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

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 or Michele Balagot at 

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.

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 

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.