Tulalip moms are stronger together

By Shaelyn Smead, Tulalip News

Every Tuesday for the past 10 years, Tulalip moms have been gathering within the Tulalip Mom’s Group; a group created by Family Haven as a safe place where mothers can have their kids play, and the moms can learn new skills, and utilize a variety of resources. For centuries, Native women have been known for their strength in adversity, their perseverance, and for being the heart of their community. However, even the most powerful women, need support too. 

As many know to be true, mothers hold a sacred part of most family dynamics. We often call the land we live on and the world that surrounds us ‘Mother Earth’ and/or “Mother Nature”, Philosopher Mircea Eliade proposed a reflection of this name to be not so coincidental. Just like a mother, it is the first thing that we encounter when we enter this universe. Earth holds us just our mother does, nurtures us, and provides the very things that we need to survive. It’s a personification of the women that are life-giving and nurturing in the same ways that nature embodies.  

The commonly used phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” has become a bit of an understatement over the years. With Native communities consistently facing issues like the cycles of addiction, generational abuse and trauma, disrupted families, lack of proper medical care, etc., raising a family has quite literally become one of the most difficult jobs. Native mothers are highly aware of the realities that Indigenous children face everyday. Outside of the community, the constant threat of colonial influence in public schooling systems, and the social influences that pressures assimilation in the lives of their children, Native mothers take on a plethora of responsibility in understanding what they must teach and protect their children from in order to preserve their sense of community and culture. Raising a child can be hard enough on its own, but raising a child in an environment that is consistently being disrupted can quickly become scary and extremely strenuous. 

Youth and Family Support Coordinator Sasha Smith has been leading the Mom’s Group and spoke of the specific struggles that inherently effect Native communities, “With generational trauma, we have to look at how that also impacts parenting. With addiction, or lack of hygiene, or cases of abuse, it all plays a huge factor on how moms today are parenting and what they could still learn. If you were parented a certain way, you’re more than likely to parent your children the same way. With the group, moms learn that its okay to acknowledge the past, but also to know that there are things that they can change to give themselves and their children a bright future.”

The group provides many opportunities for mothers to learn organizational skills and parenting habits. The purpose is to teach skills that not only will help their families, but also make the mother a more well-rounded individual. 

One major tool that the mothers utilize is the Baby Bucks Incentive Program. The program is designed for mothers to take personal responsibility for being a healthy mom and building a healthy family, and in doing so they earn ‘baby bucks.’ Every week during their meeting, each mom is given a paper with a list of motherly activities, such as taking their children to any needed appointments, exercising for 30 minutes, brushing their teeth day and night, reading with their children, eating together at the table, attending a community gathering, etc. Each activity accounts for a certain amount of ‘baby bucks’ that they earn, turn in, and is signed off by the group’s coordinator. And as they continue to earn and save more ‘baby bucks’ each week, they get to spend them on essential items at their Mom’s Group ‘store.’ The ‘store’ opens every few months and contains items such as kids’ toys, books, clothing, and bigger items like strollers, highchairs, etc., that is provided from funding through the charity table. So, in turn, the incentive program helps both the mother and her children with carrying out family skills, and provides items to help raise children. 

Every week, the moms have the opportunity to connect with other moms to ask questions and seek guidance. The group can request for certain lessons to be taught, adapting each week to the needs of the mothers. Some of the lessons are also gone over when the group partners up with other departments like beda?chelh, the Dental Clinic, the Health Clinic, and the Lushootseed department. These partnerships help bring awareness about the different resources that Tulalip offers to tribal parents and make the weekly lessons more specific and pertain to particular categories of Indigenous parenting. 

The group also tries to integrate events outside of the group to give the moms and kids a different change in pace, and activities that are fun for families. 

Outside of learning new skills, and access to more essential items, mothers are finding their community. Sometimes being a mom can feel so singular, it consumes you and you can easily feel overwhelmed. Being able to sit down and share a meal and having the support of other Native mothers that know exactly what you’re going through or just simply lending an ear can make all the difference. A place where they can share their grievances about their child’s behavioral problems, or family-related issues or anything else stressful in their life. Sometimes moms don’t need solutions or answers, they just need someone that will listen to them and sympathize with their struggles. 

“The group fits the needs for women that are taking care of kids and need that extra support. It can be such a struggle being a parent, and we attract moms from all walks of life. We provide consistency and positive support that some might not be getting outside the group. We’re like a family of our own,” Sasha said. 

Most of the women in the group have been attending since the creation of the group, and others since before they even gave birth to their children. It has become a space where women can just be themselves for a moment while their kids can run around and safely play with one another. Having a place that you can go every week and know that you have that sanctuary to just be.

Alayna Helland, Rosebud Sioux and Tulalip tribal member parent, has been attending Mom’s Group since March 2019. When she was finished with her 30-day treatment, she was 4 months pregnant, and in need of a positive environment and a new support system to help with her sobriety and all the challenges that comes with motherhood. Alayna said, “this group has made the biggest difference. I used to feel so isolated. Now I have friends that I can count on, that I know will check in on me, hold me accountable and keep me on the right path.” 

With a few other moms in the group that are also tackling sobriety, she found a new sense of belonging in an atmosphere where she can be honest about her journey without judgement. Alayna also talked about how she looks forward to group every week, and the wealth of knowledge she has taken away, “I learned that by becoming a well-rounded person, I can become a more well-rounded parent” she said.

The Tulalip Mom’s Group is reigniting traditional support systems by connecting Tulalip moms with other Tulalip moms, aunties, cousins, sisters and grandmothers. The group isn’t designed to have a formal structure, but rather bring forth the love, teachings, skills, and care that come with child-rearing within tribal communities. It teaches every day tasks that a mother should know to take care of the basic needs of their children, with an additional influence of the culture of our people. The group is designed not to teach you how to be just an effective mother, but how to be an affective Indigenous mother. Knowing the difference is what makes the Mom’s Group so special. Teaching the mothers skills like beading, weaving, and language is just a handful of the Native artistry that can be learned and taught to their children.

In a recent article written by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Indigenous Maya leader and activist, Dr. Anita F. Tzec spoke about Indigenous mothers and said, “we are the sacred promise and covenant with our future generations as we pass knowledge and techniques between grandmothers, mothers, and daughters.”

The Tulalip Mom’s Group is continuing to uplift each other and future generations. All mothers, aunties, cousins, sisters, and grandmothers that are raising Tulalip children are invited attend and join this free group at any time. Sasha is transitioning out as the group’s leadership, and integrating Kylee Sohappy into the role. If you would like to join, or have any questions about the group, please contact Kylee at 360-716-4402.

Back 2 School Party sends students off to school in a good way

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

The Don Hatch Youth Center parking lot was shut down on the afternoon of August 24. At the center of the campus, surrounded by a dozen of smiling faces, a creature with white fur and a blue face happily danced to a feel-good set curated by local Mixmaster, DJ Monie. 

You may ask why in the world the mythical legend known as the Yeti, a.k.a. the Abominable Snowman, was getting its grove on in near 80-degree weather. And the answer, of course, is to celebrate the Tulalip Education Division’s annual Back 2 School Party. 

“I think today was awesome,” exclaimed young tribal member, Peyton Gobin. “I came down because I wanted to see my friends and my family. I’m going into the 7th grade. I’m excited and think the new school year will be really fun.”

The Yeti tagged along to the shindig with the Grove Street Church, whose membership volunteered to supervise the rides and attractions. In addition to the many volunteers, the church also donated two bouncy houses so the youth could get their jump on during the back-to-school bash. 

To provide endless amounts of fun throughout the day, the Tulalip Education Division also enlisted the Reptile Girl, the Tulalip Police Department, the Tulalip Bay Fire Department, Paws With A Cause, Skate Like A Girl, Hatter Mike Balloon Twister, and QuakeHOLD! 

Youth of all ages had a blast during the five-hour event while they visited all of the activity booths, rides, and petting zoo animals including alpacas, turtles, and alligators. 

“I liked the lady with the whistles,” said Sophia Quimby. “Everyone’s been getting whistles from her, so I went up to her and she’s really nice. I got a whistle and also got a picture, and pencils from the fire department that I can take home. But my favorite part of the day was probably the pirate ship.”

Gia Joseph agreed, “Yes! The pirate ship was probably my favorite too. And I’m taking home a picture, a highlighter, and a coloring book.

“It’s a very exciting event,” Sophia added.

“It’s pretty much the best.” Gia concurred. 

With painted faces and snow cones in hand, the kids of Tulalip met with their friends and relatives as they explored the youth campus, taking plenty of time to ride the Pirate’s Revenge carnival ride and joust against each other in a padded ring, American Gladiators style.

“Seeing all the interactions with the children, it’s the big start for the new school year,” said Tulalip BOD, Hazen Shopbell. “I like seeing them all having fun together. I think this is a wonderful event where everyone comes together to help support the kids. It’s a good way to prepare them for school, I try to make it every year with my children.”

Inside the gymnasium were rows upon rows of information and resource booths. The idea of bringing-in departments such as Tulalip Higher Education, the Homework Support Club, and Family Resources, as well as Marysville School District (MSD) representatives including faculty from Heritage High, Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary and the MSD Native American Liaisons, was for students and families to get acquainted with their teachers, counselors, and all those who they will be working with throughout the academic year. 

“It’s important to celebrate back to school because our children need to see our excitement for learning,” expressed Tulalip Education Division Director, Jessica Bustad. “We want to thank all the volunteers, staff, vendors, MSD employees, and the Positive Youth Development team for providing the excitement of going back to school. It was great seeing the kids visit with their teachers, youth workers, and other organizations that serve them. It’s important for us to set that example for the kids. We want our kids to know that education is a priority to us, and we support them 100%. It’s been a long summer, so seeing all the smiling faces in one place is a good feeling. It’s nice to see the staff engaging and reuniting with their students.” 

The Back 2 School Party was the perfect way to close out summer and celebrate new beginnings as the 2022-2023 school year quickly approaches. 

“This event sends our kids back to school in a good way,” explained Tulalip Youth Advocate, Deyamonta Diaz. “It’s fun for the families to hang out, no stress, and meet with staff from their schools without the pressure of the school setting. We provide food so the families get to eat some good food and just enjoy the end of the summer before gearing up to get ready for school.”

Good luck to all the young scholars as they begin their new academic year! 

Tribes connected through culture and art

By Shaelyn Smead, Tulalip News

On September 27-28, weaving artist Leanne Campbell, traveled to Tulalip and held a weekend long Columbia Plateau Basketry workshop at the Hibulb Cultural Center. Leanne is Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Nez Perce, and travels frequently to connect and teach twining throughout different tribes in the area. 

Twining is a form of weaving that can be used for various baskets, bags, hats, etc. It’s a style of basketry that is very specific to Natives in the Columbia Plateau. When speaking with Tulalip tribal member Rae Anne Gobin, Leanne learned that there are some Colville and Nez Perce descendants within Tulalip, and thought that they might find the class interesting. But no matter who showed for the class, Leanne was excited and found this opportunity of teaching at Hibulb an act of preservation for traditional arts. 

Leanne first picked up weaving in the late 90s and didn’t start teaching until the mid 2000s, when she was asked to demonstrate at a weaving conference. From there, she branched out and began traveling more, offering her Columbia Plateau Basketry workshops, teaching at the Hazel Pete Institute, and participating in weaving conferences. When teaching workshops, Leanne provides basketry kits that are available for purchase, that way everyone can have the supplies that they’ll need to learn.

The class was filled with people from all walks of life. Some of those in attendance were Tulalip tribal members, Tulalip community members, Natives traveling from other tribes, and people from the general public. Traveling the furthest were Siletz tribal members, Charlene Holycross and Nadia Mosqueda, from Oregon. This mother and daughter duo have been following Leanne for quite some time and even traveled to see her in Idaho. They originally had connected with her through Facebook, and had won a hat that Leanne was raffling off. Since then, they’ve been dedicated students, absorbing as much knowledge as they can. 

“After I get the basics down, I want to start learning our Siletz baskets,” Nadia said. “Our tribe traditionally weaves with materials like fern, bear grass, and hazel root, so eventually I’ll be able to work my way towards that. But Leanne is such a great teacher and I love the designs she teaches, and hopefully I can incorporate them into our hats.” Nadia also spoke of her weaving journey and how none of it would’ve existed without inspiration from her mom, Charlene.

 “I’m not going to be here forever,” said Charlene. “You try to teach your kids and it can only go so far sometimes, but with the help of teachers like Leanne, her guidance has really helped. I love the time that I’ve been able to share with my daughter and even though it’s not our traditional style of weaving, I’m excited to use it with everything we have back home. I hope that this art can continue in my family.”

With the creation of organizations like Northwest Native American Basket Weavers Association, the Okanagan Basket Weavers, and many others, artist are able to travel to other tribes to learn from them and also share their craft. 

“This style of basketry is one that we were starting to see a decline in the number of people still doing it,” Leanne expressed. “For me, being able to teach this will help revitalize this traditional art and help keep it going. That’s what’s great about conferences, we all get to learn from each other. No matter what tribe we’re from, or what we’re sharing with each other, every tribe brings so much value and purpose, and it’s important that we keep traditional art alive.” 

Leanne also spoke about how our cultural learnings can go beyond just what is in our tribe. But as Native Americans, we can learn so much from each other, and work together to keep our cultural practices strong. 

Traditionally, Native Americans have taught each other different teachings from one generation passing down to another. With the advancement of technology, learning new skills like weaving have become so accessible. People are connecting with other artists on social media, watching tutorial videos online, and promoting conferences and/or events to increase awareness. Since then, new forms and styles of teaching have also expanded. Even new and modern-day materials are being introduced to these traditional skillsets. Some use contemporary materials like hemp twine, acrylic yarns, and wool that are typically more accessible are being used as an adaption to our modern world. 

No matter the material, it’s important to remember the cultural significance behind weaving. Leanne said, “Anyone could look at the baskets we make and say ‘oh that’s just a basket.’ But basket making is such a time perfected technique that has been passed down countless generations and for that traditional art to survive, it really speaks to the resiliency of that art to transform to modern time and modern materials,” 

The room was filled with concentrated intentions, collaborative storytelling, and amusement in their shared mistakes. One thing Leanne kept mentioning, is the importance of patience, and kindness to yourself whenever you’re taking on a new skillset.

She also spoke on the cultural importance behind the baskets. How even though it is an art form to be able to make a basket, to remember that these baskets have purpose. “Baskets are a part of food gathering practices, landscape, and seasons. When teaching, it’s also important to remind everyone of the cultural importance, and the celebration of our first foods,” she said. “Being able to work with other tribes and bond over these practices is very special.”

Leanne expressed extraordinary gratitude towards the Tulalip community, the hospitality they provided and the opportunity to teach at such a beautiful cultural center, and hopes one day she’ll be able to teach there again soon. 

The Hibulb Cultural Center continually brings in talented Native artists, be sure to stay updated and on the lookout for future events at /www.hibulbculturalcenter.org/Events.

Next Stop: Kindergarten

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

On the warm summer evening of August 18, over seventy young students made their final journey to the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy (TELA) campus after successfully completing the preschool program. 

Instilled with all the necessary knowledge to make the transition from TELA to the elementary school of their choosing, as well as equipped with many traditional and cultural teachings, the little scholars of Tulalip took part in a parade-style graduation ceremony to celebrate their latest achievement. 

“This is our third year of doing the parade because of COVID,” said TELA Montessori Manager, Tami Burdett. “We could’ve had a regular graduation this year, but our staff and families really enjoy this, so I think we’re going to continue doing the parade.”

The students entered the TELA parking lot inside vehicles decorated in their honor and were gifted large magnetic paddle cut-outs to display on their cars. Each paddle had the student’s name written alongside the cut-out as well as the young leader’s respective classroom. 

TELA also scheduled professional graduation photos for each student prior to the moving up ceremony. Leading up to the graduation, the students had the opportunity to create their first headbands with their families, so they can wear their traditional cedar weavings for their grad photo and the ceremony as well. 

Said Tami, “Katrina [Lane], our Family Events Coordinator, made headbands with each of the families. They use that headband for their preschool poster and then they also wore their headbands tonight. On their t-shirts we also incorporated the canoe. For instance, the paddling to preschool shirt has three paddles and the paddling to kindergarten has five paddles, representing the years that they spent with us. Katrina designed the t-shirts, and this is our second year of t-shirts.”

  As they rode through the pick-up/drop-off zone of the academy one last time, the students were cheered on by all their friends, families, and teachers. The teachers showed an outpouring of love to their students and presented them with gifts to commemorate their time spent at TELA. 

“It warms my heart,” Tami tearfully reflected. “This is important to celebrate because this is one of their first academic milestones. It’s a milestone for the families, and it’s a great way for the kids to see their families excited about their achievements at school, so that they know school is important. All of their teachers have done a fantastic job of preparing them for kindergarten, and it was great to see everyone cheer on each of our students today.”

Congrats to all the young graduates.

TELA students celebrate summer with stuffed animals and music

By Shaelyn Smead, Tulalip News

On July 16, the Tulalip Early Learning Academy (TELA) held their second annual teddy bear picnic for ages 6 weeks to 3 years old. 

With TELA’s year-round program, children have a list of summer activities to attend like the teddy bear picnic. The children were told that they could bring their favorite stuffed animals and enjoy a sing-a-long and puppet performance from ‘Alleyloop music’. Alleyloop has been connected with the Montessori for around 20 years, and continues to entertain Tulalip youth. 

The show consisted of guitar-based songs, different puppets with their own personal melodies, and games. Shortly following, the TELA kitchen provided sack lunches for the children to enjoy in either their classrooms or outside with their friends.

Montessori manager Tami Burdett said, “We love to bring in different entertainers like the dinosaur group with ‘live’ dinosaurs, and the reptile man, during the summer. We’ve worked with Alleyloop music for a while now, he has been awesome every time, and really gets the kids engaged. It’s great to just mix it up and have some fun activities to get the kids involved and outside.”

With the bright summer sun shining, and guitar hymns flowing through the air, the children had the time of their lives laughing, singing, and dancing with their friends and stuffed animals. 

The performance made for a great addition to their final school week of the year, and some of the teachers were left feeling bittersweet about their last moments with their graduating preschoolers. 

Enrollment for TELA is ongoing year-round and they welcome all Tulalip children. If you or someone has a child that you would like to join, please contact the academy at (360) 716 – 4250, and ask about the enrollment requirements and documents. 

Learning the fundamentals of S.T.E.M.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

According to the U.S. Department of Education, if we want a nation where our future leaders, neighbors, and workers have the ability to understand and solve some of the complex challenges of today and tomorrow, and to meet the demands of the dynamic and evolving workforce, then building our students’ skills, content knowledge, and fluency in STEM fields is essential. We must also make sure that no matter where children live, they have access to quality learning environments. A child’s zip code should not determine their STEM fluency. 

For those unfamiliar with the acronym STEM, its stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. On the Tulalip Reservation this concept can be thought of as career pathways to critical departments within our government, such as Natural Resources, Tulalip Data Services (TDS), construction and infrastructure building, and financial literacy necessary for various fields of Finance. 

In today’s fast-paced, constantly changing, techno-driven climate, it’s imperative our Tulalip youth be prepared with fundamentals of STEM teaching, such as problem-solving, making sense of important information, and being able to gather and examine evidence to make sound decisions. These were the skills being learned in truly stunning ways at this year’s 5th annual STEM week, made possible by some brilliant minds journeying all the way from Colorado and our local homework support program.  

“Our youth today are digital girls and boys in a world that is digitally based,” said Shana Simpson, lead student support specialist. “It is important for our kids to make these connections between science, technology and mathematics in order to draw out the relation to engineering. For this to be possible, they must first gain the knowledge to understand those connections and how they are applied to everyday life.”

Shana and her fellow coworkers were able to witness first-hand the amazing journey several Tulalip youngsters were able to have in the STEM realm. Nearly twenty kids, ranging in grade level from kindergarten to 6th grade, learned the fundamentals of STEM in the kind of fashion previous generations only experienced while watching Bill Nye the Science Guy. 

“It is highly enjoyable to watch our kids get nerdy as they are captivated by STEM activities,” added Shana. “After participating in STEM week, the kids continue to make their own observations and connections once they leave here. They are more likely to repeat what they have learned and pass their knowledge along. Hopefully, some continue to hold on to their interest and develop it into a true passion as they get older. Their participation in STEM week gives them an advantage at school and, we like to think, more opportunities in the future.”

Not only does STEM provide a new way of thinking and learning to students, the earning potential of a STEM versus a non-STEM career is staggering. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average wage for all STEM occupations is $87,570. This is nearly double the average wage for non-STEM occupations averaging just $45,700. 

The four-day STEM week hosted from August 1-4 was anticipated for some time by Matthew and Kathy Collier, who taught the course to Tulalip’s youth for four straight years before the pandemic forced a two-year hiatus. The 2022 rendition a host of fund, hands-on activities that the kids embraced and thrived in.

“The robotic gripper teaching is all about studying different designs and analyzing how to make them more efficient. It also is an engineering model used in used in prosthetic limbs and shows how they can extend the use of programming and engineering to help humans. It’s used in Robotics and manufacturing,” explained Matthew Collier, STEM education training specialist. “The experiment with the brain scanner allowed children to tangibly see the force of their brain waves, invisible yet tangible forces we all have in our brains. 

“We taught them about Theta and Beta brain wave,” he continued. “Through the activity, they could see that Theta waves grow stronger with rest and Beta waves grow stronger through intentional focus. This science is used in education, medical science, behavior research and more. Additionally, the push car derby with LEGOs taught them to explore the forces of push and pull, as well as the effects of friction between objects. It provides great examples of cause and effect.”

From brain waves and robotics to a LEGO derby and computer coding, some of Tulalip’s youngest minds were able to successfully grasp STEM fundamentals and apply them in a variety of activities that have real world applications. The best part about their experience was the instructors’ enthusiasm and passion for STEM education was infectious. To the point the young participants were genuinely learning while having fun.

“The importance of providing children with STEM opportunities when they are young is the way in which it empowers them to better navigate their 21st century world around them,” said Kathy Collier, STEM education program development. “They can become participants rather than spectators in regards to the technologies that will influence every sphere of society. Through STEM camps like this one, as children take part in these activities, they begin to connect the dots in their understanding and discover that they may carry ideas for the next invention…or perhaps realize they hold the answer to a problem the world needs solved.”

Reclaiming a narrative: 39 Tulalips honored for higher education success

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Every time a Native American graduates from a university, community college or vocational school, they become the living embodiment of what it means to reclaim a narrative. For so long Native students were shut out of academic environments where they could tell their own stories and advocate for their teachings, traditions and thriving cultures. 

When it comes to Native Americans and education, the dominant narrative is we can’t succeed in a westernized education system. United States census data supports this notion by showing that while more than 65% of American high school students go to college, just 19% of Native students continue their education after high school. In an age where education is an important cornerstone for self-sufficiency and quality of life, only 13% of tribal citizens age 25 and older hold a college degree. 

That 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. On the evening of July 12, thirty-nine such proud Tulalip scholars were celebrated for their commitment to higher education and, in the process, breaking the erroneous, often-cited stereotype that Natives don’t succeed on the collegiate level. 

“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 family and your future through education,” said Chairwoman Teri Gobin during the Higher Ed graduation banquet. “As a Tribe, we know we need to be better at utilizing your brilliant minds and supports our college graduates. As we continue to grow our business operations and evolve as a tribal government, we want you to feel welcomed 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 continues to grow larger every year. 

For some of the graduates, they are already working diligently to carve out a meaningful role on their traditional homelands. Two such examples are homegrown products Joseph Boon and Angela Davis. Both managed to balance a busy home life with multiple kid and a fulltime job with their tribe (Joseph with Youth Services and Angela with Tulalip Police), with a steady diet of college course work. For their immense efforts, Joseph received an associate’s degree from Northwest Indian College, while Angela earned a master’s degree from Grand Canyon University. 

Another shining example is 22-year-old Ruth Pablo. She has overcome so many obstacles and barriers, while remaining steadfast in her commitment to better self and community. In fact, her passion for instilling positive change amongst today’s youth can be traced back to 2015 when she was elected secretary of Tulalip’s very first Youth Council. Now, she’s a graduate of Northwest Indian College and intends to find her role in empowering the next generation of young leaders.

“I’d like to have a long and fulfilling career working with tribal youth,” said Ruth. “It’s so important to elevate their voices because they have so much to say, but unfortunately they aren’t given much of a platform. They tribe has done a lot for our youth, but still lack in some areas. One such area is providing a space for our kids to be comfortable speaking their truth about the most difficult aspects of being a tribal member in our community. I’d love to be given an opportunity to use my education to help create that space and give our kids the opportunity to speak in a way they truly deserve.”

While the vast majority of the higher ed graduates wore stunning cedar caps, made by Carmen Burke and gifted to them by the Tribe, Ruth pivoted in another direction. She made her own cap for this special occasion. Adorned with evergreen fern, an assortment of roses, and a prominent butterfly in its center, Ruth explained that her cap was meant to express one of her favorite quotes: “Bloom where you are planted.”

The higher education class of 2022 included 6 Associate’s degrees, 11 Bachelor’s degrees, 5 Master’s degrees and one very impressive PhD courtesy of newly minted doctor of philosophy, Dana Krsnada. Seven vocational diplomas and 9 high school diplomas rounded out the 39 Tulalip honorees. 

“There is such a sense of pride and accomplishment with this group because many of our graduates are the first in their family to graduate college,” explained Jeanne Steffener, higher education specialist. “We love to see so many choosing to continue their education in pursuit of a master’s degree or PhD. 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 Natives and education requires telling it anew with bold new characters and captivating subplots. Unquestionably, it will take a new generation of Native storytellers who have the ancestral knowledge and progressive savviness to unapologetically express our shared cultural values in all new ways. They must become trailblazers for those who came before them and those yet to come. 

Armed with a master’s of science degree in art therapy, Tulalip citizen Antonia Ramos is such a trailblazer. For her incredible courage to leave the friendly confines of Salish territory and tend to her undergraduate studies in Utah at Brigham Young University before moving on to Florida State, Antonia was chosen as a student speaker.

“My educational journey took me from Washington to Utah then to Florida. It’s difficult to express what it’s like being an Indigenous scholar in such a non-Indigenous environment. But at the end of the day, I love my education, I love the field I went into, and I love that now I’m home putting my education to good use,” beamed Antonia, who works as mental wellness therapist for her Tulalip community. 

“Art is so strong, so powerful. It’s so much more than even the word medicine can describe,” she added. “For Indigenous people art is so innate. We are drawn to art when we are celebrating, praying, gathering and healing. And it only made sense for me to heal generational trauma, to heal the mind and spirit in the same ways we’ve always done. In my striving to make therapy Indigenous and welcoming to our people, it only made sense to bring art into that.”

Native graduate stories are as complex and diverse as the students themselves. It’s often a longer, tougher road for Tulalip adults pursuing their education, which is all the more reason to celebrate their accomplishments. Such is the case with 54-year-old Tracie Stevens who managed to balance her mother role, path of sobriety and discovering her career pathway in management consulting with her ambition to become as educated as possible. Her fellow tribal members listened intently as she detailed her long and arduous journey to receiving an Executive Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington.

“What an extraordinary experience to share this space with all my fellow graduates as we are celebrated for our collective and individual academic achievements,” shared Tracie as one of the two keynote, student speakers. “Our people’s history is filled with the U.S. government’s perverse interpretation of the education provision in our treaties. Concepts like boarding schools, the doctrine of discovery and manifest destiny were used to justify the governments by all means necessary approach to eradicate or assimilate our ancestors. 

“Yet, here we are today in defiance of the U.S. government’s effort to diminish us, to assimilate us, and to eradicate us,” she continued. “Not only have we survived, but more importantly, we are thriving. In our own communities, we are supported by education while actively preserving our culture, our traditions and our ways of life.”

After honoring the latest cohort of college graduates, 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 education narrative, please contact Higher Education at (360) 716-4888 or email highered@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

2022 UNITY Conference: “You are not future leaders; you are our leaders of today” 

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

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.

Lushootseed Language Camp is underway

By Shaelyn Smead, Tulalip News

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 ngobin@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov or Michele Balagot at mbalagot@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov. 

Perseverance and a Diploma: Celebrating the Class of 2022

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“Welcome to our 2022 ceremony to celebrate our graduates,” said Rochelle Lubbers as she greeted the hundreds of family and friends who ventured to the Tulalip Resort on June 14. “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 they exemplified perseverance. Our students overcome these challenges and pushed through in whatever way they had to in order graduate. For that, their entire Tribe is proud of them and that’s why we’re here to celebrate this wonderful accomplishment.”

The triumphant atmosphere was palpable in the Resort’s Orca Ballroom as the unrelenting hopes and limitless dreams from the Class of 2022 took center stage with a stylish graduation banquet. 

A whopping seventy-eight high school seniors, accompanied by their loved ones, convened to commemorate the rite of passage. There were traditional songs sang and drummed, words of wisdom from tribal elders shared, opportunities to immortalize the occasion with a visit to on-site photo booth, a decadent buffet-style dinner, and plenty of motivational words offered from Tulalip’s next generation of leaders.

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 only 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. There are those newly minted adults who are far too eager to start a family of their own, and there are a few who never thought they’d graduate high school and now, having achieved the seemingly impossible, are in search of their next step. 

Then there are the awe-inspiring dream chasers. These type of high school grads aren’t satisfied with just the 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 as it pertains to Native Americans and the education system. 

Like, homegrown Tulalip tribal members Tamiah Joseph and Quintin Yon-Wagner. They were chosen as Class of 2022 student speakers and shared heartfelt words to the Ballroom crowd. Tamiah was noted as being a standout athlete during her participation in Rising Stars gymnastics and UNITY basketball, as well as being credited for being a NABI finalist, Tulalip Nationals Champion, and 2022 WIAA District Champion. 

“I didn’t think I’d make to this day, honestly. But now I’m here and so thankful for all the support I’ve received. I’m delighted to share that next year I will be attending Multnomah University on a full-ride scholarship to play women’s basketball,” said Tamiah from the podium. “My high school experience was far from what I imagined it would be. From 8th grade on, my academic journey was not easy. However, my experiences have led me to who I am today. Returning to the class room setting after living through a pandemic was a difficult transition, with all the social expectations and norms of everyday high school.

“During my high school journey I was able to experience life outside of my tribal community,” she continued. “From traveling all across the nation for AAU and Native basketball tournaments, to being a part of ArchBishop Murphy playoff runs. I experienced triumphs and failures, but with each I became a stronger person for both myself and my family. I wish all my fellow graduates the best in your future endeavors and hope each of you realizes that your capable of greatness.”

  Meanwhile, Quintin shared how the two-year hiatus from the classroom for most students during the coronavirus pandemic may have been a struggle, but when viewed from a certain perspective it only helped prepare them for adulthood. He also credited Tulalip’s Education team, Marysville Indian Education, and the Tribe’s volunteer educators who assisted the community when it needed them most.

“We can all agree this has to be the most abnormal high school experience a student can go through,” Quintin said. “After waiting two long years, we finally came back to school, and we came back stronger than ever. This class of 2022 put their heads down and persisted through all the pandemic struggles in order to reach this stage. I appreciate all the parents and family support systems that adapted to online and at-home learning. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. 

“The tough times we had to endure provided us with essential life lessons about priorities, time management, and sacrificing fun for what’s actually important,” he added. “After all the trials of the past four years, we’ve finally made it to graduation. I’m so excited to see where the paths lead each of you and hope that no matter the journey, the destination is fulfilling and prosperous. I’d like to share that I will be attending Central Washington University in the fall on a full-ride scholarship to play football and further my education in Mathematics and Business Administration.”

Becoming leaders of the present may seem like a daunting task to most young adults who have grown accustomed to daily consistency and certain levels of comfort provided by a cushy K-12 education. However, for these Native youth, they’ve been bucking the trend and blazing new paths to academic success for years now without even realizing it. They’ve overcome long odds that said they wouldn’t earn a high school diploma, while breaking down barriers that prevented previous generations from attending college.

For our students, their ability to thrive in the westernized school system and graduate with top honors meant not only proving the doubters wrong, but also proving their ancestors right. The right for future generations to be educated and have the ability to pursue a Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate Degree was something previous tribal leaders fought and sacrificed for. Their vision comes true every time an Indigenous citizen boldly ventures off to a University armed with strength of culture and a tribe’s worth of support. 

Natalie Otto soared into Tulalip from the Bird Clan of Eastern Cherokee. Far from her traditional homelands, the Otto family embraced the local community, which allowed Natalie to thrive in and out of school. Natalie participated in ASB where she held the role of Secretary during her senior year, while maintaining a flawless 4.0 GPA. She graduated atop her Marysville Getchell graduating class and for her stellar academic efforts was named valedictorian. She was also awarded Indigenous Student of the Year.

“I’m so humbled to have received scholarships from both the Tulalip Tribes and Marysville. These scholarships will help fund my college education and assist me achieving my next goal, which is to graduate Penn State University with a degree in fashion,” shared Natalie post-banquet. “My great-grandmother Dr. Lee Piper was heavily involved in our Cherokee culture and instilled in her family a dedication to becoming educated. My whole life, my goal was to become valedictorian. In doing so I honor her legacy the best way that I can.”

The final two awards given out on the evening were the coveted Tulalip Senior Students of the Year. Having spoke already, where he detailed his college plans, it was no shocker that Quintin was announced as the first student of the year. He was described as holding a 3.7 GPA, being a National Honors Society member, four-year varsity letterman in football and a 4x defensive player of the year.

The second Tulalip Senior Student of the Year winner was the four-year wrestling standout, three-year letterman earner for football, National Honor Society achiever, 3.67 GPA toting and proud Diversity Club member, Brianna Williams. Her educators describe her as having an abundance of positive energy that shows through with her stellar leadership, work ethic, athletic brilliance, compassion for others, and exceptional commitment to improving both herself and the world around her. 

She has earned many accolades during her high school tenure, but what stands out most is her humility and willingness to embrace challenges and new learning opportunities. This is summed up best by her dream to become a civil rights attorney.  

“The current school system wasn’t meant for us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t break those stereotypes. It doesn’t mean we can’t change the system from within and build ourselves up to make real change in the world,” explained Brianna with a beaming smile. “I’d like to thank my mom for everything she’s done to support me on my educational journey. She made it possible for me to dream of being a civil rights attorney. If that doesn’t work out, then hopefully another career in law because like our leaders tell us all the time, our Tribe needs lawyers and judges who understand our people. Through education, we can make this dream a reality.”

The annual graduation banquet culminated in a ballroom’s worth of support hooting and hollering 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.