Construction jobs are booming! Tulalip’s TVTC program is here to take full advantage

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Educators, parents and others often place strong emphasis on college preparation and earning an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree by traditional means. But that lengthy and expensive route often means accruing a ton of debt just to enter a highly competitive job market. College degrees may be preferred for many, however, there are a growing number of students who see a more hands-on future for themselves. For these individuals, unafraid of getting their hands dirty and learning the true meaning of a hard day’s work, there is an abundance of opportunity within the construction industry.

Whether it be laborer, carpenter, ironworker, electrician or heavy equipment operator, there are countless positions available for work and advancement within the trades, especially for sought after minorities like Native Americans and women. A major access point for entry into these desirable career paths for tribal citizens and their families continues to be Tulalip’s own TERO Vocational Training Center (TVTC).

“Not everybody wants to be a doctor or lawyer. Not everybody wants a desk job. I’m a lifetime fisherman that started a construction company when it became apparent we could no longer sustain ourselves simply by living off the land,” said former Tulalip board of director Glen Gobin. “Some want to be outside working with their hands. That’s what brings people to our training program. It gives them an opportunity to get exposure to all the different trades, learn how to function on a job site and how to get work. Graduates of TVTC enter a section of the workforce that is in high demand.”

Along the I-5 corridor, from Olympia to Mt. Vernon, construction projects are booming and many on-site jobs continue to go unfilled. While other career pathways may be oversaturated and hard to come by, those within construction trades are thriving. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, open construction positions are expected to increase by more than 700,000 jobs nationally through 2028, a faster growth than any other occupation. In Washington State alone, there are nearly 3,000 unfilled construction jobs that pay much more than the average state wage. 

Brighter horizons and prospects galore were among the reasons so many gathered to celebrate the TVTC spring cohort’s graduation on June 10 at the Gathering Hall. Thirteen students (including nine Tulalip citizens and two women) were honored with a banquet for their commitment to building a better future. Among those in attendance were trade union representatives, several construction company managers, and many cheerful family members.

“Our TVTC graduates earned various certifications and college credits, while learning many skills that will undoubtedly make an impact on their future,” explained TERO coordinator Billy Burchett. “We thank the Tulalip Tribes, Washington State Department of Transportation, Sound Transit, and the Tulalip Cares charitable fund for always supporting us. These organizations and community partners are ensuring our future leaders have meaningful career paths.”

TVTC is the first and only state and nationally recognized Native American pre-apprenticeship program in the entire country. The program is accredited through South Seattle Community College and Renton Technical College, while all the in-class, hands-on curriculum has been formally approved by the Washington State Apprentice and Training Council.

The sixteen-week program provides 455 hours of hands-on instruction, strength building exercises, and construction skills that can last a lifetime. In addition, students are trained and earn certifications in flagging, first aid/CPR, industrial fork lift and scissor lift, 40-hour HAZWOPER, and OSHA 10-hour safety. 

Homegrown Tulalip citizen Duane Henry opted to retake the class after not being able to complete it his first time around because of a coronavirus infection. To jumpstart an all-new career path as a tradesman, he had to grit and grind. The 19-year-old maintained a full-time position at Taco Time working a hybrid swing/graveyard shift. He sacrificed convenience and some sleep to attend the TVTC class every week day.

“I love to stay busy,” shared Duane. “I was disappointed not being able to finish last season because of covid, but it was understandable and something out of my control. But I came back and got all the way through this time. Now, I look forward to creating a new career with construction.”

When asked what he’d say to his fellow tribal members who think they can’t take the TERO class and hold down a full-time job at the same time, Duane quickly responded with “That’s nonsense! It’s all about balancing priorities. If I can do it, you can do it.”

Along with gaining a wide-range of new employment opportunities via the trades, two diligent students, Cobey Comenote and Chance Guzman, took advantage of the educational aspect and earned their high school diploma.

With hundreds of skilled-trade workers retiring every day across the state, the construction industry needs the next generation workforce to help build an ever-growing Puget Sound community. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, construction employment climbed by 36,000 jobs in May alone, while hourly earnings rose at the fastest yearly rate in 40 years. These are job opportunities that actually pay a living wage and are available to people straight out of high school.

Only a year ago, Alonzo Jones and Isiaha Moses were part of the largest Heritage High graduating glass in school history. Now, both are graduating TVTC with a litany of every day skills and are eager to put them to use. 

“As a basketball player, I had zero construction experience before this class and hadn’t used any of the power tools before. It was hard switching it up, but with the support of my family and Tribe I know it’s worth it in the long run,” said Alonzo. “While building bird houses, a saw horse, and two tiny homes, I learned I really like carpentry. Building things with my hands and seeing the finished product is amazing. At the end of the day, we traded four months of commitment and focus to Tulalip and TERO for a legit chance at a life-long career. It’s time to cash in.”

Two hardworking ladies were among this season’s graduating class. Carissa Robinson and Ora Yallup (Yakama) both desired to acquire a new skillset while creating a pathway to a better and brighter future.

“Prior to enrolling in the class, I was unemployed and a stay at home mom with my two daughters. I wanted something better for myself and to show my daughters what’s possible,” shared Carissa. “I told them I was going back to school and they were happy for me. It was so cute because my oldest would tell me ‘have a good day at school mom’ when I’d drop her off in the morning. 

“Carpentry as a career path really speaks to me. I’d like to earn an apprenticeship at the local 292 union. There’s so much transferable skills and opportunity within the trades. This experience can only brighten the future for me and my daughters,” she added.

It takes some grit for sure, but for those folks with a strong work ethic and can-do attitude, they can find themselves being an integral part of a local construction site. 

“When our student graduates go out into the world of construction, they can compete on equal footing with anybody,” said TVTC instructor Lisa Marx during the graduation ceremony. She replaced long-time instructor Mark Newland when he retired last year. Lisa is a real-life pioneer who completed a Scaffold Apprenticeship for a carpenter’s union and is now looking to pave the way for more inspirational women.

“I come from a pretty tough background myself and know what it’s like to want a new beginning,” shared instructor Lisa. “To help those in need of direction find their way through hard work and a gritty skill set, and to see each of our students excel and graduate just makes my heart so happy. Today, there is so much opportunity for everyone, especially women. The construction culture has seen a huge shift in the last five years. 

“Many programs, like the City of Seattle and Sound Transit, have initiated a priority hire program that actively seeks out people of color and women to join their job sites. Graduates of our program make for ideal candidates and that’s why its so great to witness the strides they’ve taken to create a better future for themselves and their community.” 

Those interested in being among the next available TVTC cohort or would like more information about the program, please call (360) 716-4760 or email Ltelford@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov 

Tulalip TERO is actively recruiting for its summer cohort. Don’t miss out on a life changing opportunity. 

Leveling up in the educational journey

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

It is that time of year again. Sometimes referred to as cap and gown season, the beginning of summer marks the end of yet another academic year. Young students are often filled with optimism and pride as they close their school year strong before the summertime break, and look forward to a new opportunity come Fall as they begin the next grade in their education career. High school and college graduates are celebrated for their major achievements before they move onto the next challenge and phase of their lives. 

There are a few other transition periods that young students go through in the pursuit of diplomas and degrees, including the completion of elementary and junior high school. Big changes lay ahead for this year’s group of 5th and 8th grade students, and the community showed their love and support for the local students who recently leveled-up in their educational journey, moving up to middle and high school respectively.

5th Grade Honoring: Next Stop – Junior High

Nearly 40 young Native American students will be taking the next step in their education journey next Fall as they move on from elementary school to middle school. A handful of students gathered at the Hibulb Cultural Center on the evening of May 25th and the young learners were recognized for all their hard work and academic achievements. 

“I graduated from Kellogg Marsh and I am going to Cedar Crest,” said 5th Grade Graduate, Marco Garcia. “Going into middle school, I am most looking forward to art!”

The annual 5th grade honoring was co-coordinated and funded by the Tulalip Education Division and Positive Youth Development team. The honoring united students from over ten different elementary schools throughout the district. 

The new middle schoolers formally met the Marysville School District Native liaisons as well as some of their future classmates. The Tulalip Youth Council was in attendance and invited the recent graduates to participate in local events for the youth, and also encouraged the kids to run for the youth council during next year’s elections. 

Both Tulalip tribal leaders and MSD officials shared inspiring words with the students about the value of a good education as well as the importance of continuing to learn and practice their cultural teachings. Pixie Owyen was also honored for her work with the Native MSD students over the past 28 years.

Young Madison Sheldon proudly expressed, “Today was a day of honoring, when 5th graders graduate from elementary school. I’m coming from Liberty elementary. I’m trying to go to 10th street middle school, and I am on the waiting list. I’m looking forward to getting good grades and trying to meet my goals.”

8th Celebration: On to High School

On May 31st, the Tulalip Education Division and the Marysville School District Indian Education department held a special ceremony at the Greg Williams Court gymnasium. 

Proud parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles celebrated approximately twenty local youth, consisting of both Tulalip tribal members and other tribal members, who completed their journey in junior high this year. 

“Today was good, I feel really happy,” stated 8th Grade Graduate, Amaya Hernandez. “I am graduating from Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help and I am going to Archbishop Murphy High School. I am looking forward to sports the most – volleyball, basketball and softball. And my long-term goal – I want to be a doctor!”

Moving on to high school from middle school is a big step and a number of tribal leaders offered words of encouragement to the students, including Chairwoman Teri Gobin, the MSD Native Liaisons, and Montana State University Hooper RaeQuan Battle. The Marysville-Getchell Native American and Friends club attended the celebration and introduced themselves to the soon-to-be freshmen while inviting them to join the club. 

Lushootseed Language Warrior Maria Rios was honored as well for her dedication to revitalizing and preserving the traditional Tulalip language and passing on her teachings to the students of MSD throughout the years.

Following the moving ceremony, the celebration closed with traditional song and dance. The kids were dressed in their regalia. Wearing ribbon shirts and skirts, they took to the floor as everyone gathered in a circle and drumbeats echoed through the gymnasium. 

Said young graduate, Raylee Lewis, “We celebrated our years through school tonight by using our cultural teachings. We did the honoring song, the welcoming song. We all got to eat and celebrate with our families and teachers. Connecting with my roots is really important, and I’ve done it my whole life. As I’ve grown older, I realized the significance of it and being with my community, and how it will help me grow and everybody else grow. This makes me feel really happy because I knew a lot of these kids since preschool. I am going to do running start, that’s my biggest goal for high school  – and learning Lushootseed!”

Congratulations to all the graduates! 

Future leaders break ground for TELA expansion

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Laughter and excited voices of young children filled the air on an overcast Spring morning outside of the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy (TELA). The kids stood before a large dirt pile and with plastic shovels in hand. The future of Tulalip held the honor of officially breaking ground for a much-needed expansion on the Academy’s birth-to-three side of the campus. With joyous vigor, the kids took turns driving their shovels into the dirt. Some of the youngins simply uplifted the dirt from one area to the next, making sure to pat down any areas with clumps, while others flung dirt high into the air in celebration, hilariously causing uprooted earth to shower down on their teachers and classmates.

“We wanted this to be about the kids,” exclaimed Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy Director, Sheryl Fryberg. “We had them come out and do it because this is going to be for them, for the little people. It was so beautiful having them take part. It was so exciting for them to be out here and digging in the dirt.”

For the past seven years, since first opening, TELA has been an excellent program for the kids of the Tulalip community. More than just a daycare or your average pre-school, the reservation-based early learning academy implements the Tulalip culture into the young minds of the Tribe’s future leaders.

Sheryl stated, “Research says that when we bring the culture and language to our children, they do better in the school years, college years, career years and in life. That’s the foundation that we want to build here for as many of our children as we can. We have a lot of families out here who need great childcare and the work that we do here is more of a school, that’s why we call it an academy. We’re laying a really strong foundation for kids to be successful in elementary, middle school, high school – we want to wrap them in our culture and language here in their early years.” 

Throughout the first years of the students’ lives, the kiddos are fully-immersed in the Coast Salish culture at the academy where they learn Tulalip songs, stories, traditions and the Lushootseed language. Prior to COVID-19, the academy regularly held ‘culture day’ once a month, where the students would take part in an assembly and activity, learning of the Tulalip lifeways as well as other cultures from around the globe. 

“All our classrooms are incorporating the Tulalip culture, and other cultures, in the classrooms,” said TELA Birth-to-Three Grants Manager, Mekyla Fryberg. “We have the Lushootseed department that works with us, and they provide that language in the classrooms every single day. Our teachers are using the language with the kids, we have a curriculum that we built together with the language department, and that has been something that we have strived for and I believe we are making way. Today, we were able to see the kids bring their drums out from their classrooms and share songs in our groundbreaking ceremony. And that is something that we have aimed for, to provide our kids with the opportunity to embrace their culture.”

With the expansion, TELA will be adding an additional three classrooms for the birth-to-three program, which ultimately means more students will receive those cultural teachings once the new wing is completed. The new classrooms will be larger in size and thus will provide space for more kids in each class.

The expansion is something the academy has been working towards for years said Mekyla. Every year, once the program has reached full capacity, there has been a waitlist of approximately thirty kids who want to begin their academic career with TELA. Most of those families unfortunately had to turn to alternate childcare, and therefore have missed out on the cultural-based teachings. With the new classrooms, the hope is for the waitlist to be eliminated and that all the children of the Tulalip community will get the chance to attend the academy. 

“Prior to COVID, we always had a waiting list for like thirty children who wanted to come to the birth-to-three wing,” said Sheryl. “It seems like it keeps growing every year, so we took advantage of some grant dollars that we had available, and the Tribe kicked in some funding also to help us build this addition so we can hopefully meet the needs of our community.”

Added Mekyla, “I started here when we first opened in 2015 and I have witnessed first-hand the need for those additional enrollment slots in the birth-to-three program. There has been a waitlist of between fifteen to thirty kids every school year. As soon as we reach full enrollment, there’s a waitlist. To know that we are going to be able to open-up three new classrooms, that’s rewarding for me to know that we saw the need and acted on that need, and that we are going to be able to complete this project and serve our community the best that we can.”

After participating in the groundbreaking ceremony, TELA students will be involved with the expansion project until it’s completion. The new wing is slated to open in the Fall of 2023, but the kids will be able to visibly track its progression throughout the project, as the windows along the birth-to-three corridor will remain uncovered so the kids can see the construction process take place. 

“It was thrilling to witness the kids participate in moving dirt and complete that groundbreaking ceremony,” expressed Mekyla. “It’s been a long time coming to complete this project. It’s exciting because this will improve our services that we offer to families and increase our enrollment.”

Honoring our Sovereignty Warriors 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in.”

Those immortal words were said by Nisqually tribal member and internationally recognized civil right leader Billy Frank Jr. in his biography Messages from Frank’s Landing. His message was visible on t-shirts proudly worn by Quil Ceda Tulalip staff members during the month of March as the school dedicated four weeks to teaching their students about sovereignty, treaty rights, and three legendary figures known as sovereignty warriors: the aforementioned Billy and local Tulalip icons Stan Jones Sr. and Bernie Gobin. 

Although all three warriors have passed away, in 2014, 2019 and 2009 respectively, they continue to live on in the stories told and memories shared by their loved ones. Homegrown educators Kamiakin Craig and Toneena Gobin have both recently joined the QCT staff as cultural specialists. Kamiakin, the grandson of Bernie Gobin, and Toneena, the granddaughter of Stan Jones, wrote books about their grandfathers that were used as curriculum and read aloud by QCT students and teachers alike while learning about Tulalip sovereignty.

“It’s been such a surreal experience working at Quil Ceda because when I went here there wasn’t a lot of culture, but now the students are really taught to embrace and celebrate culture,” said 22-year-old Toneena. “A few months back I was sitting in a meeting and heard our staff talk about celebrating Billy Frank Jr. month. I told them that’s awesome, but asked why we don’t have anything for the leaders who lived here, our Tulalip leaders that many of the kids benefited from. That sparked a larger conversation and I’m thankful for our QCT leaders, especially assistant principal Chelsea Craig, for not just understanding but implementing this must-needed change. 

“My grandpa was a huge part of my life. He taught me so many things, like what it means to be culturally involved, the importance of sticking to your word, and to always remember that no matter how we progress as tribal members we have a responsibility to give back to our community,” she added while wiping away happy tears. “Working at the elementary where many of the kids know me as auntie Neena, I feel it’s my responsibility to pass on the teachings given to me about canoe journey and salmon ceremony. I want all our kids to be proud to be Tulalip and never know what its like to have to hide their culture.” 

While Toneena and Kamiakin shared their self-authored children books about two beloved Tulalip icons to the eager to learn K-5 students, the QCT family also enjoyed their annual journey into the many teachings of Billy Frank Jr. 

Billy spent much of his life advocating for human rights for all, particularly the Coast Salish people of western Washington. He was on the front line in the controversy protecting treaty-guaranteed Native American fishing rights in the 1960s and ‘70s. His perseverance landed him in jail more than 40 times, a fact QCT students love to blurt out when asked about a cool Billy story, but he also helped guarantee fishing rights when the Boldt Decision was handed down in 1974.

In commemorating all the valuable lessons learned and cultural teachings practiced during March, an honoring assembly was held on Friday, March 25 at the Quil Ceda Tulalip gymnasium. In a beautiful tribute to the Nisqually activist, dozens of elementary students participated in carrying a hallway-spanning collaborate art piece representing healthy, vibrant salmon swimming upstream. Then twelve students took to the center of the assembly and in unison chanted:

  • B believe, be bold, be brave
  • I  inspirational
  • L leadership
  • L legacy
  • Y yearn for change

“Leaders like my father Bernie, Stan Jones and Billy Frank taught us from a young age to know who you are and where you come from as tribal people and to ground yourself in traditional teachings before going anywhere else,” explained Board of Director, Glen Gobin to the respectfully quiet gym full of sitting QCT students looking up at him. “Understand who you are. Understand your ancestors. Understand their values and their struggles so that together we can understand their hopes and dreams they had for us today.

“My dad grew up being a fisherman. He loved fishing above all things, except his family and his tribe,” continued Glen. “Fishing was life and he did it as long as he could. Even when he lost the use of his legs, we still found a way to get him onto the top of his boat where he sat all day. Then when it was time all his grandkids would help him off the boat and into his wheelchair cart. That was how he spent his final days, doing what he loved. Nothing was going to hold him back from getting out there on the water.

“I leave you all with that thought – let nothing hold you back from following your passions. Remember your teachings. Remember what you learned about these sovereignty warriors and how they stood up for what they believed in. And most importantly, remember how your ancestors made right decisions for righteous reasons for both themselves and their people as well. I thank you all for honoring these three individuals who are very important in our lives. They showed us how to what’s right by protecting our resources and standing up for the environment.”

Concluding the QCT honoring assembly were a number of Tulalip songs and dances that students enthusiastically participated in, while the portraits of Stan Jones and Billy Frank looked on. Undoubtedly, their spirits rejoiced as a whole new generation of sovereignty warriors sang, danced, and drummed to their cultural heart’s desire. 

Carrying on culture through the power of storytelling

By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News

Storytelling is a cultural tradition passed through generations of Native American people. These stories speak of legends, folktales, and fables. They also have the ability to recount the history of our people, rituals, relate to everyday life, and educate children about cultural morals and values. 

Luckily today, many traditional stories are now readily available in books, various audio formats, and videos. But before these technological advances, they were carried on through oral communication. Today if you were to find the written records of historical events and stories, they would contain more visual aspects than narration. Every time a story is shared from one generation to another, it is preserving Native culture, cultivating the Native languages, and honoring our ancestors before us.

Language is one of the most important aspects of any culture. Language paves the way so that people can communicate with one another, build relationships, and create a sense of community. Like many other tribes across the nation, our language and having the freedom to use it is a privilege that our ancestors fought so desperately to keep.

Tribal stories often reflected the land they were on at the time, like hunting routes, local plants, how tribes came to be, family lineage, their spiritual leaders and elders, etc. Therefore, if you listen to stories told by the Inuit of Alaska, their stories may differ from the Seminole of Florida. 

In other ways, storytelling acted as a tool. It is how Native Americans maintained their symbiotic connection to the earth and relationships with animals. As they explored various parts of their land, the language and verbal use of storytelling helped them to live off the land, survive their environment, and how to best utilize the natural resources around them. Some of the themes surrounding storytelling were about creatures, fantasy and realism, places, tricksters, the creator, heroes, society, rites of passage, and disasters. 

Most of these stories were shared through talking circles, similar to events that the Hibulb Cultural Center puts on. On January 8th, 2022, a small group gathered to listen to Maria Rios share this tradition. She recited stories both in English and in Lushootseed.

Rios currently works for the Tulalip Tribes Lushootseed Department. But her love for the language goes as far back as when she was three years old. Her older cousin Tony Hatch was her teacher and helped her learn the language. She said, “Storytelling is a part of our culture and who we are. For me, as a kid, it was a way to learn how to behave and the ways of the world without being scolded.” She went on to talk about the values of people learning about Tulalip through these stories, “The words, the language, it all comes from the land. We have stories about the animals, because we observed them and picked up on the characteristics of them. Everything you learn, you can find a story related to it.”

One of the audience members, Mae Mcgehee said, “We try to come to all of the storytellings. We moved up here a couple of years ago, and it was important that we understand and respect the land and the people on it. Everything is connected, and we knew we needed to come here to listen to these stories.”

There is a lot of historical value that comes from people continuing storytelling today. Repeating the stories that were once told is an opportunity to share the mindsets that our ancestors had and continue our cultural values for future generations. Knowing our Native language is an essential aspect for storytelling, but understanding the worth and meaning behind these stories is what will continually shape our people.  

If you or someone you know is interested in reading some of these stories, or want to share them with your friends and family, you can find most of them through the Lushootseed Department’s website. If you would like to listen to the stories in-person, you can find more information about related events on the Hibulb Cultural Center’s website, or call (360) 716-2600 and ask about their upcoming Storytelling event.

Honoring our Indigenous educators

Indigenous educators recognized for having 20+ years of experience.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

While the vast majority of students were enjoying their winter break and anxiously awaiting what would become Snowmageddon, a special gathering took place among the Indigenous educators of Marysville School District. Co-hosted by MSD’s Indian Education and Tulalip’s Positive Youth Development teams, all Indigenous educators within the District, and their families, were invited to Heritage High School’s commons area to be honored for their united goal of decolonizing education. 

Decolonizing education means to dismantle a colonial system. In this case, the specific colonial system is education, which wasn’t integrated until the 1970s after decades of legal battles. So then how can a system that separated white people and people of color for hundreds of years, a system that was created and maintained by white people for the benefit of white people, all of a sudden become an inclusive system that prioritizes the success of all? Put simply, it can’t. 

Tulalip elder Dawn Simpson, with 50 years of education work, stands beside Heritage counselor Shonta Paul.

In order to achieve such a lofty goal, it’ll require the tireless pursuit and often underappreciated life’s work of Native culture bearers who are fully aware that they are raging against the machine and regularly feeling like no matter how much they do it’s never enough. Yet, for these special few, they know the deck is stacked against them but they’ll answer the call anyway. They take the college classes, get the required degrees, and receive the necessary accreditations to gain entry into colonized school systems as Indigenous educators. 

Armed with traditional teachings and ancestral wisdom, and fueled by a relentless love for their people, it’s the Indigenous educators who are fighting to change the education system from within. From their positions they can actively provide an environment where Native students can learn about, and be proud of, their history and culture. It is these educators who were celebrated on that December evening. 

“I’m going on my eighteenth year now working in education. In my new position I’m so honored to be working with all of you, the beautiful Indigenous educators of our District. As far as I know, this is the first time a celebration like this has been held exclusively for you all,” remarked Matt Remle, MSD Indian Education coordinator, to all in attendance. “The thought behind this event is simple. We want to honor, encourage, and uplift our Native educators because what you all do every day is remarkable and worth celebrating.”

“I want to thank you all for being here and allowing us to acknowledge you together as our Indigenous educators,” added Jessica Bustad, executive director of Tulalip Education. “Words can’t express how important you are, and the work that you do to positively impact our youth is immeasurable. But we do know how important it is for us to support each other.

 

Heritage teacher Marina Benally (center) with her son and daughter who both work as educators
within the District.

“We know that these systems we work in were not built for our Indigenous students,” she continued. “Times are difficult right now, but it’s never been easy doing the kind of work we do. What keeps us going is a shared dedication to our students’ success and a passion to do what we can to help them thrive in and out of the classroom. The Indigenous students within the District need and depend on us. They are so fortunate to have educators who genuinely care for them, and I hope you all know how much of a difference you make.”

Public education was among the first colonial institutions deployed over Native American tribes as a tactic to subordinate, confuse and debilitate. The effort to forcibly assimilate Native children through education took place all of the United States. Today, we refer to this effort as the Boarding School Era; when Native children were removed from their families and placed in faraway boarding schools to eradicate Native culture. Whether the boarding schools were sponsored by the church, state or federal government is of little difference. The Native students were stripped of their traditional languages, clothing, and teachings. They weren’t able to see themselves in the curriculum nor in those individuals appointed as teachers.

Because of our Indigenous educators’ efforts, the same cannot be said for Native students within Marysville School District. They have opportunity to see themselves in Since Time Immemorial curriculum, and to learn traditional teachings from their elders who unapologetically display their Native cultures in the school setting. From intricately handwoven cedar to vibrant ribbon skirts and beaded earrings, to Lushootseed words and the heartbeat of hand drums, the sights and sounds of a thriving Native culture is embodied by these educators.

During the celebratory dinner, within the commons area of Heritage High School, the sentiment was shared how fitting the location was. The high school located on the Tulalip Reservation, dreamt of by past leaders, serves as a model that can redefine and inspire Indigenous education. Nationally, many Native students struggle with low academic achievement and only about half graduate from high school. Contrast that with Heritage High recently setting records for overall student enrollment and total number of seniors earning their diploma. It becomes easy then to understand the importance of allowing Native youth to learn in a community-led, culturally-rich environment.

Marina Benally has been teaching Tulalip’s youth for twenty-three years. Most recently as a teacher at Heritage where she is routinely spoken highly of by her students, past and present. Before the intimate gathering, Marina asked her son, Terrance, and daughter, Amanda, to stand with her. Her kids have inherited their mom’s passion for educating the next generation, as they both work as Indigenous educators in the District as well.

“We love being here and are forever grateful to be entrusted with educating your students,” said an emotional Marina. “Ray and Sheryl Fryberg recruited me to come here and help the Tulalip youth back in 1999. Since then, we’ve made Tulalip our home, and you all have helped make us feel like we belong. We thank the Tulalip community for upholding us. Like each and every one of the Indigenous educators out there, we stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us.”

 Quil Ceda 4th grade teacher Tanya Houle (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) sharing her educational journey. 

There were songs shared, traditional medicines offered, and many messages of encouragement between the group of educators. After a hearty meal, a special recognition of those who had 20+ years working in education ensued. Each offered more good words on the mic before being blanketed. Tulalip elder Dawn Simpson received a huge ovation when she announced she now has over 50 years helping her people achieve their academic goals, and she’s still working.

“Dawn was the lifeline for many of us educators here today,” shared Quil Ceda assistant principal Chelsea Craig. “When we were the young students attending schools within the Marysville School Districts, we may not have had much support, but we had Dawn. She was always there and some of us may not be doing the work we are today if it wasn’t for Dawn paving that foundation.”

Imagine how many Native students within the District these awe-inspiring educators are impacting every year. How many kids are excited to go to school and learn from teachers who look like them, or are emboldened to wear traditional regalia, even if it’s just accessories, because their teachers sparked that Native pride? Now, envision just a fraction of these students being inspired to create real change because their educators made them believe it was possible. That’s a kind of cultural legacy powerful enough to take down a system, maybe even to decolonize education.

Students celebrate Tulalip Day

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Prior to a four-day holiday weekend, the students of Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary (QCT) and Tulalip Heritage High spent the morning of November 24 immersed in Tulalip culture. Engaging in song and dance, and even speaking traditional Lushootseed, the kids were excited to participate in the return of the school’s yearly Tulalip Day celebration.

An official holiday for the Tribe and surrounding communities, Tulalip Day is observed on the last Friday of every November and honors the sovereignty, resiliency, heritage, traditions and culture of the Tulalip Tribes. 

QCT Vice-Principal Chelsea Craig shared, “This is significant because the colonized education system attempted genocide on our people at the Tulalip boarding school. Every generation since then, our people have not been able to be proud of who they are and be their full-selves in public school systems. We’re changing the paradigm of that. We are providing a place where every person can be proud of who they are, no matter what culture they come from, and know that we are one community, one family. We are reclaiming Indigenous space in a public school system that aimed to erase that.”

Before joining the high schoolers, the elementary students gathered at the front of their school to pay tribute and learn a little bit about the Tulalip Tribes killer whale flag.

“We started today’s celebration with a flag ceremony because the Marysville School District has adopted raising the Tulalip Tribes flag at all campuses,” explained Chelsea. “From the leadership of JJ Jenson, our former vice-principal, he worked with our Tulalip veterans to raise the Tribe’s flag many years ago. We’ve been raising our tribal flag on our sovereign land for many years and we wanted to honor that work today.” 

Led by Tony Hatch, Tulalip Tribes Vice-Chairman Glen Gobin and several tribal leaders, the students offered a Tulalip Canoe Family song, about the importance of pulling together, which represented the partnership between the Tribe and the Marysville School District. 

All students were encouraged to wear their traditional regalia on Tulalip Day and a number of beautifully designed shawls, vests, blankets, ribbon skirts, beaded jewelry and cedar-woven hats and headbands were on full-display. 

When the flag ceremony concluded, the QCT students marched across campus to the Francy J. Sheldon gymnasium where Heritage students awaited their arrival, excited to get the festivities started. 

Glen Gobin opened the ceremony and shared a few words about the importance of Tulalip Day with the students.

He stated, “I am proud to witness this event and see all of the changes that have taken place. When I think back to when my grandmother went to school, she went to the boarding school here at Tulalip, and everything they did in that school was to strip them of their identity and deny them of being Native American. They tried to force them into assimilation into a non-Indian society. 

“We didn’t have the ability to go to school and exercise who we are and feel good about doing it, because we were still trying to fit in. To walk in here and see all the smiling faces, all of your pride, and to feel that is amazing. How far we’ve grown in that ability to be who we are and proud of who we are, that is important. That is what this day means. That’s what this month means, that recognition. Who you are, where you come from, to build that foundation so you can succeed in the future and pass on those teachings, those traditions, in a good way.”

Since November is also Native American Heritage month, Chelsea opened the floor up to all Indigenous nations, inviting everybody to share their culture with the students. MSD Native Liaisons, Terrance Sabbas and Matt Remle, sang a number of songs from their respective tribes throughout the hour-long ceremony, both on the round drum and their hand-drums, while powwow dancers took the floor, performing both traditional and fancy shawl.

To end the Tulalip Day celebration, Chelsea invited the drummers to the floor and encouraged all the students to take part in either signing and drumming or dancing. The bleachers were emptied as the drummers sang a potlatch song that is well-known through all Coast Salish territories and is played at various tempos. As the speed of the song gradually increased, so did the smiles and laughter throughout the entire gym. 

“A lot of our ceremonies have been canceled because of COVID, so today was important to me mainly because I got to see my culture and sing our songs at school,” expressed Tulalip Heritage High School student and Tribal member, Xavion Myles-Gilford. “Having the assembly today brought back that joy of being at our ceremonies. My favorite part of the day was right at the end, when everybody was dancing, and singing and cheering together, it almost made me cry.”

Marysville Middle School and Liberty Elementary celebrate Native American Heritage Month

By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News

On Monday, November 29th, Marysville Middle School and Liberty Elementary invited their students, families, and community members to join them in celebrating Native American Heritage Month. The event included crafts, books, and free resources about Native American culture. Visitors enjoyed Indian tacos and frybread from Tee Pee Creepers, all whilst listening to Native American songs and drumming. 

MSD adopts very first Equity Plan

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News  

“When I was growing up we did not see ourselves in school,” expressed Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary Vice-Principal and Tulalip tribal member, Chelsea Craig. “We did not see our people, our way of being. We were expected to check who we were at the door of the school and conform to the colonized system that we were forced to participate in. This policy is the beginning stages of changing that practice. It honors the unique and beautiful communities that each of our students come from. It puts the heavy lifting on the adults to change their practice and their thinking to meet the needs of all of our kids. It interrupts the status quo, that has long-standing shown, does not work for our Native students and other students of color.”

For the first time in history, the Marysville School District (MSD) has adopted an equity policy in an effort to ensure that their students, faculty and families feel safe and supported through their academic careers and time spent within the school district. November 3 marked an important and historic day, as the district took the first step in a long journey. A journey worth striving for where kids can thrive in a comfortable learning environment and simply be themselves without worrying about bullying, harassment, or experiencing educational disparities and barriers based on their culture, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. 

Said Eneille Nelson, MSD Executive Director of Equity and Family Engagement, “This educational equity policy was created by students, parents, community members and staff. It was very important to have the right people at the table thinking about the needs of our students, families and staff of our district. It will serve as the foundation to initiate the necessary sustainable changes for years to come. The policy is just the beginning of the work we have to do, a foundation for us to build upon.”

Over numerous pages, the policy identifies five key areas that MSD will focus on to implement the Equity Action Plan; Human Resources, Teaching and Learning, Leadership and Partnership, Climate and Culture, and Responsibility/Accountability. 

If executed as planned, the district will recruit and hire a more diverse workforce, whom students can identify with, relate to and confide in. Eliminate systemic inequalities in curriculums and educational materials by providing their staff with professional development training and tailoring lessons so their students can see themselves within the curriculum. Build and foster strong relationships with their students, families and local communities, namely the Tulalip Tribes, City of Marysville and Snohomish County, to ensure they have input in major decisions and that their voice is heard and well-represented. Offer a safe and inclusive learning environment where the proper resources are readily available to their students. And hold staff, the school board and the yet-to-be-appointed superintendent accountable by closely monitoring the progress of the policy through annual reports, reviews and surveys – to name a few highlights from the newly established policy.  

“The Marysville School District has never had an equity policy before and we have seen the painful effects on our kids and our community,” stated Liz Gobin, MSD teacher and Tulalip tribal spouse and parent. “Having a comprehensive equity policy holds everyone in the district accountable to ensure that our kids feel safe and that the biases that have existed in the larger community and educational systems will no longer be tolerated.  There have been many feel-good statements about equity over the years but having a formal policy adopted means that there is finally action happening. Along with this initial policy, the advisory teams are continuing to develop the action steps that go along with it, including things like professional development to educate staff, more diverse hiring practices, evaluating discipline data, and holding every person accountable to interrupt racism and biases as they occur.”

She continued, “This Equity policy was created for and belongs to each of our children. I want to encourage every family to use their voice to make sure we keep building on this policy and that we never go backward. As our school board changes and our superintendent search begins, it’s important to remember that what we demand as parents and as a community makes a difference. We need to pay close attention to what is happening and work together to make sure this policy stays at the forefront of all of the work happening in the district.” 

As Liz mentioned, MSD is currently undergoing several changes as the school board welcomes three new directors to the five-seat panel, two of whom have shown opposition to curriculum such as Critical Race Theory and have vocalized they would not support any curriculum that places value on any race, gender or national origin above another. That is why she is urging other parents to get involved as the new policy goes into effect, to ensure that the equity policy is implemented as planned and the needs of MSD students and families hailing from various backgrounds are met. And that their students are also afforded a safe and positive learning environment, as well as celebrated for their differences. 

Chelsea shared, “At QCT we have been working for many years to change the mindset of school, grounded in the traditional values of the Tulalip Tribes. We have been working to build our understanding of race and equity and the role each of us play in creating a learning environment that reflects the community we serve, that honors the beauty that each of our children bring into a very colonized space. MSD passing this policy grounds the much-needed work to heal our Tulalip/Marysville community.” 

Eneille added, “Our next steps will be to create an action plan that will put actions to the areas addressed in our policy. Everyone in our district and community have a part to play in the success of our policy and action plan. We all have to hold each other accountable and not expect one person or group to do all of the heavy lifting. If we work together, this policy and action plan can bring the change many have been waiting and hoping for.”

To view the MSD Eduction Equity Policy please visit: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yb3sRKRNQOil-Afud66Qxq9HXqW27zQu/view

The district’s current Equity Action Plan can be found at:  https://core-docs.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/asset/uploaded_file/1312201/MSD_Equity_Action_Plan_Web_Version.pdf

For additional information, please contact the Marysville School District at (360) 965-0000.

Tribal members and the value of a higher education

Chelsea Orr.

By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News

Many tribal members hear elders and community leaders speak of the importance of earning your degree and receiving a form of higher education. It is important to learn the significance behind this advice, the values of earning your degree, and the steps to getting there.

One key advantage to receiving your higher education, is an increased access to job opportunities. College graduates will typically see 57% more job opportunities that non-graduates in their area. It also opens the gate for more specialized careers. Higher education offers a substantial platform for someone to build their expertise. Those seeking additional education while continue to work can gain necessary training, and the opportunity for promotions within their field.

Another more sought-after reason as to why people earn their degrees, is the potential to earn a higher income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, someone who earns their bachelor’s degree will earn $17,500 more a year than someone with an associate degree, and $25,000 more than a high school graduate. 

Additionally, being able to give back to your community. As we know, there are positions that do not require a degree, however, there are very specialized positions that our tribe occasionally needs and are at risk of needing in the future. As we often hear from our elders, and community leaders, they are looking for tribal members to eventually replace them in their positions.

Chelsea Orr felt that same passion to give back. She is currently a senior at Washington State University and earned both her high school degree and associates degree in June this year. Her passion for Human Development began at the tribe, and she decided that she would eventually use her skills to help her people. 

“I was doing Summer Youth at Tulalip Early Learning Academy, and a lot of kids there needed a little bit of extra help,” said Chelsea. “Eventually, I wanted to be the kind of person to help them.” 

Once graduating with a 3.95 GPA from Lakewood High School, Orr found out that she had also won Tulalip Senior Girl of the Year. She spoke about her heritage and how it has helped her academically, “I feel like it’s made me more strong-willed and has helped me persevere. Knowing that our people have been through so much, I want to be able to come back and work for the tribe to help our people. We need to stay together”. 

Unfortunately, a trend that some universities are seeing, is an overall attendance decrease from Native youth. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, currently only 16% of Native Americans attain a bachelor’s degree or higher, and only 9% attain an associate’s degree. Other studies show that undergraduate enrollment among Native Americans, ages 18-24, have gradually decreased since 2016-2017. But as this is continuing, there is hope in knowing that non-traditional students’ attendance is growing.

Lena Hammons.

Non-traditional students are those who did not seek higher education right out of high school. Lena Hammons, tribal elder, was such a student for many years. At the time, she had a family and children to focus on and decided that she would pursue a higher education later in life. Since then, she has earned her associates, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree. 

Hammons said, “I tell everybody, I didn’t get my degree to become better than anybody else. I got it to become a better me, so that I could be a better mom, grandma, community member, tribal member, employee, to gain better insight to behaviors, and how the various federal laws impacted our behaviors”. She talked about how it’s not everyone’s path to start right out of high school, “it’s about knowing when it’s the right time and place. Don’t stress because you’re not ready. Detours aren’t necessarily a bad thing”. 

Many non-traditional students worry about the balance of schoolwork and life’s responsibilities, “I tell the students all the time, I never missed family time to do homework. I take my homework with me. If I could go to a family event and read a chapter, then that is what I did. Balancing family life and schoolwork is very important,” Hammons said.

Currently, the Tulalip Tribes Higher Education Department has accounted for 362, 18+ year students enrolled throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Their goals to help these students are to increase enrollment, increase graduation rate, reach out to younger students, and offer support and guidance, and expand with internships with college students and graduates.

The Higher Education Department offers a variety of support to help tribal members seeking their degree. They currently offer a substantial amount of funding towards tuition, books/supplies, a stipend, and room/board and transportation allowance for those that qualify. 

Outside of financial support, they recognize graduates or completion of certificates, train staff to assist students with their educational needs, assist with the Native American Career & Technical Education Program (NACTEP) and provide information and guidance to college planning. 

For anyone that is interested in pursuing their academics further, please contact the Higher Education Department at: 360-716-4888 or highered@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov.