In anticipation of their second annual community gathering to recognize Residential Boarding School Awareness Day, the Tulalip Education Division once again planned to hand out orange t-shirts on September 30th.
Last year, the Education Division reached out to Tulalip artist, Marysa Sylvester for the very first t-shirt design, which featured a hummingbird and a flower in traditional formline. Keeping true to their theme of supporting and promoting Tulalip artists, the Education Division commissioned this year’s design from Ty Juvinel.
Leading up to the gathering, the design was kept under wraps and was set to be unveiled the day of the event. Hours prior to the ceremony, Tulalip News got an exclusive sneak peek at the design, which displayed the words truth, justice, healing in the traditional Lushootseed language. The design was leaked on the Tulalip News Facebook page and received a lot of heartfelt reactions and comments, and hopefully prompted many to take part in the annual gathering.
Said Ty, “The design represents a thunderbird and the creator watching over the community, with two warrior drummers watching over the children, and the children have their dance paddles showing they still have their heritage.”
Hundreds of t-shirts were handed out at the start of the ceremony, and together as a community, the people brought some truth, justice, and healing through traditional song and dance while proudly donning Ty’s design.
During the week of September 19, ATNI held their annual conference at the Tulalip Resort Casino. Following the second day of presentations and workshops, dozens of Northwest tribal leaders visited the Hibulb Cultural Center to learn about the Tulalip way of life.
The guests were treated to a delicious salmon bake dinner and a glimpse into the culture of the sduhubš people, complete with traditional songs and dances. The ATNI leaders also had the chance to tour the entire cultural museum to end the evening.
“When we decided to go down this path of sports betting, we knew it was going to be a long and grueling process in Olympia. Our lawyers worked hard finding the right legislation and gaming compact language so we could bring our goal to fruition,” explained Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “With all the Washington tribes working together, we earned our legislative victory a year ago. It did take a while to make our vision a reality, but in the end we did it the Tulalip way. And as you can see, it’s a grand way.”
Moments later, Chairwoman Gobin beamed with excitement as she stood next to fellow board member Hazen Shopbell, Seattle Mariners legend Randy Johnson, and DraftKings representative Johnny Avello for a ceremonial ribbon cutting. While the red ribbon fluttered to the floor, a sweeping thrill of energy radiated through the largely Tulalip crowd, announcing Tulalip’s sportsbooks are officially open for business.
A large contingent of Tulalip culture bearers were on-hand to open the event in a traditional way. The voices and thumping drum beats of adults and children echoed through the casino gaming floor, reminding everyone they are guests on Indigenous land.
“I’ve opened a number of casinos and sportsbooks in my career and want to thank the tribal members for their songs and prayers because I’ve never encountered that before. That was fabulous,” said Johnny Avello, DraftKings director of race and sportsbook operations.
Tulalip Resort Casino and Quil Ceda Creek Casino both celebrated their grand openings simultaneously on Tuesday, September 20. The much-anticipated events featured celebrity guests – former Mariners pitcher, the towering 6’10” baseball hall of famer Randy Johnson at the Resort and Seattle Seahawks former wide receiver and hall of famer Steve Largent at the Q.
The retail sportsbooks feature live in-game sports betting and other engaging wagering options, with viewing of a multitude of sporting events at the same time possible via jumbotron-like LED screens. The Resort’s sportsbook is over 5,000 square feet and offers sporting enthusiasts the opportunity to watch up to 10 live sporting events while placing bets at 20 touch screen kiosks and 4 over-the-counter ticket windows. Another ten sports betting kiosks are located throughout the Resort’s gaming floor.
The state-of-the-art sports betting venue is managed by Tulalip citizen Brandon Jones. Impressively, the 35-year-old has 17 years of gaming experience. He started his gaming career in the cage at just 18-years-old and hasn’t looked back since.
“Gaming and the casino life are all I know, it’s all I’ve ever done,” shared Brandon, sportsbook manager. “It means so much to be a Tulalip tribal member and be able to build something all-new from scratch that adds so much value to the reservation, from both a business and community perspective.
“We’ve designed this sportsbook for the new generation. A lot of people my age and younger aren’t interested in bingo or keno, but are super engaged in all forms of sports entertainment, whether it be professional or college level,” he continued. “We’ll continue to evolve our sports betting and are already working towards facilitating e-gaming betting in the near future. To my fellow tribal members, this venue offers a new place to gather and enjoy the Seahawks, Mariners, or Huskies and Cougs games with all the high energy of a local crowd.”
Meanwhile, the Q’s new sportsbook features 20 sports betting kiosks and 3 over-the-counter ticket windows located on the gaming floor. The four video walls in The Stage, the Q’s entertainment venue and nightclub, span nearly 900 square feet, comprised of 13 million pixels that can also display up to ten different games simultaneously. Both of the sportsbooks are outfitted with a variety of betting resources, including odds boards, scrolling tickers with live-score updates, statistics, and player information.
In development with Tulalip’s newest partner, DraftKings, a digital app is in the works that will allow gamers of either casino sportsbooks to place bets from their mobile devices while on casino property. Future announcements are planned when the app is ready for launch.
After the grand opening ceremony ended, several tribal members eagerly waited for a picture opportunity with former Mariners, the Big Unit and Bucky Jacobsen. Others quickly took to one of the new sports-based kiosks to place their first-ever sports bet. Father/son duo Cyrus Fryberg Sr. and Jr. were spotted putting their combined sports knowledge together for a wager or two.
“As an avid sports bettor, I know this is going to be huge for Tulalip. The atmosphere around sports is different than our other revenue streams because the younger generation is so involved with sports,” said Bubba Fryberg. “We can definitely anticipate many new people coming to Tulalip on Saturday for college football, Sundays for NFL games, and throughout the weeks for marquee matchups and primetime games. Also, it’s cool for everybody to have a new spot where family and friends can come together to root for their favorite teams.”
Both of Tulalip’s sportsbook offerings are open 24/7. All sports bets are cash only, so there’s complete anonymity. Unless, you were one of those attending the grand opening and wanted to share your sports bet ticket, like councilwoman Marie Zackuse who placed a $10 wager on the Mariners money line.
If you recently made a trip up north to Smokey Point, you may have noticed that the small district of Arlington is going through some major changes. A behemoth building was constructed at the lot adjacent to the Walmart Supercenter that will soon become the home of a new Amazon facility. And it seems that once the news broke that Amazon was coming to the area, several other companies gained interest in opening up shop in the vicinity.
“This area is really growing a lot,” said Tulalip tribal member and local business owner, Marvin Velazquez. “Amazon is about to open up with 10,000 employees. Microsoft, Google, Space X are all building up here. Smokey Point is about to really boom, and so we’re in a great location.”
Across the way from Safeway, and visible from the drive-thru line of McDonalds, is a 7,000 sq. ft. commercial space where bonds between colleagues will flourish, romantic relationships between lovers young and old are sure to strengthen, everlasting memories will be made amongst family members, and fun will be shared amongst friends while taking part in an exhilarating and competitive activity.
“We held our ribbon cutting ceremony on March 12th, and our grand opening was St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th,” said Marvin about his latest venture, Tomahawk Axe. “It’s been pretty amazing. We’ve been open five months and had over 5,000 people come in and throw axes. I’m really proud of what we built here. I think we have a lot of potential to grow.”
Upon entry to Tomahawk Axe, there are a number of throwback arcade games including Mortal Kombat, Batman, Ms. Pacman, Galaga, and Big Buck Hunter. A quick survey of the place will prove that the business is jampacked with fun as two pool tables, a foosball table, and dart machines are scattered throughout the outer perimeter of the space. All that fun entertainment, and we have yet to mention their main attraction.
Twelve impressive throwing stations line the back wall of the facility, all personally built by Marvin who also owns the well-known local business, Affordable General Contractor LLC.
“I built all these lanes,” he proudly exclaimed. “The lanes are 6×15 feet long and we have an anti-bounce curtain. If you throw the axe at the end grain target and miss, and hit the black curtain, the axe will fall to the ground. We spray all of our targets to help the axe stick, and it also maintains the target.”
The end grain targets are a big difference between Tomahawk Axe and other axe throwing businesses around the country. Most axe throwing targets are constructed of 2×12 planks. And after building those targets, the business owners will typically paint bullseye vectors for their patronage to take aim. Those targets are then utilized until they are completely destroyed, which doesn’t take very long, and owners find themselves going through many targets on a weekly basis. Marvin’s targets however last months on end.
And at Tomahawk Axe, there’s not a painted target in sight. Instead of taking aim at a fixed bullseye each turn, customers are treated to fun and challenging targets that change position every time a thrower approaches the lane. The targets are computer generated and casted onto the end grain wood via an overhead projector. You also have the opportunity to switch it up from the traditional vector bullseye and play several other games such as blackjack, tic tac toe, connect four, as well as zombie and duck hunt.
Marvin is quick to mention that he did not build the axe throwing business by himself. He credits his life and business partner, Dana Higgins, for a lot of the behind the scenes work and day-to-day operations.
“I always say that I do everything you can’t see, and he does everything you can see,” Dana said. “That’s what makes us a good team because we bring-in two different skillsets.”
Marvin added, “Her and I built this on our own. She runs a lot of the ins-and-outs as far as the software, booking, website, and advertisement.”
The duo decided that they wanted to create something interactive that would engage the people of their community. They were inspired to take on the endeavor when visiting other axe throwing locations, but their goal was to take the up-and-coming sport to the next level in a way that everybody could enjoy throughout the course of an evening.
“We were throwing axes at other places. And they all draw their targets on their boards,” Dana explained. “It’s something that we’d spend twenty-five minutes on, and we’d be done because it wasn’t something that kept us entertained and interactive with everybody else. Here, we provide something different and something more for our customers. So, when people come in and play, they stay longer because they have different choices of games to play. Right now, there are six different games, and we’ll release another one here in the next couple of weeks. It’s nice to have something different and to bring-in something new every four to five months, so when people come in it’s not always the same thing.”
Marvin agreed, “Our idea was to bring in something that ties in technology with physical activity. We wanted to get those kids to be interactive. We allow kids 8-years and older, and that makes it a great family activity. And we can show 8-year old’s how to throw axes all day.”
Not only does Marvin, Dana, and their staff teach kids how to throw, but they also offer their expertise to all ages. Each session that is booked at Tomahawk Axe comes with an axe throwing coach who will provide you with the proper technique and necessary training, with safety as priority, to begin throwing axes and hitting targets on your first visit. So, rest assured, you will learn all the basics if you are a newcomer to the sport.
“Our axe coaches will show you how to hold the axe, show you how to stand, how to throw the axe, and we’ll coach you until you stick that axe. We’ll be on standby and give you some pointers as you go on, if we see that you’re struggling. That’s crucial to having clientele because it’s not about throwing axes; it’s about sticking axes. If you can stick that axe and have a great time, you’re going to come back. If you’re throwing bricks all night, you’re not going to have any fun,” stated Marvin.
After taking time to demonstrate the proper way to throw an axe, Marvin smiled and said, “once you get a little bit better at throwing axes, you can do all kinds of stuff,” before showcasing a few trick shots including underhanded, two-handed, through the legs, and even a no-looker.
Coming from Tulalip, Marvin wanted to incorporate his heritage and culture into the new business. He called upon cultural leader Tony Hatch to bless the facility during the ribbon cutting ceremony. And as the business grows, Marvin has a strong desire to hire tribal members onto his team. He also asked Lower Elwha artist, Al Charles Jr., to design the logo for the company.
“Isn’t that badass?” exclaimed Marvin. “Al Charles did an amazing job on the logo, the Tomahawk bear. I graduated from Marysville Pilchuck, so I’ve always been a Tomahawk. Tomahawks are a traditional Native hunting type weapon and being a tribal member, we wanted to have a Native theme. We thought tomahawk would fit really well up here. This is a lumberjack community here in Arlington and there’s a lot of Native Americans who log or use the axe seasonally, cutting firewood and whatnot. This used to be our hunting ground here and we lost it over time. Tony made a very good point – he said this is the first tribal member owned business back on our land.”
Marvin and Dana have big plans on the horizon in addition to bringing on new target games for local axe throwers. Such plans include a sports bar, outdoor beer garden, darts and cornhole tournaments, an official axe throwing league, individual tomahawks for purchase, and a restaurant.
“We’ll open up the sports bar and the restaurant by the first of the year, that’s a nice goal,” said Marvin. “We named the restaurant Mel’s Kitchen – my dad died during COVID. He was retired state patrol and a chef. He had many restaurants in California, the Bay Area. So, we decided to keep it cooking for him up here by naming it Mel’s Kitchen. I’m stoked to get it up and running.”
Tomahawk Axe also hosts private events outside of normal business hours. And as their flyer states, axe throwing is perfect for all occasions including date night, birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, engagement and wedding parties, employee appreciation parties, corporate events, and team building events.
Tomahawk Axe has already held private events for the Stillaguamish Youth Center and the Tulalip Education Division. And with the rainy season coming up, they will be extending their hours so that locals can enjoy some great indoor fun. For more information, including their pricing, hours of operation, or to book a lane online, please visit their website at www.TomahawkAxeThrow.com
Said Dana, “People think that they’re just coming in to throw an axe, but it’s great to see their reaction when they walk in and see our technology that goes with it. It’s more interactive and a fun family activity.”
“We consider ourselves to be the Top Golf of axe throwing,” Marvin stated. “With twelve lanes, we are the largest facility in the state. Most people don’t realize how fun axe throwing is and are intimidated, but it’s a really safe sport. Axe throwing is a stress reliver and we consider it to be axe counseling. We all have built-up frustration or rage and stuff, and we need to get out. You come here and throw out all your frustration and take it out on this target. It’s good to get it out physically, so you can release it mentally.”
The Tulalip Gaming Organization held the soft opening for their new sports betting venue, Sportsbook, on the afternoon of September 6. In partnership with Draft Kings, Tulalip is bringing Sportsbook to both of their gambling establishments at the Tulalip Resort Casino and the Quil Ceda Creek Casino.
“Sports betting is new to Washington,” explained Sportsbook Supervisor Paola Hurtado. “I know there are several casinos that have opened but we are with Draft Kings. Draft Kings have different odds and there are different options of wagering. With us, you are able to bet on a lot of type of sports. Right now, we have MLB, NBA, WNBA, MLS, MMA, fights, and many more. Our guests are really excited for sports betting, now they don’t have to drive all the way out to Angels of the Wind or Snoqualmie, all they have to do is drive up the road.”
Sportsbook features a ginormous tv screen that can play multiple games, matches, and competitions in real time. Bettors can grab a seat in one of the venues comfy recliners and follow the results of their wagers live.
Placing the very first bets at Sportsbook were none other than Tulalip BOD members Hazen Shopbell and Marie Zackuse, as well as Chairwoman Teri Gobin.
Said Teri, “I bet on the Seahawks for $10, the Mariners for $100, and the Storm for $100. It’s really exciting that we are finally opening up our sports betting venue, both here (TRC) and at the Q. We have this big screen, it’s one of the largest in Washington State at this time, and we’re really excited. This has been a long time coming and it’s with one of the premier sports betting organizations in the United States. Our partnership with Draft Kings is really good and is what is really key to what is going to make this a success.”
The kiosks at Sportbook will be available 24/7 following the venue’s grand opening, which is tentatively scheduled for September 20. And according to Chairwoman Gobin there may or may not be some big stars in attendance to help celebrate the grand opening with the people.
“We were a little slow to get ours up and running, but we wanted to do it the Tulalip way and make it a grand event,” Teri expressed. “I’m so excited and can’t wait for everybody to try it out.”
A local tradition made a comeback on the morning of September 3. Once held annually, the Tulalip Days festival was often fondly recalled by the older generations of the community over the last eighteen or so years. In an effort to recreate all the fun that Tulalip Days brought to the youth and people of the reservation, the tribe decided to bring back the celebration this year during Labor Day weekend.
“This is kind of the kick-off,” said Malory Simpson, Tulalip Events Coordinator. “Shelly [Lacy] (Tulalip Tribes CEO) asked us to bring it back and it was awesome. It was really good to see everybody who showed up. We plan on being more proactive and have more activities next year, and continue with the parade, bring on a basketball or softball tournament, a powwow. The opportunities are open and I’m excited to see how planning goes next year.”
Back in the day, Tulalip Days was probably most famous for their parade. And of course, the parade was a major highlight of this year’s festivities as well. Community members met at the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy Saturday morning to decorate their vehicles for the parade.
Over fifty fun-themed floats made the trek along Totem Beach Road to the Don Hatch Youth Center campus. The Tulalip Honor Guard led the way, followed by several Tulalip Police Department and Tulalip Bay Fire Department vehicles. Immediately behind the emergency response vehicles was a groovy golf cart, and in the passenger-seat sat Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin, who played a few riffs on a six-string while wearing a Bret Michaels-esque rocker’s wig.
One by one, golf carts, trucks, trailers, four-wheelers, and even the famous blue bus, passed by the community of onlookers who lined both sides of Totem Beach Road. Candy was thrown out by the handful to the kids, who happily and hurriedly gathered the treats off the street.
Among the many creatively decorated floats were themes ranging from Jurassic Park, Mario Bros, tropical beach, the 90’s, Under the Sea, Hawaii, Candyland, comic books, and the jungle. The Tulalip Heritage Hawks football team also made an appearance in the parade, as did numerous local tribal motorcyclists.
“I had tons of fun,” said young Kalese Pablo. “I was actually in the parade, on the beach float. I was a shark and I handed out candy to all the little kids around our community. I haven’t seen a lot of my friends and family because it’s summer and I’ve been on a lot of trips. So, it was really great to get back together with them and have fun.”
Tulalip Heritage Hawks athlete Miko Sanchez was also in the parade, and he stated, “It was amazing. I felt like it really lifted the spirits of the community on the reservation. I was in the parade with my teammates, and I thought that it was a great team building moment.”
Following the parade, the people were distributed food tickets to use at the vendor of their choosing including Ryan’s REZ-ipes, Jared’s CORNer, and TEE PEE Creepers. Tribal vendors were also in attendance selling tie-dye t-shirts, salves, balms, hats, jewelry, artwork, and medicine to the people. Prizes were awarded to a number of tribal government departments that participated in the parade for their creatively decorated floats. And the one and only DJ Monie provided good vibes and tunes throughout the entire event.
There were plenty of games and attractions to keep the youth occupied during the five-hour event including, bungee trampolines, video game stations, a giant slide, inflatable bumper balls, bouncy houses, laser tag, and a ballistic swing carnival ride.
“It was a good day,” reflected Delia Williams. “My kids were excited to go to the parade and we got a lot of candy. When we got here, we instantly went for the ride, the swings. My kids got to ride with their cousins, and I rode by myself, because I’m you know a big kid. I love Tulalip Days. I think it’s good for the kids. I think we should see more of it and even more attractions for the kids, like a full-on carnival.”
Although there was a little drizzle at the beginning of the event, Tulalip Days was full of bright and beaming smiles as the people enjoyed sharing time together with their friends and family, while also proudly showcasing their Tulalip pride.
“I’m glad the events staff and the tribe are doing this for the kids and community,” said Tribal member Marlin Fryberg Jr. “There was a little rain, not too much. But it was good to see everyone’s faces again, especially with what we’ve been through the past couple of years. Food was good. We’re all in line for free food, I thank the council for that. The parade was fun, I took my daughter, wife, and mother in-law and we sat alongside and got all the candy, probably don’t have to shop for Halloween now. It was good to witness all the excitement of the young kids in the parade.”
He continued, “Hopefully we can incorporate Tulalip Days with the canoe races in the future, kind of like we did when I was a kid. We had all the events in one weekend and that was always fun. But today felt good and hopefully we can continue this. We have a good turnout here, but it could be bigger. Maybe more advertisement next year, just continue it so it gets bigger and bigger because that’s what our old people want to see.”
After the excitement of the day, Shelly Lacy reassured the community that Tulalip Days is here to stay. In a Facebook post she said, “Thank you to all the staff and committee who helped plan and make today possible. Thank you to all the community who came out today with parade entries, to watch the parade and to enjoy the activities. It was great to see everyone. It also felt good to come together as a community for fun times. This will be an annual event that will continue to grow.”
To commemorate Tulalip Days, a coastal jam was held following the festival. Tulalip tribal members and community members, and also drummers and singers from other nearby tribes, gathered at the Greg Williams Court to celebrate an evening of culture and bring Tulalip Days to a close in traditional fashion.
“We want to make sure the youth have a place, a space, and a voice if they are part of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Problem Gambling Counselor, Robin Johnson. “This is a super important event to bring community awareness to the two-spirit population at Tulalip and the surrounding area. It’s important to make sure that they feel comfortable in our community. This is the big kick-off event, it ought to be great and lots of fun.”
Years in the making, the highly anticipated Pride Everyday BBQ at Tulalip is scheduled to take place on August 13, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Don Hatch Community Center. Since the successful, and Tulalip Youth Council organized, Pride Walk in 2018, members of the LGBTQ+ community at Tulalip were inspired to create a yearly Pride celebration on the reservation.
Aiming to embrace, uplift, support, honor and help individuals create new friendships within the local two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, asexual, and ally community, the Pride BBQ promises nothing but great times, good summertime grub, and fun for all.
Phoenix Two Spirit (Cree) is a well-known member of the Tulalip community, as well as the self-proclaimed ‘instigator’ of this project. Phoenix presented the idea for the get-together as well as helped organize the event. Phoenix shared, “This event is great for community awareness. It’s part of the decolonization process, recognizing that two-spirit people have been in the Indigenous community since time immemorial. And it’s time to recognize that, indeed, there is a place for two-spirit people in the tribal community, that they hold a special place. This is not new. This is reclaiming our past.”
Originally planned for 2020, the Pride BBQ was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the tribal government re-opened, following the first initial wave of the novel coronavirus, the Pride BBQ was rescheduled to take place last summer. That is, until a large spike in the number of COVID cases at Tulalip rose once more prior to the event, causing another postponement. Now, nearly a year later, the Pride BBQ is happening for the very first time.
Said Phoenix, “I’ve been in the Tulalip area for a few years and thought that this a very-needed event. I’ve been part of the pride celebrations in Seattle and Snohomish County, and I have been noticing announcements locally for Puyallup, Muckleshoot, and Lummi, who are having pride celebrations. There has been much interest by the Tulalip LGBTQ+ TS community to have an event, but COVID put a damper on creating one. So, now is the time to bring us together and celebrate our community.”
The Tulalip Pride BBQ will feature music by DJ Monie Ordonia, as well as several icebreaker games and activities, which helps create opportunities for people to meet and build connections while celebrating their true selves together.
The event is sponsored by the Tulalip Problem Gambling Program, Tulalip Family Wellness Court, and the Tulalip Community Health’s Youth Wellness program. With the promise of high 70-degree weather on Saturday, the Pride BBQ is sure to be a day to remember for all involved, so be sure to mark your calendar and come show your pride and support!
“I want everybody to know that everyone is welcome to come,” expressed Phoenix. “Whether you define yourself in the LGBTQ+ community, the two-spirit community, if you are friends, family, allies, or tribal members, I want everyone to feel welcome to come.”
A fire was ignited in the heart of downtown Minneapolis on the morning of July 8. Over one hundred Indigenous youth, hailing from tribal nations throughout the country, approached that fire adding their choice of sage, cedar, or tobacco, and guided its smoke over their bodies head-to-toe while saying a prayer.
“We ask every one of you young people to stand in prayer. Vocalize a prayer. Join us in prayer,” said the UNITY Fire Keeper, Sleepy Eye LaFromboise (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota). “We’re going to send out a spiritual energy here in Minneapolis. We’re going to unite today. Each and every one of you relatives, we’re going to ask you to pray for our water, to pray for our fire, for the air we breathe, for Mother Earth, to pray for our medicines – the plants, the animal kingdom. We come from a long line of people who knew the fire, the water, the earth. No matter who you are, where you come from, it’s in us. We’re asking you all to unite in prayer as we sing this song and start the fire. We’re going to keep this fire burning. We’re going to bring healing to our nations, to our communities, to the world.”
A group of Ojibwe women carefully brought out a basin of water and gathered near the fire. They carefully placed the basin on a drum bag and offered a song in their traditional Anishinaabemowin language.
“The song we’re going to sing is for the water ceremony,” explained Little Spruce (Cecilia Stevens). “There are so many different ways to honor and celebrate our water. As we’re singing that song, we’re petitioning to that water spirit and we’re praying for it. This water song comes from Doreen Day and her grandson. They would sing ‘water I love you, I thank you and I respect you.’ It’s honoring the directions but it’s also honoring the different realms we live on, the earth, the sky, the universe and what’s beyond there.”
The honoring of the elements ceremony officially kicked-off a five-day conference designed to uplift, inspire, and provide young Indigenous leaders with all the tools, support, and encouragement to be strong and impactful leaders of their respective tribes. The United National Indian Tribal Youth Conference, more popularly known as UNITY, is held every summer in different cities throughout the country and is open to tribal youth councils and Native youth who are between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four.
Amongst the crowd witnessing the water ceremony and the lighting of the UNITY fire, was Tulalip Youth Council’s Vice-President, Faith Valencia. After a day of travel and waking up early in a different time zone, Faith was glad that she attended the ceremony.
Faith stated, “That ceremony made me feel better. It was really cool hearing other Natives speak their languages. I witnessed a lot of young Native people listening and being respectful to the elders who had a lot to share and say.”
UNITY was originally established in the late 70’s and has played a big role in shaping young Indigenous leaders ever since. Traditionally, the UNITY Fire remains lit throughout the entire duration of the five-day conference and acts as a safe space where conference attendees can visit and offer prayers. However, due to Minneapolis laws and fire regulations, the UNITY Fire was to be extinguished following the opening ceremony.
Said Sleepy Eye, “We’re going to be using the water throughout the conference. We’re going to have the rooms near the convention center where we’re going to keep this bucket of water. We’re going to have teachings, songs, dances, and stories around the water. We’re going to carry a flame from this fire. We’re going to light a candle and we’re going to keep that candle burning throughout this entire conference. At the last day of the conference, we’re going to come back here and going to start the fire again. This is a whole new way that we have to do this, but our people are resilient. Our people always find a way to make things happen. We never turn our back to the water. We never turn our back to the fire.”
Although there was close to two hundred in attendance of the water and fire ceremony, that was nothing compared to how many were registered for the event. In total, there was close to 2,000 young Indigenous leaders who signed up for UNITY. At the first major gathering of the conference, the youth were asked to wear their traditional regalia and take part in a Grand Entry. Youth Council members entered the main auditorium of the Minneapolis Convention Center draped in shawls, jingle dresses, headdresses, cedar hats, and beaded jewelry. Some youth councils proudly carried their tribe’s flag as they circled the auditorium.
Following the grand entry, the youth took their seats and were welcomed by Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). The U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, recorded a special video massage which was received with thunderous applause and whistles from the youth. The first day of UNITY closed with the star-studded Indigenous Actors in Film Panel which featured Kiowa Gordon (Hualapai) of the Dark Wind TV Series, Stormee Lee Kipp (Shoshone-Bannock and Blackfeet) of the upcoming Predator movie Prey, and Mato Wayuhi (Oglala Lakota) composer of the TV series Reservation Dogs.
Chance Rush (Hidatsa), a longtime motivational speaker in Indian Country, was one of the main emcees of the conference and dropped many jewels for the youth throughout the week. “I know a lot of you hear that you are future leaders. You are not future leaders; you are our leaders of today. You’re our leaders right now. There are people who are having a great time. There are individuals here who are striving to put themselves on another level. There are individuals here who are trying to figure out their purpose. There are some individuals here who are struggling, and this is their hope. They came to Minneapolis to sit amongst 1700+ relatives.”
The next morning, the youth arrived at the auditorium wearing their ribbon skirts and shirts. Before the morning’s general session began, the youth were invited on-stage to walk the runway in true model fashion. Many young leaders relished the spotlight and took the opportunity to strike a pose for our camera.
Arawyn Dillon of the Yakama Nation expressed, “That was really beautiful. It was amazing to see everyone’s ribbon skirts and shirts and all the different styles. This is new for me and it’s beautiful that we’re all gathered here in this space and we’re not the minority for once. Seeing everybody here makes my heart happy. These are my people, and this is truly an amazing experience.”
The keynote speaker on the second day of UNITY was none other than Chef Pyet DeSpain (Prairie Band Potawatomi Indian Nation), who was the first winner of the national TV Series, Next Level Chef. She shared her journey of becoming a chef with the youth as well as some great advice on finding your path in life.
Said Chef Pyet, “Remember that it’s okay to be your true authentic self. It’s okay to show the world you’re brown and proud. It’s okay to take a risk, even if it might look scary, you never know where it leads you. Most importantly, it’s so crucial that you don’t forget your roots and you don’t forget your whys at the end of the day. Every day from this point forward, when you wake up, I want to challenge you to ask yourself ‘who do I want to be?’ Not just in the future, but who do I want to be today. Do you want to be the best daughter, the best brother or sister, do you want to be the best version of yourself? Really think about it because that’s what’s called setting an intention. When you start showing up as your best self every single day, and you’re brown and proud, things will start falling in to place for you.”
Every year, UNITY hosts a three-on-three basketball tournament during the conference. This year’s tournament was held at a local high school gym. The tournament’s sign-up sheet filled up quickly and over thirty teams competed for the title of UNITY champs.
It was all smiles, even after an early round knockout, for young Korban Bennett. “We played against the bear team, and they did pretty good,” he shared. “We end up losing to them, but it was still a lot of fun. Traveling from California to Minnesota to be among my people, and playing basketball with them on top of that, is just so awesome!”
The second day of UNITY was jampacked with fun and it did not end with the three-on-three basketball tournament. After a dinner intermission, the large group of young Native leaders reconvened at the main auditorium once more for the UNITY talent show. Over twenty young adults showed-off their creative side on stage and delivered an entertaining evening for their peers. The crowd cheered loud for the talented acts and even danced and sang along to a couple of numbers. There were many singers, who sang everything from traditional songs to modern country, pop, R&B and hip-hop. There was also a guitarist who shredded, a comedian who told some great dad jokes, poets who shared their powerful messages, a speed painter who brought awareness to the MMIWP movement through her art, a boxer who showed off her jabs and uppercuts, and a traditional dancer who moved about the stage in full regalia.
The showstopper of the evening was a young singer from the Spokane Tribe of Indians named Isaac Tonasket. Isaac, who lives a completely sober lifestyle, sang the popular country hit Tennessee Whiskey by Chris Stapleton. He captivated the spectators with his vocals, and immediately people left their seats to rush the stage and share a slow dance while Isaac brought down the house.
“I told my auntie that by the end of this conference everyone was going to know my name,” Isaac exclaimed. “That was such a cool experience because I’ve only sang in front of a decent crowd twice. That talent show, though, as soon as that beat dropped, everyone went crazy. Then I started singing, and they all went crazy again and everyone started dancing. That makes me feel good, like I’m doing my job, I’m making these people happy and that’s what I love doing.”
He continued, “It feels so good coming out here and seeing all the kids willing to learn and make a change for their ways and all our people. I really want to promote staying sober. Most kids, especially out on the rez, start drinking and smoking at a super-duper young age. When I tell people that I never drank and don’t do drugs, people are always so impressed. That’s one big thing that I really want to promote because drugs and alcohol has such an impact on our Native communities.”
UNITY held their first day of workshops on the third day of the conference. The youth received the opportunity to engage and learn in classes such as Plants: Our Sacred Medicine, Poetry Changes the World, Runaway Toolkit and Must-Knows, Bringing Language and Culture into Our Youth Council, Food as Medicine, Native American Storytelling through Performance, Talking Circle: Centering 2-Spirit & LGBTQ+ Identity and Experiences, Drum Beats and many others.
After the first-round of workshop sessions, the National UNITY Council Business Meeting was held. All the youth council reps from each region met to give reports about the work their youth council has done in their respective homelands over the past year, as well as vote on the new UNITY Executive Committee Members. Jonathon J. Arakawa (Elwha) was re-elected as the UNITY NW Region Rep. The third day of UNITY ended with a Gala night. The young adults were dressed to the nines for an evening of entertainment, a delicious multi-course meal, and dancing.
More workshops were scheduled for day four of UNITY, but before the kids dispersed to the conference rooms, a Native Activism Then and Now panel was held on the main stage. Seated next to each other were three iconic and powerful Indigenous matriarchs – Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe), Madonna ThunderHawk (Oohenumpa Band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), and Judith LeBlanc (Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma) who all shared their stories and a bit of their wisdom with the youth. After an insightful and riveting conversation, the Tulalip Youth Council gathered at the side of the stage to offer the Honor Song to the ladies before they exited the stage.
That moment was the first time that many tribal youth witnessed the traditions of a Coast Salish tribe, which set the stage and built some excitement for later that evening during UNITY Culture Night.
Fashioned once more in their traditional attire, about thirty tribal youth councils showcased their songs, dances, stories, histories, and games during culture night. The cultural exchange provided the opportunity for young Natives from other nations to experience the teachings and traditions that are upheld on different reservations. Many dances that were shared during culture night were social dances and everybody in the crowd was invited to join in. Tulalip was among those who participated in culture night. offering two songs. NW Region Rep, Jonathan joined Tulalip during their time slot. The crowd was fully engaged and whooped-it-up when the Tulalip youth dancers hit the floor.
On the fifth day of the conference, James Anderson (Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe) held the honor as the last keynote speaker of UNITY ‘22. He reminded the young leaders to always bring high energy to everything they do each and every day. Juanita “Moonstar” Toledo (Pueblo of Jemez) closed the conference with a powerful and lyrical performance and had the youth out of their seats and waving their hands in the air. The UNITY Fire was lit once again, and people bid their farewells after saying their prayers and offering their cedar, sage, or tobacco to the fire. Filled with optimism and inspired to create change on their reservations, the Indigenous youth parted ways with promises of meeting next summer at the 2023 UNITY Conference in Washington D.C.
“It felt heartwarming seeing everyone gathering in a place where we all felt comfortable with each other, knowing that we all struggle with the same things,” said Tulalip Youth Council member, Arielle Valencia. “We all went through genocide. I felt comfortable being around people who understand me. Just knowing that everyone here will be there for you, it felt good. It was awesome.”
In the next couple issues of the syəcəb, Tulalip News will continue providing stories from the UNITY Conference including a conference recap with the Tulalip Youth Council. Also, Tulalip’s very own social media influencer, Faith Iukes, attended UNITY this year and worked behind the scenes to create social media content for both her channels and UNITY’s official pages. Stay tuned as we catch up with Faith and talk about her experience at UNITY.
For over 25 years, the Lushootseed Language Camp has helped create a better understanding of our language within Tulalip youth. This popular two-week venture allows tribal youth ages 5-12 the opportunity to learn Lushootseed, implement it in their daily lives, and understand more of the history behind the language and the culture that surrounds it.
Lushootseed teacher Natosha Gobin said, “The past three years we’ve been developing curriculum that is being implemented at the Early Learning Academy, and that’s based on the four seasons in the year. We’ve been excited for this because we want the language that the kids learn to be relevant to their daily lives. This year’s camp is inspired from that curriculum. In the summer, when they look out into the water, they can identify things in our language like seeing our fishermen, the boats heading out to go crabbing, and the hustle and bustle of the marina. We want to make sure that they can use the language year-round, and that they are recognizing what they’re learning with things that take place in the community.”
The camp provides daily groups, consisting of learning the language and basic words, weaving, accessing tablets with Lushootseed based apps, art projects, language games, traditional teachings, Lushootseed songs, building drums, and prepping for a Lushootseed based play that they will perform at the end of the week.
You can feel the energy in the room, and the excitement in the kids’ spirits as they learn their native language and honor their ancestors before them. One of the kids in attendance said, “I love camp, I’m getting really good!” That same enthusiasm has carried on for many years, as some of the camp’s volunteers, and staff like Maria Rios, used to be students that attended the language camp long before.
Other than language, the camp also focuses on building up tribal youth through teachings. “We circle up first thing in the morning and we pass on traditions of being respectful. Teaching them the words for ‘listen’, ‘pay attention’ will reinforce everything within the classrooms and at home” Natosha said.
Natosha added that the goal is to outreach to as many tribal youths as possible so that Lushootseed will be integrated more in everyday life at Tulalip, “We want everyone to know the language. These little seeds that we’re planting within all of the kids, that’s what we look forward to – watching the language survive.”
The camp will continue its second week July 18-22 at the Kenny Moses Building. If you know any tribal children 5-12 that would be interested in being apart of the camp, please sign up and contact Natosha Gobin at email@example.com or Michele Balagot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For nine consecutive years, the Tulalip Tribes hosted an annual Stick Games Tournament at the start of every summer. Typically held during the first weekend of June, the tournament takes place at the Tulalip Amphitheater and attracts tribal members from all throughout the Northwest region, including many families hailing from First Nation Bands in British Columbia.
The worldwide pandemic put most social gatherings and events on-hold to limit the spread of the communicable disease. And to the dismay of many lifelong stick games players, the tournament was canceled in both 2020 and 2021. The cancellations, however, made the return of the tournament all the more exciting as hundreds of Natives showed out for this year’s competition during the weekend of June 3rd-5th.
“It’s nice to visit with family who I haven’t seen in forever,” exclaimed Spokane tribal member and Tulalip community member, Marsella Gonzalez. “I played all weekend. I used to play every year before COVID happened, so I haven’t played in a long time. It’s fun and enjoyable to gather together again and play against one another, as well as getting to know more people from other tribes. It’s great to see everybody out and about and enjoying each other’s company.”
Stick games, also known as bone games, hand games, slahal, and lahal, is a traditional game that was gifted to the coastal people in ancient times. The game was taught to the people by the animals of the region as a means to settle a multitude of intertribal disputes regarding hunting and fishing grounds, as well as to prevent warfare between tribes. For generations tribal nations have passed down the knowledge of how to play the game, which requires the skill and mastery of deception and distraction.
Gameplay requires two opposing teams, consisting of three to five players, to face-off against each other. The game pieces, which includes a set of bones and sticks, are discreetly distributed amongst the players on one team. The opposing team must correctly guess where the bones are hidden and how many pieces the player has concealed in their hands. The sticks are used to keep score. The team with their bones in-play, sing traditional family songs in an attempt to distract the other team from seeing who the bones are given to. The team that has the most correct number of guesses wins the game and advances to the next round.
There are a number of unofficial game pieces as well that helps teams immensely during a stick game tournament, such as foldable lawn chairs so that teams can quickly set-up against their opponents and move and play about the grounds; pull-over hoodies so a player can hide the bones in their front pockets, and also bandanas for the same reason. And finally, traditional hand-drums so your team can sing loud and distract the opposing team while the bones are passed amongst the team.
Said Marsella, “I love hiding the bones. It’s nerve-racking but it’s exciting because you’re trying to keep them hidden so well. I was taught not to look people in the eyes when playing, and I did it twice this weekend and got caught each time. The game is amazing to play. Next, I have to learn more songs.”
Another highlight of the tournament is shopping and supporting local Indigenous artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs as numerous vendors set-up shop at the amphitheater each year. Several Tulalip tribal members were in attendance this year, selling their trademark goods to event-goers including Josh Fryberg and family who sold hoodies and smoked salmon, Jared Parks sold his signature sweet-and-salty kettle corn, Natosha Gobin had natural salves and balms available for purchase, and Winona Shopbell-Fryberg and Santana Shopbell-Proehl had a selection of beadwork for sale.
The participants of the Tulalip Stick Games Tournament compete for the chance to take home a cash prize. This year many cash prizes were awarded, including the grand prize of $50,000. In addition to the main competition, several mini-tournaments are held throughout the weekend such as the three-man tournament and the kid’s tournament, and many rounds are also played during open-games on the opening day of the weekend-long event.
“I am a 5th generation stick game player, it’s been a part of my family since the beginning of time pretty much,” said young Lummi tribal member, Tavis Washington Jr. “It feels great to come out after the pandemic and see all the people I usually see at these kind of events, and to meet new people too. My favorite part of the game is winning! Shoot – I like when my team or my family wins a lot. But it feels like it’s been forever since we last played and I am just happy to be back here playing at Tulalip.”