Awakening the Language

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

An inspiring cultural reclamation is happening throughout Native America as tribes are actively working to restore their traditional languages. Once outlawed and considered a punishable offense during the years of assimilation, many Native languages were all but lost. But thanks to each respective tribe’s knowledge keepers and traditional linguists, there has been a resurgence of the dialect of our ancestors over the years. 

Within the sduhubš nation, the revitalization of the Lushootseed language seems to grow stronger with each decade that passes. Ever since Hank Gobin and Toby Langen set the foundation in the early 90’s, when the Lushootseed department was established, the language has spread amongst tribal families and is now often used conversationally.  

Many of today’s traditional speakers were introduced to the language by the Lushootseed department along their educational journey or through a course offered to the community. Today, the department has grown considerably in size as a number of tribal members fell in love with the language and developed a passion for sharing that knowledge with the next generation.

Known as the Language Warriors, the team of culture bearers teach Lushootseed to tribal members as young as newborn babies, infants, and toddlers at the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy, as well as to students at every grade level within the Marysville School District. The department also teaches college courses and frequently holds community classes and events to ensure the language is accessible to Tulalip’s members and its community. 

Keeping with the times, the Lushootseed department offered online lessons and storytelling videos through the stay-at-home ordinance during the pandemic. They also developed an educational app geared towards kids that is based around foods. And we’d be remiss to mention their website, an online Lushootseed database that provides the spelling of a variety of words and phrases in the Lushootseed alphabet as well as an audio clip of the pronunciation of each word. The website also includes several video lessons and as well as traditional stories. Their homepage is updated regularly and shares the department’s upcoming events and activities. 

If you were to visit this very moment, you would find three phases listed at the top – ʔi čəxʷ, huyʔ, and t’igʷicid  which translates to hello, goodbye, and thank you in English. The Lushootseed department chose these three phrases to kick-off a new initiative aimed at getting the entire community speaking the language on an everyday basis. 

It’s been only a few weeks since the department announced the initiative via a cute video titled ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5-year-old?’, in which a tribal youth effortlessly spoke the three phrases and gave the definition of each word. The video ends with the tagline ‘get your Lushootseed on’, and challenges all of Tulalip to implement these words into their daily interactions and eradicate the English counterparts from their vocabulary completely. 

“ʔi čəxʷ, t’igʷicid, and huyʔ are the three phrases we are starting off with – just trying to eliminate those three words in English, that is our goal for the rest of the year,” explained Interim Lushootseed Manager, Michelle Myles. “This was something fresh we could work on to get the community speaking the language. We were looking for ways to get the language out there to share it, where it’s not in the classroom, not with a teacher, and it’s something you could use with family members and share it in that way.”

With fall knocking on the door, the Lushootseed department recently provided a treat for the community in the form of eye-catching yard signs. Posted in highly visible areas, all throughout the 22,000-acre reservation, each sign displays one of the three phrases that local commuters can view and then in-turn practice while enroute to wherever their destination may be. For foot traffic, those active runners and walkers journeying across the rez, there is a QR code at the bottom of every sign. When scanned with a smartphone, the code will bring you to the Lushootseed department’s website where people can learn more about the challenge and hear the pronunciation of each phrase. 

“These are three things that everyone can say,” exclaimed the Lushootseed department’s Video Producer/Director, Brian Berry, who has been instrumental in getting the initiative off and running. “It actually started here at the Lushootseed department. There are some signs here in the building that say, ‘English words we’re not going to use anymore’. That kind of got my brain spinning that we as employees and tribal members should replace these three phrases, using the Lushootseed ones instead of the English ones. The QR code will take you to our website. We got a little slot on there – three commercials that I put together, thirty second spots that we’re pushing out on Facebook, trying to get everyone to speak the language.”

The signs can be spotted all along Marine Drive, as well as in front of various department buildings and public spaces such as the Administration building, the Gathering Hall, the teen center campus, and the Tulalip Bay Marina. The signs are also located at the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy, the 27th Ave. school campus which includes Heritage High and Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary, as well as at the Marysville Getchell campus and the Marysville Pilchuck campus.

The effects of the initiative are already taking place as numerous governmental employees are utilizing the three phrases in their e-mails and in-person interactions. It’s amazing to see how the Tulalip people are reclaiming their language and are making strong efforts in preserving Lushootseed by passing down the teachings to current day citizens and the future leaders of Tulalip.

“This is who we are and where we come from,” expressed Michelle. “Lushootseed is part of our culture, and we should be able to embrace it and share it with everyone. It’s beautiful. I’ve been working at the department for over 20-some years now and it’s nice to see this freshness and all the new innovations we can use to inspire people to speak the language. It feels good. It’s awakening the language. And this initiative is keeping it awake, spreading it and sharing it with everyone.”

For more information about the initiative, the three phrases and how you can help spread the ancestral word, please visit the Tulalip Lushootseed website.

Camp culture powered by language warriors

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

For two-and-a-half decades, dedicated language warriors of the Lushootseed department have planned, coordinated, and hosted our community’s children in the closest thing we have to a full-on cultural immersion experience. An opportunity for the youngest generation to glimpse the traditional syllables and syntax of their ancestor’s common tongue through everyday phrases, storytelling, and glorious song accompanied by deer hide drum beats.

“Teaching Lushootseed is incredibly beneficial to our youth,” explained Michele Balagot, Lushootseed Manager. “Learning more than one language helps with brain development, which opens their minds to more possibilities. 

“We know some kids don’t have the opportunity to learn Lushootseed in school, so, for them, our summer camps are the only chance they get to participate in learning the language,” she continued. “No matter the experience level or how ingrained in the culture the children may be, they all make connections and becomes family here. For me, my favorite part of Lushootseed camp is the big play put on Friday. All the parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts come together to watch their child in the program sing, dance, and act in a play. All in Lushootseed!” 

Highly anticipated by both parents and kids alike, this year’s 26th annual Lushootseed day camp was offered in two one-week options. The first occurred between July 10-14, while the second took place the following week July 17-21.

Open to children between the age of five to twelve years old with a desire to learn a little language of their ancestors and a whole lot about their traditional lifeways, Lushootseed Camp provides invaluable cultural immersion through various methodologies. This is achieved by kids cycling through several hands-on workstations each day, such as art, weaving, songs, traditional teachings, games, language, and technology.

During week one, there were a total of 57 camp participants and 18 group leaders. Week two saw a slight uptick, with a total of 59 participants and 17 group leaders. It’s important to note that nearly all the group leaders, whether teenage or adult, were previous camp kids in their younger years, now older and willing to give back to the summer experience they once enjoyed.

One of those grown-up camp kids includes now Lushootseed teacher assistant Krislyn Parks. She credited long-time Lushootseed teacher Michelle Myles for being a highly impactful, positive influence on her not just at camp over a decade prior, but also at Heritage Highschool. Michelle has instructed a Lushootseed course at Heritage for a few years now. That’s where Krislyn was able to take the course and receive a thorough education on the language of her ancestors. The combination of experiences was so transformative that Krislyn chose to join the Lushootseed department after graduation.

“Seems like only yesterday that I was a Heritage student taking Lushootseed for three years straight, all of it taught by Michelle. She motivated all of us students at the time to embrace our culture, learn our language, and challenged us to implement what we were learning into our daily lives,” recalled Krislyn. “That experience was a big reason why I chose education as my future and what better way to educate our kids than through Lushootseed. Just by learning the language, you can learn all kinds of lessons about what was important to our people back then and what we should probably return to today.”

This year’s camp centered around Tulalip ancestor Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Krise’s traditional story titled Deer and Changer. This story takes place long ago. Long before the world was the way it was today and long before humans were a part of it. There were only animal people. When Changer passed through this world to make it ready for humans, some of the animal people were resistant. One such being was Deer, who attempted to stop Changer from making his changes. Ultimately, Deer’s plan fails, and his treachery results in all modern-day deer having dewclaws in their hooves, otherwise thought of as bones in the back of their feet.

The lessons youth learned daily at the various workstations were based on Lizzie Krise’s story, which tells how deer got extra bones in their feet. This story plot provided ample opportunity to teach the children about Bone Games, which Krislyn was excited to teach the kids how to play as she’d been playing for as long as she could remember. 

“It was stressful prepping a workstation that would be enticing for the kids to play and keep their attention, but in the end, it all worked out and was a lot of fun. The best part for me was after teaching them, being able to then step back and watch them play Bone Games with each other,” said Krislyn. Her aunt Carrie Fryberg’s family has played, traveled, and organized Stick Games tournaments for a long time. 

“Having a camp like this, where our kids get to learn about all aspects of their culture, not just ones that their family carry on, is super important,” she added. “We had so many kids admit to not even knowing what Stick or Bone Games are, and now some of those same kids are asking for Tulalip to form a kids’ travel team so they can continue to play against other tribes. That’s pretty cool to witness, in real-time, the transformation that can happen when our kids are given the opportunity to learn their culture.”  

Every camp station and its daily lessons incorporated some kind of traditional teaching and Lushootseed verbiage. Using creative, hands-on activities to keep the energetic youngsters focused, the language warriors made the most of their opportunities to teach the importance of tradition. From vibrant art creations to working together as a community to problem solve, camp kids were learning while having fun.

Using tablets loaded with custom-built software called ACORN (Acquisition of Restored Native Speech), combined with the next generation’s natural predisposition for digital screens, Lushootseed techs Dave Sienko and Brian Barry used digital gaming and videos to teach tradition. 

“I’m new here in the Lushootseed department, but found out pretty quick that it operates like an extended family. Everyone is willing to help the next person to reach the desired outcome, whether that’s going out harvesting together or sharing ideas and know-how that help us all perform our work more efficiently,” shared Brian as he pivoted between kids asking for assistance with their tablets. “At the technology station, we had Samsung tablets that were loaded with culture-related games and videos. Through the various age groups, some of them loved to watch previous years’ plays and songs. Some kids didn’t want to watch the play and instead would sit mesmerized by a video showing how to fillet a salmon. That showed me how much the cultural stuff really does resonate with even the youngest of tribal members.”

Both one-week camps culminated with the kids performing their own rendition of Deer and Changer in play form for their loved ones and the greater Tulalip community. Afterward, the ceremonial witnesses shared heartfelt words, followed by camp participants giving away their handmade crafts created during the past week to audience members. 

Vote Eliza Davis for Marysville School Board

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“Our students, staff, and families deserve to thrive in schools that set them up for success in a rapidly changing world.”

By now, Washington State voters should have received their official ballots in the mail. And with the primary elections approaching quickly on August 1, it’s time to fill in those bubbles with your favorite blue or black ballpoints to fulfill your civic duty and exercise that right to vote. When taking a look at all the candidates and their respective positions they are running for, you may notice a familiar name on your ballot. 

Tulalip tribal member Eliza Davis is in the race for a seat on the Marysville School District (MSD) Board of Directors, in which she would represent District Two if elected. Not only does she have full backing from the tribe, but she also received an endorsement from MSD’s current board president, Paul Galovin, and the 38th Legislative District Democratic Party as well. 

Along with strong endorsements, Eliza brings years of experience working with children and their families within the field of education. After spending close to six years teaching tribal youth their ancestral language as a Lushootseed instructor, she joined the MSD team. She dedicated over a decade of her time working as a Native American liaison at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary. 

In 2017, Eliza made the decision to take a position at the Tribe. She has since gained valuable knowledge and tools, and also built a strong connection with her community, as the Tribe’s General Services Director. With a four-year term on the line, she is contending against two other candidates for the District Two position. With her passion and drive, Eliza is determined to get elected to help make a positive impact and an overall better educationalal journey for the local leaders of tomorrow. 

“I am very passionate about education, really passionate about our kids and also our communities. Ensuring the welfare of our communities in the future is huge for me,” said Eliza. “A core value that I was raised to live by is that we serve our community. We don’t sit back, wait, and wonder what they’re going to do for me. We do everything we can for the community, to make it a better place.”

Because of her background in education and the work she put into both Marysville and Tulalip, people of the community began to approach her to ask if she would consider running for the school board this year. Confident in knowing what she brings to the table, Eliza obliged the requests by enterering her hat into the ring for the upcoming elections. 

She divulged, “My experience working inside the school system helped me understand not only the needs of our students, but also our families. Helping them navigate certain systems when they don’t have all the knowledge at their fingertips, helping them advocate for their students, letting them know what legal rights their children have as students, and ensuring that our students’ experiences at school are culturally relevant.”

As the only tribal member candidate, Eliza stressed that it’s important that Native students see someone from the tribe in a position to advocate for their needs and address their concerns, while also being able to relate to their experience at MSD. 

“I’ve always strived to be a role model for our youth and our kids,” she expressed. “I also went through the same systems they are going through, grew up in the same communities, the same reservation and town, and showing them that we can ultimately do anything that we choose to do, if we put the work in, is important. It’s also important for kids to see people and community members like them, who are working within the systems that are educating them. And I’m proud that I can be someone they look up to and see themselves in.”

She continued, “It’s been a long time since we’ve had representation on that school board. I think that it’s important to have representation because we matter. We’re here and we deserve it after so many years of being silenced. And having a boarding school right here on our reservation, being stripped of our culture, our voices, our language, it makes a difference that we are advocating for what is best for our students. But I also want to be clear that I am somebody who is an advocate for all kids, and I would represent all.”

When asked about the areas she would address should she be elected, Eliza spoke about funding and the importance of ensuring that each school has adequate drinking water, safe and comfortable learning spaces and classrooms, and funding for extracurricular activities. She also touched on the need for mental health counselors for students within the district, especially in today’s era where social media reigns supreme. 

She said, “When you think about our youth nowadays, and you think about all the pressure that kids have, I feel like our kids have a lot of anxiety and a lot of social emotional issues, like when you look at social media and the pressures of that. And then we have a whole group of kids that missed out on the school experience for two and a half years, kids who were in elementary school and when they came back, they’re now in middle school, because of the pandemic. So, having more mental health counselors within our schools is essential, and it can help give our kids the tools they need to weather whatever huge emotions that they might have. I feel like right now, our schools don’t fund mental health counselors, they fund career counselors or just school counselors. The guidance counselors are not mental health counselors.”

Eliza noted that the students and faculty of Liberty Elementary reported brown water coming from both the drinking fountains and the tap. Parents and teachers alike have voiced concern about their students’ learning environments as many schools within the district have overcrowded classrooms, and thus, some schools have resorted to holding class in outdated portables. Of course, this is just one of many other issues that MSD is presently facing, including schools that lack classroom climate control – little to no A/C in the spring and summer months and poor heating throughout the fall and winter seasons. 

With the school district’s recent history of failed bonds and levies, Eliza believes it’s time to switch up the funding formula within MSD and distribute funds based on the needs of each school, as opposed to their current straight across the board distribution practices. And with prior experience in lobbying the state for funding, she is ready to go toe-to-toe with the state once more in the name of education for young Marysville and Tulalip learners.   

Eliza’s shared a statement in regard to these issues in her official announcement for candidacy, “Our students, staff, and families deserve to thrive in schools that set them up for success in a rapidly changing world. Accomplishing this requires that existing funds be carefully and equitably distributed to each school, and that new or expanded funding sources be acquired from the state to meet every school’s needs. I will utilize my experiences as a language teacher, educational liaison, and General Services Director to achieve this. These roles have allowed me to serve our community in a variety of ways, including public/school budgeting, organizational management, and the arduous process of lobbying for more funding from Olympia.”

Eliza is depending on your vote in this primary election. As a reminder, your ballots need to be turned in by 8:00 p.m. on August 1. The nearest drop box is located in the parking lot of the teen center. For more information on Eliza’s campaign, please visit, and be sure to follow her Facebook page, Eliza Davis for MSD 25 Board Pos. 2. 

Eliza shared, “We have almost 200 of our kids who are going to Catholic private schools. Catholic nuns and priests literally stripped us of our language and beat our kids. Families are sending their kids to these private schools now after all of that, because that’s how bad they believe Marysville is. I’m not saying those schools are beating our kids in this day and age, but it says something that they would rather go to a private Catholic school than be in this public school system. So, that’s why it’s important to have Tulalip voices, to give our input, protect our kids, and advocate for what’s best for our kids.” 

Learning the language at Tulalip Lushootseed Camp

By Wade Sheldon, Tulalip News

With summer in high gear, Tulalip’s Lushootseed Language Camp concluded its first week on July 14. Each week is capped off with a play the children practice throughout the week and then perform for their families. This year’s play is Deer and Changer, which tells the story of how the deer got extra bones in their feet. Through this play, various lessons and teachings are implemented in daily activities during camp.

From bone games, cedar weaving, listening to elder stories on their tablets, and learning the language of the Tulalip people, the children benefit greatly from learning the ways of the past.

 “Teaching the language connects them with the ancestors. These words and the language had existed on this land way before we were even thought of,” said Lois Landgrebe, Lushootseed teacher. “To hear all the kids be able to sing the songs, and for the language to take a front seat instead of always a backseat is a beautiful thing to witness.” 

“Hearing the traditional stories, how the language is spoken, and listening to their elders’ recordings is a big part of what is being taught at the language camp,” said Lushootseed teacher Ni-Ko-Ti St. Onge. “Watching their play and seeing how far they come in such a short time is one of my favorite parts.”

Michele Balagot, Lushootseed Manager, said, “Teaching Lushootseed is beneficial to the youth learning more than one language helps with brain development and opens their minds to more possibilities. Some kids don’t get a chance to learn Lushootseed in school; this is the only chance they get to participate in learning the language. My favorite part of Lushootseed camp is on Fridays. All the parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunties get to come together to watch their child in the program sing, dance, and act in a play.” 

You do not need to be a Tulalip tribal member or Native American to sign up. Everyone is welcome to come and learn about the Native culture. “Bring your kids and volunteer, and we can always use community members, even elders. It is lovely to have an elder come, even for an afternoon,” Lois said as the kids sang in the background. “It is a great time for the kids, keeping them busy and having fun.”

At the end of each ceremony, the children hand out all the gifts they made, and everyone gathers around the tables for a traditional fish meal. Thomas Williams, who also teaches Lushootseed, said, “It is essential after a long week of learning the ancestral ways to participate in eating a traditional meal prepared in a sacred way. Tying the lessons they learned and implementing what they were taught, by letting the elders and guests eat first while they hand out the gifts they made, are special and provide a solid foundation for learning and respect.”

Lushootseed Camp lasts for one week and has two sessions. The second session is July 24 to 28. For more information, please get in touch with Natosha Gobin at or Michele Balagot at

College graduates honored for their commitment to education and bettering their community

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Every time a Native American graduates from a university, community college, or vocational school, they instantly become the living embodiment of what it means to reclaim a narrative. For so long, our people were shut out of academic environments where they could share their truths while embodying the vibrant traditions and teachings of their still thriving Native culture. 

Compound those generational barriers to equitable education access with the unfortunate truth that when it comes to Native America and education, the dominant narrative says we can’t succeed in the westernized education system. United States census data supports this misbegotten notion by showing that while more than 65% of American high school students attend college, just 19% of Native students continue their education after high school. In an age where education is a critical cornerstone for self-sufficiency and quality of life, only a bleak 13% of tribal citizens age 25 and older hold a college degree. 

Myrna Redleaf and Santana Shopbell (both A.A. from NWIC)

Yet, there is much reason for the next generation to be optimistic about achieving any dreams they may have of one day walking across a collegiate graduation stage and proudly accepting their Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree. Because the educated Native narrative is being reclaimed and rewritten by present-day Indigenous scholars who are actively working to decolonize education pathways, not just for themselves but for future generations as well.

That reclamation process was on full display on the evening of June 22, as forty-two proud Tulalip scholars were celebrated for their commitment to higher education and, in the process, breaking the erroneous, often-cited stereotype that Natives can’t succeed on the collegiate level. 

Malory Simpson (B.A. from NWIC) and daughter Shylah (A.A. from NWIC)

“You’ve all put in so much hard work and countless hours of studying to earn your degrees. We are so proud of you for choosing to better yourself, your community, and your future through education,” said Chairwoman Teri Gobin during her opening remarks. “As a tribe, we know we need to be better at utilizing your brilliant minds and supporting our college graduates. As we continue to grow our business operations and evolve as a tribal government, we want you to feel welcome to build a career with us.”

It was a powerful moment as the words washed over the graduates as they sat with their support system of family and friends in the Tulalip Resort’s Orca Ballroom. Hopefully, many of the graduates will consider finding their place within Tulalip’s vast enterprise that grows larger every year. 

For some of the graduates, they are already working diligently to carve out a meaningful role in their traditional homelands. Two such examples are homegrown products, Malory Simpson and Tisha McLean. Both proud mothers managed to balance a busy home life with multiple kids and full-time jobs with their Tribe (Malory is the Events Manager and Tisha works in the Board office), with a steady diet of college coursework. For their immense efforts, Malory received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwest Indian College, while Tisha earned her Master’s degree from the University of Arizona. 

Bradley Althoff (vocational diploma from Childcare Education Institute)

“My grandmother Dawn Simpson proved to me it’s never too late to go back to school when at the age of 61, she graduated with her Master’s degree. She inspired me as a single mother to go back to school in my 30s and to keep pushing no matter the struggle in order to be here today and graduate with my 19-year-old daughter, Shylah,” shared Malory. Her daughter participated in running-start as a high schooler, which gave Shylah the opportunity to finish her A.A. only one year after graduating high school. “As the mother of four kids, it was always a goal of mine to graduate college so I could set a positive example for them. As proud as I am to be here today, I’m even more proud of my two oldest girls, who will both be attending the University of Washington next year. Together.”

“I started my educational journey because I wanted to set the bar for my kids and my little sister,” added Tisha. “With six kids at home, it’s definitely been challenging. I can’t thank my husband enough for taking care of our children while I’m in the books for 20 hours a week.” Shortly after receiving her Master’s degree, Tisha accepted a position as a legislative assistant to the Tulalip tribal council.

 Haley Enick, B.A. from U.W.

Another shining example of Tulalips striving to reclaim the education narrative is 27-year-old Kali Joseph. She has overcome many barriers while remaining steadfast in her commitment to bettering herself and her community. Now, she’s a graduate of the University of Washington and intends to expand her role in empowering those most in need as the Manager for Tulalip’s Recovery Resource Center, which opened earlier this year.

“I really want to say thank you to the generations who came before us. They really paved the way for us to be here. Our great-great-grandmothers are so proud of us,” reflected Kali. “Us being in these academic institutions that weren’t designed for us and succeeding is really beyond their wildest dreams. One of my lasting impressions from college, whether it was in Oregon or here in Washington, was routinely being the only Native person in the class. This happens when you move off the Rez and go to college. Sometimes you may feel really alone because of this, but knowing my ancestors were with me no matter where I went or where I was on my journey gave me strength. They are proud of us and we honor them with not just our achievements but also by speaking for them when we share our truths as Native people in rooms where nobody looks like us.” 

The higher education class of 2023 included nine Associate’s degrees, ten Bachelor’s degrees, and five Master’s degrees. Nine vocational diplomas and nine high school diplomas rounded out the 42 Tulalip honorees. 

Kali Joseph (M.A. from U.W.) and sister Tisha McLean 
(M.A. from University of Arizona)

“There is such a sense of pride and accomplishment at these graduation banquets because, for many of our graduates, they are the first in their family to graduate college,” shared now-retired higher education specialist Jeanne Steffener.  “We love to see so many choosing to continue their education to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. Their continued success motivates us as a department to do more outreach because we’re seeing more and more excel at the next level. Our graduates’ accomplishments are so superb and worth celebrating.” 

The importance of recapturing the story about Native Americans and education requires telling it anew with bold new characters and captivating subplots. Unquestionably, it will take a new generation of Native storytellers with ancestral knowledge and progressive savviness to unapologetically express our shared cultural values in new ways built for the ever-connected, digital world. From this latest cohort of higher ed graduates, we can rest comfortably knowing they are intent on motivating and inspiring even more trailblazers among the next generation. 

Tulalip Higher Education staff are eager to help new and returning students find their path to academic success. They can assist with FAFSA applications and finding scholarship opportunities, as well as simply reviewing the Tribe’s current policies regarding paying for college and other educational programs. For those Tulalip citizens feeling empowered to help reclaim our educated Native narrative, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Higher Education at (360) 716-4888 or email

Passing down knowledge at annual clambake

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“Long time ago, my grandparents and their grandparents, used to get all of our foods from the water – crabs, fish, and clams,” said Tulalip cultural bearer, Ray Fryberg. “We used to live in longhouses, and there were ways that we used to cook. We didn’t have frying pans, pots, and different things. This is the old way that we used to cook clams, this is called a clambake.”

Smoke rose into the air from the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy (TELA) parking lot on the morning of June 23. Tulalip tribal members, Thomas and Andy Williams, were hard at work tending to a smoldering cinder block pit at the small field that overlooks Tulalip bay. 

At the center of the pit were hundreds of clams, tightly wrapped in foliage. And the aroma of a traditional meal, now a staple PNW appetizer, carried into the breeze over the campus of the academy. 

“Traditionally, our elders used to say when the tide goes out, the table is set,” explained TELA Director, Sheryl Fryberg. “That’s how we got our clams, our crab. To do this traditionally, this kind of clambake, we use skunk cabbage, thimbleberry leaves, and kelp so that it seals in the flavors. It’s so heartwarming that we have people who still remember the traditional ways and can pass it down. For our kids, who are birth to five, these are the most important teaching years of their lives. And we want to lay that foundation for them so wherever they go in life, they know who they are.”

The students gathered around and watched the coastal chefs at work while enjoying the summer weather, soaking up both sunshine and ancestral knowledge. Lushootseed Language Warrior, Natosha Gobin, greeted the children, and together they exchanged dialogue and shared songs in the traditional sduhubš language.

The annual clambake is a joint event hosted by both TELA and the Lushootseed department. Over the years, the two departments have forged a strong relationship. Working together, they have developed and implemented an immersion program that introduces the ancestral language to tribal members at a young age, during the critical era of a child’s brain development. Each school day, Lushootseed language warriors visit the academy’s classrooms to impart traditional words, phrases, songs, and stories to the kids, ensuring that the language revitalization continues to thrive generations from now. 

Ray, who passed the cooking techniques down to Thomas and Andy, spoke to the kids about the importance of sharing Tulalip’s teachings with the next generation, so the tribe’s lifeways are carried on into the future. 

Said Ray, “My nephews are going to share with you the way we used to cook. This is called steaming. This is something that belongs to us. We must never forget those ways that were given to us. The way we lived a long time ago, and the way we prepare and cook our foods.”

While the clams continued to bake, Ray called upon his family to share a song. Many TELA students joined in by either drumming and singing or dancing alongside their friends and teachers. Following the song, Lushootseed Language Warrior, Lois Landgrebe, drew the attention of the kiddos by sharing a traditional and interactive story about clams and their importance to the Tulalip people. 

As soon as the clams were ready, they were uncovered and scooped out of the pit. Each student received their own tray of clams, which was accompanied by frybread, and they grubbed down on the shellfish with their peers, teachers, and families. 

The kiddos were not only excited to eat the delectable and traditional food, but also found amusement in the shells by opening and closing them to make it appear as if the clams were talking. 

Before dashing off to the serving station to request seconds, a young student exclaimed, “The clams are so yummy, I already ate all mine. I need more!”

“It’s so beautiful, and it’s the cutest thing,” shared Sheryl when watching the students enjoy their clams. “Some of them have never seen this before or had clams prepared this way. Because they are being exposed to this now, they are going to grow up knowing that this is our way and know that this is where they come from. You could see the joy on their faces. We had over 100 kids out here singing and enjoying the day. Hearing the whole school singing songs that they’re learning from Lushootseed was amazing. When the kids are doing these traditional things, they are learning how to be.”

Hard work pays off for Heritage Graduates

By Wade Sheldon, Tulalip News

The atmosphere was charged with anticipation as the graduating class of 2023 from Tulalip Heritage High School eagerly awaited their well-deserved high school diplomas. After countless hours of arduous studying, unwavering commitment, and unyielding dedication, the moment of triumph had arrived. Principal Nathan Plummer took charge, gathering the students for a final practice walk, ensuring they were fully prepared before the seats filled with family members and friends, who eagerly anticipated this joyous occasion.

Sounds of steel drums filled the air as a musical collaboration between the Tulalip Elementary and Heritage High schools kicked off the event. As the music faded away principal Plummer stepped forward to address the graduates and families. “Welcome students, communities, and families, to the graduation ceremony of the first ever Indigenous Big Picture Learning class of the 2023, Tulalip Heritage High school.” 

Special guest Armando Ortiz, of the Native American Initiative Big Picture Learning, presented an award to Devon Johnson, Heritage A.S.B nominated speaker, who had this to say, “we made it through the big shift, into the big picture, where we had to adapt to a new way of learning. Whether we benefitted from it or not, we did go through more than enough to say we definitely grew along the way.”

As speeches wrapped up, graduates looked to the principal with anticipation of receiving their diploma. The crowd cheered and with every student called, family and friends would yell out the name of the graduate as they walked across the stage. Smiles filled the arena as parents took in the momentous occasion.  

“It feels amazing. It feels like all that hard work staying up late to get your work done, all of that, just pays off, man.  As soon as you walk across that stage you feel accomplished,” said Antonio Flores-Howlett of the 2023 graduating class. “I’m looking forward to starting my adult life. I’m looking forward to getting a job, learning how to invest my money smart, and making smart moves with the money I’m getting.” 

When asked what kids just starting high school should know? Antonio remarked, “Stay on top of your grades and do extra work. Try running start if you want the best future possible. If you want a stable future, pass all your classes!” 


Relatives gathered around their graduates as the event was ending. “It feels very exciting,” said Markus Hatch of the 2023 graduating class, “I feel full of happiness and joy; it’s great.” Then he shared his plans for summer. “I’m looking forward to lots of relaxation, sleeping in, enjoying great food, and the heat.” His tips for new high school students was, “It gets better, it may be rough at first, enjoy it, enjoy it all!”

With the culmination of their high school journey, the graduating class of 2023 from Heritage steps onto the threshold of their next chapter in life. A world of boundless possibilities lies ahead. Equipped with the knowledge and experiences gained, this class sets out to craft their own narratives, leaving an everlasting impact on the world they encounter.  

Determination and a Diploma



By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“Welcome to our 2023 ceremony to celebrate our graduates,” said interim CEO Rochelle Lubbers as she greeted the hundreds of family and friends who ventured to the Tulalip Resort on June 20. “We’re so excited to have you all here. Our hearts are beyond full to be in the same room with our community on such a remarkable occasion.

“Reflecting on all our beautiful students today, I thought about all the different journeys they have taken to get here and how each journey is unique and special. Not a single one had the same walk, but there are some commonalities that they experienced being seniors during a global pandemic. They experienced distance learning and all the challenges with technology that came with that. However, what I’m most impressed with is that they exemplified determination. Our students overcame these challenges and pushed through in whatever way they had to in order to graduate. For that, their entire Tribe is proud of them, and that’s why we’re here to celebrate their wonderful accomplishment.”

The triumphant atmosphere was profound in the Resort’s Orca Ballroom as the optimistic hopes and limitless dreams of the Class of 2023 took center stage with a stylish graduation banquet. 

A whopping sixty-four high school grads, accompanied by their loved ones, convened to commemorate the rite of passage. There were traditional songs sung and drummed, a catered buffet-style dinner, opportunities to immortalize the occasion with a visit to an on-site photo booth, and plenty of motivational words offered by tribal leaders.

“We couldn’t be more amazed at how resilient this generation is,” said executive director of education Jessica Bustad. “No matter what the challenge, you guys show up and prove over and over again your willingness to adapt and move forward. We’re so excited to see where you go with your future. All of us within the Education Division want to see each of you succeed. We want you to be happy and healthy adults that are serving your community and loving your families. Whether you knew it or not, you’ve been actively reclaiming and revitalizing what education means to our people. So no matter where your destination is from here, I want you never to forget that your accomplishment honors all Indigenous people.” 

One emphatic message that was repeated throughout the night from graduates, parents, and elders alike was a reminder to the praise-worthy 18-year-olds that receiving a high school diploma is just the first major milestone on their journey to manifesting their dreams into reality. 

For some, the dream may be finding a convenient job to establish independence via a one-bedroom apartment, or joining the Tribe’s next TERO vocational training center class in order to enter the construction trades and start building up a pension as a teenager. Of course, there are those newly minted adults eager to start a family of their own. Plus, a few individuals who never thought they’d graduate high school and, now having achieved the seemingly impossible, are searching for their next step. 

Then there are the awe-inspiring dream chasers. These types of high school grads aren’t satisfied with just one diploma. They want more; more education, more diplomas, and more experiences than what can be found within the boundaries of the Reservation or Snohomish County. These individuals intend to redefine the expectations of success pertaining to Native Americans and the education system. 

Tulalip citizens Sophia Rosen and Nolan Hegnes embody the dream chaser spirit, and for their impressive body of work accomplished over the past four years, they each earned the coveted title of Student of the Year.

Sophia, Senior Girl of the Year, was described by her Lake Stevens High School educators as sweet, welcoming, capable, trusting, and always going above and beyond. She was also characterized as accountable, trustworthy, and prompt. The Tulalip teenager persevered through mental health struggles her junior year, resulting in a deeper connection with school staff on her healing journey. On her road to graduating with a 3.2 grade point average, she was on the varsity cheer squad, expanded her studies through the Running Start program, attended Leadership classes, and tutored her peers. In the fall, she will proudly attend the University of Washington as a pre-science major. 

“My grandma Benita always made sure I knew of the resources the Tribe makes available for us and to utilize as much as I could. Something as simple as the tutoring program made a significant difference for me because I went to a very large public school where one-on-one time with the teachers wasn’t practical. By utilizing the Tribe’s tutoring program, I received the help and support I needed to feel confident in all my classes,” shared Sophia. 

“My advice to all our younger Tulalip students or really any Native American youth is there is no one you can work harder for than yourself,” she added. “You shouldn’t feel less motivated to achieve great things in school or excel in the classroom because of the stigma around being a good student or being stereotyped because of where you live or what family you come from.”

  Meanwhile Nolan, Senior Boy of the Year, attended Grace Academy for the last twelve years and maintained a stellar 3.85 G.P.A. He represents Tulalip as the only Native American in his graduating class. Nolan holds a black belt in Kung Fu, mentors his younger Kung Fu peers, and has shown leadership and mentorship skills working with children in our community. Most noticeably, he’s excelled on the golf course, whether on his high school golf team or in the Boys & Girls Club charity tournament. He’s participated in the National Honor Society since 10th grade, wherein he dedicated himself to maintaining his high academic standing and sought to give back to his tribe by volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club. 

Nolan’s mentors said his best attributes are his tremendous character, excellent teamwork ability, calm demeanor, and always respectful attitude. He’s been accepted into Arizona State University, where he’ll be pursuing a degree in architecture. 

“My parents have always instilled in me and my sister that education is everything,” said Nolan. “I have countless memories of my father reminding me that ‘no one can ever take away your education’. I’ve taken this lesson to heart and feel like by getting the most education I can, then it not only benefits me but my family and community as well. We are so fortunate as Tulalip tribal members to have the financial support to pay for our schooling. It’s such a great thing. I do my best always to remember that so many don’t have the opportunity that we do to have school paid for, and it motivates me to dream bigger, too. With the support of my family and tribe, I intend to become Tulalip’s first architect.”  

Becoming leaders of the present may seem daunting to most young adults who have grown accustomed to daily consistency and certain comfort levels provided by the modern educational structure. However, these Native youth have been bucking the trend and blazing new paths to academic success without realizing it. They’ve outperformed long-held stigmas about Native Americans and school systems, they’ve overcome the odds that stated they wouldn’t earn a high school diploma, and all the while, they broke down barriers that prevented previous generations from attending college.

For our students, their ability to thrive in the westernized school system not built for them and still be able to excel and graduate with notoriety means not only proving the doubters wrong, but proving their ancestors right. The right for future generations to be educated and be given the opportunity to pursue a Bachelor, Master or Doctorate degree was something previous tribal leaders fought and even sacrificed for. Their vision comes true every time an Indigenous citizen boldly ventures off to a University equipped with the strength of culture and a tribe’s worth of support. 

The annual graduation banquet culminated in a ballroom’s worth of support hoots and hollers as each graduate strutted down the red carpet to a podium where education staff and school district representatives awaited them. Each inspired Native was given congratulatory handshakes, hugs, and a stunning Pendleton travel bag as a graduation gift.

A cultural approach to recovery

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Aiming to build a strong and local recovery community so the people can heal together, the tribe’s Family Services Problem Gambling program is bringing the Wellbriety Movement to Tulalip. This past May, the program hosted a three-day training called the Medicine Wheel and the 12 steps. This training was limited to the first fifteen people to sign up and was focused on tribal adults in recovery. 

The training was created by White Bison, a Native American non-profit that founded the Wellbriety Movement in order to bring healing and recovery to tribal communities. By utilizing cultural practices and teachings to combat addiction, Indigenous nations throughout the country are seeing positive results thanks to White Bison’s trainings. 

The trainings are often referred to as fire starters, and they are designed to help get the ball rolling for recovering addicts and encourages them to take the initiative to build a recovery community from within the tribe. After a successful training for adults, the Problem Gambling program is preparing for another Medicine Wheel and 12 steps training, and this one is geared toward the youth of the community, ages 13 to 21. 

“We chose to do the youth training because it doesn’t seem like this is an area that’s talked about much with the youth; there’s not a whole lot of support in this area,” said Substance Use Disorder Professional, Robin Johnson. “And it’s intimidating when you’re a youth, to say that ‘I’m in recovery’ or ‘I don’t want to use’. High school and junior high are hard enough, it can be intimidating to take your stance.”

During the youth training, participants will delve into heavy topics including a look at how many of us were raised and how growing up in an environment where trauma lives and thrives, and where drug use and alcohol is often prevalent, can lead many children down a road to substance abuse, acting out, and depression. 

“Hopefully this helps bring a better understanding, because it talks a lot about intergenerational trauma,” Robin explained. “So, a better understanding of that and also their own family dynamics. Because that dynamic – if there’s no understanding, they feel responsible and start blaming themselves. This gives them an understanding of where it started, and why it’s happened within their families, and why it continues to happen.”

By providing that understanding , the program gives young adults the power back in their lives and teaches them how to ‘re-chart their lives with healthy choices and healthy behaviors’. The training harkens back to the teachings of our elders and uses the art of storytelling as an instructional method throughout the program. 

“What sets this training apart is, with the medicine wheel you do the steps in a circle,” stated Robin. “In the linear way, when you relapse you start over. In AA or NA, you start over. But with the medicine wheel, it’s in a continuous circle, so you just continue moving forward and that makes a huge difference.”

Along with the 12 steps, which helps with your personal character development, the youth will also sharpen a number of life skills in areas such as decision making, goal setting, solution finding, and creating a healthy self-image, among others. 

In addition to this training, the Problem Gambling program will also be hosting the White Buffalo’s Warrior Down this August. Warrior Down is a relapse and recovery support program for Natives who are completing treatment, as well as those who are returning to the community from incarceration. It’s also open to anyone with aspirations to become a local recovery coach, those who are on the road to recovery and are looking to be a pillar of support for others in the community who are going through similar tribulations. 

Said Robin, “By providing these trainings, people can then decide if this is something they want to bring into the community. And hopefully, they will get fired up about starting this. The ultimate thing that I would love to see is the youth, with the support of their parents or an adult, get some meetings started in hopes other youth would join in and want to take part.” 

The Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps for youth training is a three-day program and begins on June 20, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The training will be held at the Kenny Moses building. For more information, or to sign up for the training, please contact Robin Johnson at (360) 722-1067. 

“Your present situation isn’t your final destination, take every opportunity to learn and grow, be the next generation of leaders in this community. Find your truth, use your voice,” Robin expressed. “Tulalip offers so many ways to connect to its heritage and culture, this training is another way to cultivate an understanding of the history to influence positive change for the future.”

MSD’s Native American students honored as they prepare for middle school

If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

On the evening of May 25, twenty-six Indigenous youth, from the Marysville School District (MSD), were celebrated and recognized for their hard work of completing elementary school. Bringing their 5th grade year to a close, the students beamed with pride as their parents and family cheered them on. As their names were announced, the young learners entered the longhouse of the Hibulb Cultural Center one at a time, in alphabetical succession of their last names, before taking a seat together at the head of the room. 

“Congratulations to all of our 5th grade students,” expressed Eneille Nelson, Marysville School District’s (MSD) Executive Director of Equity and Family Engagement. “You’ve accomplished a lot in getting through the first phase of your educational journey. You still have a long way to go, but you have started the journey. You’re on a great path, so stick with the path because at the end, the reward is going to be worth it.” 

The annual 5th grade honoring was co-coordinated and co-funded by the Tulalip Education Division team and the Positive Youth Development and Leadership Program. The honoring united students from over ten different elementary schools throughout the district. The new middle schoolers formally met the MSD Native liaisons as well as some of their future classmates, and a number of representatives from the Education Division.

“I want to thank you for joining us here today to honor these amazing 5th graders who will be going on to 6th grade,” said Jessica Bustad, Executive Director of Tulalip’s Education Division. “It’s going to be a big journey for you, we’re really excited to be here to support you and honor you. We’ll be here through your education journey and through your future. All these team members, we dedicate our time and lives to serving our youth. You are our future, and we value you.”

Eager to begin a new journey in their educational careers, the kids were all ears as the Native liaisons shared encouraging and motivational words with the students. Faith Valencia of the Tulalip Youth Council was also in attendance, and she invited the soon-to-be middle schoolers out to the Teen Center over the next couple months, where they planned out a fun and eventful summer that the elementary school graduates will be sure to enjoy. 

Native Liaison, Matt Remle shared, “I am very honored to be here tonight, honoring these future leaders, future middle schoolers. We wanted to show you all the support systems you’re going to have throughout your time in school, who to look out for in your time of need. Our team, liaisons, advocates, the equity department, we are here to support you in whatever capacity it is that you need.”

Each graduate received a special gift during the ceremony, a beautifully designed dreamcatcher, to commemorate their latest accomplishment. The ceremony ended with a traditional sduhubš song, performed by the MSD faculty, the Tulalip Youth Council, and Tulalip Education Division team members. 

5th grade graduate and Tulalip tribal member, Braiden Kane, reflected on the evening’s events. He stated, “Today felt really good. It was a little nerve-racking but I’m looking forward to the future, learning new things and meeting new people. And I’m just happy to be in the 6th grade!”

Following the ceremony, the kids happily posed for photos for their parents along with their fellow graduates. Their shared excitement of entering middle school together was evidenced in their wide smiles in every photo captured during the event.

Along with the dreamcatchers, the youth were sure to leave the Cultural Center with a message from Eneille. She urged the students, “Do not let anyone to tell you what you cannot do or what you cannot accomplish, because you have the ability to be anything you want to be and to go wherever you want to go. Don’t let anyone limit you to anything. If you can dream it, you can do it.”