By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
Tulalip women are strong, assertive, confident, knowledgeable, caring, resilient, proud, hilarious, and inspiring. They played a key role in shaping Tulalip into the thriving community that it is today by keeping the culture alive and growing both the governmental and gaming entities of the Tribe. Their contributions locally and nationally have assisted innumerable families and people throughout the years. And their kind and understanding hearts have helped many individuals overcome adversity and find their purpose in their respective tribal communities.
There are countless examples of current women leaders at Tulalip. Whether it’s Teri Gobin, Misty Napeahi, Debra Posey, or Pat Contraro on the Tribes Board of Directors, Jessica Bustad at the Education Division, Sheryl Fryberg at the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy, Michele Balagot at the Lushootseed Language department, Jade Carela at the Legacy of Healing and Child Advocacy Center, Mytyl Hernandez at the Hibulb Cultural Center, Niki Cleary at Media & Marketing, Candy Hill at Funeral Services, Natasha Fryberg at beda?chelh, Marci Fryberg at TGO, or Tammy Taylor at Bingo, the women of Tulalip are at the helm and are steering the future of Tulalip to a brighter tomorrow.
And that’s not to mention the countless women leaders who came before them, or the women who work within all the different departments of the Tribe, or the women who are active in the community – all of whom are making a huge impact in a good way for the well-being of Tulalip. What is even more astounding is the fact that with all the leaders listed above, there are even more women who aren’t mentioned that are doing important work for their people and community. And it goes without saying, because it is the Tulalip way, that each of these women are passing down their teachings and knowledge to the younger generations of Tulalip women, so they too can be strong leaders in the years to come.
When holidays such as Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day, and Women’s History Month are celebrated, it’s much more special to Indigenous communities who rely on the wisdom, love, and perspective of their matriarchs with every day that passes. And it is also the reason why the pain is much more severe when these amazing women make their journey to the afterlife or when they are pronounced missing from their homelands and communities.
The work that Tulalip women are putting in hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, it is inspiring young ladies throughout the reservation. On the morning of March 10, the students of Quil Ceda Elementary (QCT) held a gathering to pay homage to the ‘Women Warriors’ of Tulalip. The powerful and moving ceremony was organized by QCT’s own Ms. Palacio, and she received a helping hand from a number of students dressed in colorful ribbon skirts, who are officially known at QCT as the Salish Sisters. Heartfelt words were spoken, and tears were shed during the morning assembly as the students and faculty of the school thanked all of Tulalip’s Women Warriors for setting a positive example for the future leaders of the Tribe.
To open the special tribute, a number of Tulalip students offered a few of the Tribe’s traditional songs, including the Women Warrior song. Guests of honor at the celebration included Deborah Parker and the women of the Aunties in Action collective for their outstanding work in uplifting the community of Tulalip, especially for the young Native women who are sure to follow their footsteps in leadership in the not-so-distant future.
Deborah Parker and the Aunties in Action shared important messages with the students.
Deborah Parker, (Indigenous Activist and Chief Executive Officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition)
“I thank the creator that I’m here with you, my children, and my community. With every breath that I have, I want to make sure that you know that you are loved. I want you to know that there are teachers surrounding you and parents who want to make sure you have a good education. But most of all that you feel loved, that you know how special you are, and that you know how much we care for each and every one of you. Thank you to our lady warriors who sang the Women Warrior song – that song is so special and important to us. This is the best advice I was given and I’m going to share it with you today, and that is to follow your spirit. Follow what you believe in your heart. And most importantly, treat each other with love and respect.”
Natosha Gobin (Aunties in Action)
“We want you guys to know that all of the work we do in the community, we do it because we want our community to be a better place. We want our families to be healthy, we want our children to be happy and healthy. Everything we do, we do it with each one of you in mind. We’re thinking about your families, thinking about some of the things you might need. And I just want you to know that we love you all.”
Zenitha Jimicum (Aunties in Action)
“Our Aunties in Action organization started because my cousin Tosha sent out a text during the pandemic that there was food to be donated and food to be distributed. Many of the adults remember that we had people who were laid off and were losing their jobs at this time, and parents were struggling on a daily basis. She gathered us together for our community. And that’s what I want to encourage you to do. As children you can still be leaders, you don’t have to wait to be adults. You can gather together and set goals today. I want to encourage you to build your leadership skills when you’re young and get more people to help, so we can continue to serve our people and so our community can stay strong.”
Monie Ordonia (Aunties in Action)
“We started from a place where we wanted to be of service to our people. We wanted to help our people feel better. When we distributed the food during the pandemic, I made sure I shared a smile and greeted everyone with love and respect. You can make others feel good any time by helping someone else. When we do that, we can help those people who are feeling sad or depressed, and we can create a space for them to know that they’re supported.”
Malory Simpson (Aunties in Action)
“I wanted to do my part to help bring our community together. A few years ago, we started the organization Together We’re Better because if we work together, we can do so many good things. When Aunties in Action was formed, it was so much fun. Through this work, we get to join together, spend time together. When we’re sad, we can reach out and talk to each other. It’s important to build those bonds with each other. Together, we can help build a better community. And for you kids, we love to see you come and join us in our activities. April 2nd we’re going to be doing an Easter Bunny run on the reservation, we’re going to be walking around the reservation with the Easter Bunny – we might have easter eggs, we might have candy. Today, I saw a little girl in her cedar belt – just beautiful. All you girls singing that song with us is just beautiful. Your culture is always going to be here for you, and we’re always going to be here to support you, and guide you, and teach you.”
Before they presented gifts to the guests of honor and headed back to their classrooms, the QCT students dedicated this special poem to all the Indigenous Women throughout history – past, present, and future :
They are aunties, mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. But above all, these women are warriors. We honor our ancestors with leadership in women that have made it crucial to the importance of our roles in our communities today. All across time, since we can remember, women have always reminded us of the importance of working together and caring for our children, as if they were their own. We care for the whole child today because it takes a village to take care of a child. We celebrate the women warriors who taught us this. Indigenous women who are now leaders of tomorrow. Through resiliency work they have changed the narrative and are impactful leaders.