Beyond Surviving to Thriving

Tulalip Problem Gambling program and Tulalip Healing Lodge residents unveil new mural

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“This was an amazing experience because recovery is a journey, and it doesn’t always have to be about going to treatment,” said Tulalip Problem Gambling Counselor Robin Johnson. “This was a work in progress and people really put their hearts into this project.”

Last spring, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program hosted an art therapy class for the residents of the Tulalip Healing Lodge in hopes of bringing a fun and creative form of healing to those in recovery. The Problem Gambling program enlisted Tulalip artist Monie Ordonia to lead the class. Feeding off her good vibes and energy, the participants took a strong liking to her teachings and fully engaged in the art therapy class. During that session, Monie asked the Healing Lodge residents to create from the soul rather than the mind, and that work would eventually become the main fixtures on a living and traveling 7-foot four-panel mural.

“I’m so happy we picked the right person to do the project with everybody. Everyone that knows Monie, knows that her heart is 100% pure and that her spirit is 100% in everything she does. She loves her community, she loves people. I’m really happy this came together the way it did,” shared Problem Gambling Counselor, Sarah Sense Wilson. “It went from us sharing Problem Gambling information with the residents and right into conceptualizing what they were going to create, with the theme that this is about healing, surviving and thriving.”

First established in 2015, the Healing Lodge 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 and activities, giving their participants the opportunity to build community with others who are striving for the same goal. And, likewise, the Problem Gambling program has become an important resource to the Tulalip community, helping those battling a gambling addiction find their way out of the dangerous cycle byway of an intensive plan to recovery.

The first group of Healing Lodge residents showed such a great amount of interest in the class, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program decided to take it to the next level and asked Monie to lead the residents in the mural project. 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.

Said Monie, “I was really honored to be asked to be a part of the Healing Lodge. I truly believe that we all have the capacity to go beyond our hurt. For this project, the question I asked the residents is, are you surviving? And we know, from our ancestors, we already survived. So, when you think about what’s the next stage after surviving – it’s thriving.”

She continued, “When we came up with the concept, I asked what does thriving look like now that you discovered that you can be a part of the medicine that brings you beyond your addictions?  A lot of the members who were here began drawing what that medicine meant to them. I followed through and one of the hugest medicines we have for the Tribe is pulling canoe. Being someone who didn’t grow up on the reservation, to be able to become part of the Tulalip Canoe Family, I knew from experience how magical and mystical it is to pull canoe. To be on the water with fellow tribal members means to be a team, to help each other pull through the water. As we are singing our songs, those are the prayers – and our ancestors are on the water reflecting those prayers and songs back to us. That’s why we made this side so significant. That medicine, if you ever been on the water, you can feel that energy.”

Throughout the past year, Monie traveled north to the Healing Lodge to work on the project with the residents. And although the artwork itself is a form of medicine, the time and energy put into the work was just as much of a healing experience and strong medicine to those working on their recovery journey. During the painting sessions, the artists conversed with one another, got to know each other better, shared laughter and even some dance moves while Monie played music from her DJ sets over a portable speaker. 

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 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 experienced all the benefits art therapy has to offer first-hand. 

One resident, Justine Moses, was involved in the project from start to finish. She shared, “I worked on three areas on the mural: the lady, the whale and the canoe. It makes me feel pretty good, confident and content, about my culture. I’m just happy to be here and glad to be a part of the project. It was healing for me, just putting my mind to it and sitting down and working on it. Monie is a good woman, and it feels pretty good to see it complete. The revealing was my favorite part, showing everybody the beautiful art piece that we all made together as a team.”

The unveiling of the mural was a special and intimate gathering on the eve of March 18, as Monie, the current Healing Lodge residents, the Problem Gambling program and the Healing Lodge staff members came together to bless the mural and view the completed project for the very first time. Many were moved to tears, in awe of the medicine that went into the project and the beauty that resulted from the healing art sessions. 

“The month of March is National Problem Gambling Awareness month and so we felt it was really fitting that all of this came together just in time. For a month that is about healing, growth, change, self-discovery and moving forward,” Sarah expressed. “This unveiling ceremony has been a long time coming, we spent nearly a year on this project.”

 Now that the project is complete, the Problem Gambling program and the Healing Lodge plan on displaying the mural throughout the reservation so others can see the positive and inspiring work that served as medicine to many while on their road to recovery. The first stop for the traveling mural will be at Problem Gambling’s Reclaiming Our Connections dinner event, happening at the Tulalip Resort Casino on the evening of March 26th, in honor of National Problem Gambling Awareness month. 

“This is the Healing Lodge’s message to future generations on how residents who come here have thrived through their voice and art,” said Monie. “To be a part of this, whatever part you have contributed, know that this is your medicine that your grandchildren will see in the future – beyond surviving to thriving.”

For more information about the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, please contact (360) 716-4304. And to learn more about the Tulalip Healing Lodge, please visit