing to my soul,” expressed Tulalip Healing Lodge resident and tribal artist, Jeanie Skerbeck. “Art keeps our minds occupied with good and positive thoughts, there’s no negativity in painting. I’m glad to be a part of this because every time I come here, I leave with a positive attitude.”

Tulalip News will keep you updated as the Healing Lodge artists complete the mural and take the art project out on the road. For further information about the Healing Lodge, please visit