Native American Fitness Council empowers local fitness leaders

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

The Native American Fitness Council (NAFC) was established in 2004 with the mission of empowering Native Americans through exercise education. The NAFC cofounders recognized a need for knowledgeable, passionate, and experienced Native American fitness instructors, but their vision didn’t stop there. These dedicated professionals developed programs that teach people to train other Natives in proper exercise and healthy lifestyles.

Today, NAFC has educated and inspired thousands of individuals to become positive role models in their communities. Tulalip was fortunate to receive their one-of-a-kind, culturally relevant approach to Native health during a two-day fitness camp hosted at our local youth center on August 4th and 5th

“The Fitness Council chose Tulalip as one of only four northwest tribes to help implement their vision of learning traditional games and exercises in an effort to ignite a spark for new fitness leaders within the local community,” said Erik Kakuska (Zuni Pueblo), western tribal diabetes project specialist. “These traditional games ranged from Eskimo Olympics, like the seal pull and seal carry, to the plains version of field hockey, better known as shinny.

“Our goal is to incorporate a great deal of functionality into all our workouts, so the youth learn proper form and alignment when they’re running, jumping, and really playing any popular sport,” he added. “The last two days have been filled with all kinds of activities that encourage the kids to find the fun in the game. Visiting tribal communities across the nation, we recognize that a lot of our culture was lost. It’s important to reteach that culture to the best of our abilities, and a part of that is teaching the value of keeping yourself healthy. Not only with your physical, but also with your mental.”

In true collaborative fashion, the NAFC worked side by side with Tulalip’s own diabetes care and prevention teams and representatives from youth services to make the multi-day fitness camp run as smoothly as possible. The shear quality of garden-fresh breakfasts and nutrition filled lunches cooked up by chef Brit Reed was almost as impressive as the 30 or so adolescents who went back for plate after plate. Filling up on much needed fuel for their mind, body and spirits as they engaged in a variety of A/C chilled, indoor games and even more sun soaked outdoor exercises in 80+ degree temperature. 

It’s no secret that as an ethnic group, Native Americans are hit the hardest, per capita, by several life shortening risk factors, such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Then there’s the recent engagement of our young people with that homicidal maniac Fentanyl. A dark topic that needs a brighter spotlight shed on it for sure, but we’ll save that for another time.

Breaking news! All these debilitating diseases can come to a screeching halt by simply making healthier decision on a routine basis. Wild, right? Well, the even better news is that there are those among Gen Z who recognize this truth and desire to break the stereotypes that depict their people as unhealthy. Two such lean, mean fighting against the diabetes machine tribal members were willing to share their fitness camp experience. 

“What I’ve enjoyed is that all the activities we’ve done aren’t really hard to do, like anyone can participate and still go at their own pace,” said 16-year-old Ryelon Zackuse. “I’ve had some coaches who’ve been really rude or loud trying to make a point and that makes some people want to give up. But the coaches and instructors here were sensitive to our people’s abilities and took it slow to make sure everyone understood the motions and rules of the games. Eating good foods and being active is important to me because I have goals I want to achieve through sports and I can’t achieve those things if I’m eating junk food all the time. Its pretty simple really, if you stop treating your body well, then eventually your body will stop treating you well.”

“My favorite parts of the camp were learning to play traditional games from other tribes across the country, like when we went onto the ball field and played shinny. Not only did we learn to play a new game, but they showed us some simple tips to make sure we were engaging our cores and keeping our hips in alignment while running,” added 17-year-old Samara Davis. “I’ve really enjoyed the past couple days, being with so many of my peers and just having fun outside. It’s important for all our people, the youngest to the elders, to know the importance of daily movement.

“Personally, I love the way fresh fruits and vegetables taste, so it was cool being in an environment where we were provided with good, nutritional foods,” she continued while snacking on an apricot. “Healthy habits, whether its eating or exercise, is all about consistency. Once you’ve learned the habits, just keep doing them. That’s how we become elders.”

The showcase of Tulalip physical talent ranged from flexing agility and dexterity with a balloon tied around their ankles while attempting stomp the balloon of another player, to demonstrating nimbleness and light on their feet juke moves in a hybrid version of dodge ball, except they used water-soaked sponges on the hot summer day. Two days filled with exercise, education, an abundance of health and nutrition advice, traditional games from across Indian Country, and many memories made for the what the Native American Fitness Council are dubbing community fitness leaders.

“Our team believes if the kids see us as adults having a good time and doing our best to demonstrate good fun sportsmanship in winning and losing, while embracing simple traditions like coming together to share in wonderful meals where the kids can share their experiences, then we all benefit and win,” explained Veronica ‘Roni’ Leahy, diabetes care and prevention manager

“Our health clinic wins in the sense our program engages with the youth of Tulalip by delivering the best we can offer, and gives us chances to build long-lasting, positive relationships. The youth of Tulalip wins by having opportunities to be trained by some of the best trainers in Indian Country, not to mention experience traditional foods and the making of traditional medicines, like sore muscle salves. It really was so amazing to witness all the joy and laughter from simple fun and games that brought us all together. 

“We look forward to a time when we can offer this again, but on a larger scale,” added Roni. “So many people of all ages could really learn and enjoy these expert trainers and have so much fun in the process. Definitely one of the best events our program has offered.”

Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court recognized as National Mentor Court

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

In recognition of outstanding service to the treatment community, the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court Tulalip, WA is hereby recognized as a member of the 2022-2024 National Mentor Court Network by NADCP’s Drug Court Institute and The Bureau of Justice Assistance

On the afternoon of June 27, the courtroom at the Tulalip Justice department was filled with multiple people, some hailing from as far away as Arizona. On the hottest day of the year so far, many were in splendid spirits and thankful to be in the comfort of the almighty A/C. About six of those individuals were especially in a good mood, as they are currently on a journey to becoming the best version of themselves, fighting hard to stay on the road to recovery. And thanks to the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court, they are seeing successful results. 

One by one they approached the stand and the first question the judge asked was, ‘how many clean days do you have?’ Ranging anywhere from 36 days to 265 days clean, each person received a resounding and well-deserved round of applause by the entire courtroom when they revealed the amount of days they have remained sober. 

The clients then reflected on the past week with Judge Peter Boome. The judge let the clients know if they were in-compliance, and together they discussed all of the weekly tasks the clients have completed, or were meant to complete, such as community service hours, check-in’s with their advisors and team, court-mandated essays, and UA’s.

 A few of these individuals, who are just beginning their recovery journey, were experiencing the Healing to Wellness Court’s proceedings for the first time, and this appearance served as either an observation day or an opt-in day. Others have long been participants of the wellness court and were celebrating upwards of hundreds of days clean, that were acquired with the assistance of the Tribe’s wellness court. If the client was 100% in-compliance, they were rewarded with an incentive of their choosing.

Observing the wellness court in-action, was Susan Alameda, the Project Director of the National Drug Court Institute. Once the proceedings were finished, Susan presented an engraved plaque to the tribal court, recognizing the Healing to Wellness Court as an official member of the National Mentor Court Network. 

This is the second two-year term in a row that the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court received this esteemed title. The title allows other courthouses throughout the country, that are looking to improve or begin their own wellness courts in their respective communities, the opportunity to visit and learn from Tulalip’s model. 

Said Susan, “At the National Drug Court Institute, we say that these programs are about saving lives. I believe that is absolutely true. There’s an approach to these programs, especially Tulalip’s Healing to Wellness Court, it’s very rooted in community, very rooted in science and research. When you think about families who are able to stay together, or to be reunited, people who turn their lives around from substance abuse and have a second chance, to me, that’s life saving. When they get all that fog out of their system, and they can see themselves and all the things they want to achieve, they become a new person. That is such a beautiful thing to see.”

She continued, “This particular wellness program now has the prestige title of being a mentor court, which is one of very few mentor courts throughout the country. We take great honor in recognizing this court for all of its achievements. The staff played a big role to begin and continue carrying out this program, and [the judges] have been very dedicated, as well as all those who have come before. To be called a mentor court, you really have to adhere to some high standards. And through that, you have the opportunity to play a role in helping shape other courts that are interested in doing something like what’s been going on here.”

The Tulalip Tribes and the Tulalip Justice department first introduced the Healing to Wellness Court at the start of 2017 as an alternative path to the road to recovery for it’s tribal membership. As the heroin and opioid epidemic continues to escalate, skyrocketing in Native America since the pandemic, the tribal Wellness Court program looks to continue to be a source for the people as a means to get clean and escape the battle of addiction. 

The tribe tailored the wellness court to meet the needs of their people, and implemented community and cultural work, or ‘give-back hours’, as a requirement to complete the program. And thereby helped re-instill traditional values in many of their clients as well as helping them get re-acclimated back into the community. 

In addition to having a strong team of professionals by their side, consisting of judges, attorneys, tribal courthouse officials, TPD officers, drug counselors, and recovery specialists, the client is also reunified with their families, friends, and community along the way. And with a strong support system and a return to traditional Tulalip lifeways, the client has a great chance of completing the 18-24 monthlong program and maintaining their sobriety once they graduate from the Healing to Wellness Court. 

Susan presented the plaque to Tulalip Chairwoman, Teri Gobin, who stated, “I would like to thank you on behalf of the Tulalip Tribes. It’s a true honor for our court system. I also want to thank Judge Bass, who was there since the beginning to help bring this forward. And all of the other judges, lawyers, staff, supportive staff, and everyone who has been involved. It’s an honor to receive this prestigious honor for our court system.”

In attendance for the special recognition, and taking note of the court’s proceedings, were representatives of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe who are in the planning phase of opening their own reservation-based wellness court. The Muckleshoot Wellness Court coordinator, Henry Carranza, is anticipating a ribbon-cutting ceremony as early as September, but noted that a lot of work is still required before they’re able to hold their first hearing. 

“A lot of the things happening here at the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court, we’re going to borrow and implement,” Henry said. “We’re looking to get as much information that we can get and use it for our court. The whole transformation of helping others and watching them turn their lives around will be so worth it. Here at Tulalip, everybody has the same goal of helping the individual turn their life around, everybody works together to help that one person, I think that’s the key.”

The mentor court title will remain in effect through 2024, where if eligible, the courthouse can once again apply to be a member of the National Mentor Court Network and can continue to lead by example for wellness courts nationwide. 

While wiping tears from her eyes, Teri expressed, “I think about everybody’s lives that it’s changed – seeing the difference in what has happened with our people. It makes a difference having everybody surrounding you, supporting you. It’s like the medicine wheel. We’re making sure they are whole all the way around, but also keeping them accountable for that first year. I want to thank you for this honor on behalf of our court and the staff who made this possible.”

Supporting each other through grief and loss

By Shaelyn Smead, Tulalip News

With a total of around 164 deaths from January 1, 2019 to June 13, 2022 within the Tulalip Tribes community, Director of Community Health Verna Hill, and Community Health Nurse, Margarett Agudelo, recognize how much of an issue the rising death toll within the Tulalip community is. Averaging 45-50 deaths per year, with varying reasoning for these deaths, they wanted to find ways to help the community. 

“We want to create a space where people can come and be heard.” Margarett said.

That space is a grief support group to help assist with the amount of loss. The group is called Support Circle and serves as a safe place for community members and their families who have lost a loved one, to join together and support one another through their grief and loss. The loosely structured group is designed to create a relaxed atmosphere and a fluid space for exercises, possible art therapy, and simple conversation.

In their efforts to help, Margarett and Verna began sending out grievance cards to the impacted families. A practice that typically isn’t seen within tribal communities, they initiated the effort to help show support to families during such a hard time. They wanted to let the community know that their loved one’s life meant something, and they will honor them, even if it’s with a simple card. 

Grief is such a complex and debilitating feeling. And even though people experience grief in many different ways, it is often a long time before anyone can start to feel any level of normalcy. Without any additional mental and emotional support, that journey often can be a much longer one. 

The American Psychological Association listed several steps that a person can take when experiencing loss: talking about the death of your loved one, accepting and acknowledging your feelings, taking care of yourself and your family, reaching out and helping other dealing with loss, and remembering to celebrate the lives of your loved ones. All of these steps can be taken and assisted with in the new support group. 

Knowing and understanding the importance of getting help is essential, and it can help keep yourself from traveling down a path of unhealthy habits and destructive outlets. 

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation released an article stating, “There is a relationship between grief and substance abuse in a bidirectional way: people with complicated grief have a higher risk of substance abuse, and people with SUD (Substance Use Disorder) have a higher incidence of loss-related experiences such as death of a loved one and loss of significant relationships.” 

In accordance with this information, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) disclosed that in 2019, 20.4 million Americans battled with substance abuse disorder, with the CDC reporting 70,630 reports of drug overdose related deaths that same year. 

“Death is exceptionally painful. And people have to talk about it. If you have a safe place you can go, where you can support each other, and be there for each other, and make that happen, maybe we can avoid some of those destructive habits.” Margarett said.

One of the Support Circle attendees talked about how the death of her mother was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of her life. She spoke of the days when even the distractions she used couldn’t supplement the grief she was feeling. 

A variety of stories were shared, similar and contrasting to each other. Every person was able to share what they’ve been through, and the mourning that they’ve felt and still continue to endure. Finding someone to share your experiences with, and knowing that you’re not alone in these hardships brings a sense of comfort that is often hard to find during these times. 

With this vicious cycle of grief and substance abuse, you have to wonder what sort of measures the group leaders have taken to fight this. The Support Circle team traveled to California to learn materials to better prepare them for the group and help guide this community and its grief. The Curricula is established from grief counselor, author, and creator of the Centers For Loss and Life Transition Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, called: ‘Understanding Your Grief’ and ‘Understanding Your Grief Companion Journal’. 

Margarett and Verna talked about their new understanding of grief. They know that with complex grief, there is an importance to get help and seek out therapy. But also, with any level of grief, the importance of having a support system. “We learned so much from the course. The idea is that people have to feel their grief, and they have to walk through that process. We’re not treating them, it’s not a medical problem. It doesn’t need a diagnosis, it doesn’t need medicine, it doesn’t need my advice, people just need to be heard. We just have to be there for them” Margarett said. 

At every meeting, each new member is given a copy of each of the books so that they can either work on it with the Support Circle, or have them in the comfort of their own home. 

When discussions surrounding mental health come about, it is important to understand how it also directly affects our community. We have to find a healthy and honorable way to acknowledge the lives that have been lost, and find a way to move forward for ourselves and our community. 

If you or anyone you know is suffering with grief or loss, and think the Support Circle will be helpful, please contact Margarett at 360-926-3764, or Verna at 360-722-6819. The group takes place on Mondays from 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., and Thursdays 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., in the Mission Highlands Community Building at 8226 21st Ave NW Tulalip WA 98271. Sign up for the Support Circle is not necessary and drop-ins are welcome. 

Margarett finishes with, “I will be here. Even if no one else shows up, I will be here for whoever wants to come.”

Mother’s Milk: The importance of breastfeeding

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News; images courtesy Indigenous Milk Medicine Week

As Tulalip’s membership continues to increase, growing from approximately 3,600 in 2003 to 5,100 in 2022, so too does the number of newborn babies being enrolled into the Tribe every year. This baby boom, estimated at 120 per year, led to the Tribe investing in a whole host of Community Health related programs and services geared towards creating positive health outcomes for our youngest generation.

One such program is Maternal Child Health, wherein we find health educator Erika Queen of Alaska’s Inupiaq tribe. She has been working with moms and babies for nearly seventeen years. A focus of hers is helping our Tulalip mothers understand the importance of breastfeeding. 

With Tulalip’s baby boom in full swing, it’s a critical time to understand just how important mom’s life-giving milk truly is. This may seem obvious to some readers, but recent statistics show the practice of following the CDC’s recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding until baby is six months is in huge decline. In fact, by this standard, just 25% of infants at 6-months-old are receiving the litany of benefits that come from mother’s milk.

Making the issue even more disheartening is the notion Native mothers and babies have one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates at six months of any race or ethnicity in the nation. For our Native communities, breastfeeding is a public health issue. Because of the enduring health benefits breastfeeding provides, community leaders and medical professionals are making a concerted effort to reconnect Native women to the cultural tradition of breastfeeding. This is where Erika’s vital role as a health educator and advocate for both mom and baby comes in.

“The most important reasons for nursing your baby is that you want to. If you don’t want to do it, that is 100% your choice, I only advocate that people make that choice after considering the pros and cons of all your options. I’ve cried along too many parents who were informed that they “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” breastfeed, only to find out that the reason given was due to that person/provider’s lack of understanding or lack of knowledge,” shared Erika.  

  “There is a myriad of reasons that show continuing to grow your baby from your body after birth is important, and that list keeps growing: lower rates of disease for baby, reduced risks of cancers, asthma, type 1 diabetes, ear and tummy infections, SIDS, and NEC (in preterm babies). Lower rates of disease for the birthing parent, too. Breastfeeding can help lower a mother’s risk of high blood pressure, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

  Women who practice breastfeeding and meet their feeding goals also have a protective factor against postpartum mental health problems. This means that telling someone to stop a successful breastfeeding relationship for their mental health is actually counterproductive. It also doesn’t completely prevent mental health issues postpartum – it just means it lessens them and removing breastfeeding may actually make those problems worse. 

  Mother’s milk is exactly what is needed by almost all babies. Its more than food alone, it aids our immune system in many ways – from the white cells and immune factors fed to baby (such as after baby’s saliva tells their nursing parent’s areola that baby was exposed to a germ at daycare) to feeding very specific gut bacteria that eat only oligosaccharides from human milk (not found elsewhere) – according to UCLA, 70% of the immune system is in the gut. 

  Breastfeeding/nursing can be an outstanding parenting tool.  The act of breastfeeding releases hormones in parent and child that help to calm and connect – the love hormone, oxytocin – which can bring a tantrum to an end, heal more booboos than all the Band-Aids in the world, and build a bond and a relationship that is both strong and durable.

  Science can tell us even more reasons that feeding babies the milk from their parent (or another human) is the ideal, but science doesn’t begin to understand how breastfeeding can connect us back to our ancestors, renew our cultures, and deeply feel human in the face of trauma, and more than anything, it doesn’t explain how it feels to look at your chubby baby smiling up at you with milk running down their chin rolls and think, “I made all of that.”

I think the most important reason to nurse your baby is that you can and you want to,” added the local health educator. “I nursed my baby because I knew it was the best possible nutrition, I knew it was more than just food, and I knew that it is how my ancestors fed their babies for eons.”

If you are a new or expectant mother, or a mom multiple times over with a baby and simply want to ask questions about breastfeeding in a safe place with a health educator dedicated to a successful outcome, then please contact Erika Queen directly. She is here to assist you and eagerly awaits your questions. Her contact info is as follows: Erika Queen, Maternal Child Health Educator. Cell number 360-913-2382 (text OK), E-mail

Tulalip Family Wellness Court celebrates first program graduate

By Kalvin Valdillez

“I’m inspired by my own success,” were the words shared by proud mother of young Tulalip tribal members. “I just hit thirteen months of clean time on April 2nd!” Over a year ago, this parent, whose name will be kept anonymous due to legal reasons, thought an accomplishment of this proportion impossible. 

To completely escape the grasp of her addiction, after fighting hard for so many years to kick her habit. To be reunited with, and granted full-custody of, her child who was placed in the care of beda?chelh – that may have in fact been next to impossible over a year ago, or at least felt very close to it.

This determined mother, however, did not give up. While attempting to navigate the childcare system on her own, she suffered a relapse. Around this time, she also discovered she was with child. Now, she not only had to fight for her own wellness and for her kiddo in the system, but she also had to fight for her unborn child to remain in her custody after the birthing process. 

When all the odds seemed stacked against her, a new program debuted in the Tulalip community, and she was one of the first to sign-up and take-part in the now award-winning tribal-based program.

“I remember looking over their pamphlet and thinking I didn’t need the help,” she admitted. “But, at the same time I knew I couldn’t go through the court system by myself either. I remember reading that pamphlet over and over, and Amy [Lettig] (TOCLA Parent Advocate Attorney) telling me about this new program and that I qualified for it. I didn’t know what else to do. My goal was always to get my child back, and so I turned to her and said help me get there.”

Based on the success of the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court, minus the criminal and time-serving element, the Family Wellness Court was established in March 2020. The first-of-its-kind court system is 100% volunteer-based and is aimed to support, encourage and assist tribal parents, or parents of tribal members, attain a sober and healthy lifestyle to ultimately reunite them with their children who have an open beda?chelh case. 

“We’re one of the first in the nation to do this as a tribe because we want our people to be healthy, happy and successful,” said Melissa Johnson, Family Wellness Court Coordinator. “We want people to understand it’s different than the standard dependency proceedings that parents involved with beda?chelh go through. With more frequent review hearings in the drug court model, they get a chance to show their progress in real-time. They tend to get their kids back faster in this type of program because of the intensive case management and the added support.”

Melissa continued, “They have to have an open dependency with beda?chelh. And if they want to work on getting their kids back, they can benefit from our team approach. I think there is an advantage to the team approach – recognizing the successes, strengths and any issues that may arise in real time, rather than waiting. Because with the current dependency proceedings, months can go by between hearings. I think with Family Wellness Court, the courtroom becomes a therapeutic environment. You see that relationship with the judge and the team, it’s not adversarial at all. It’s so much different from when you go to court, and everything seems scary. It’s an alternative to the current dependency proceedings.”

The team approach plays a major role in the Family Wellness Court and in each participant’s recovery journey. The team consists of multiple professionals including Tribal courthouse officials, attorneys, beda?chelh representatives, counselors and recovery specialists. The idea is that with everybody meeting on a regular basis and on the same page, the client will stay in-compliance and will make positive progress in maintaining their sobriety, if they know exactly what their team expects from them.

It has been one year since the Family Wellness Court held their first hearing and multiple parents are now electing to participate in the intensive, personalized program. And furthermore, many are seeing positive results and are well on their way to reunification with their children.  

“Once I found the Family Wellness Court, I felt like they actually cared,” expressed the anonymous mother. “I know that the biggest part was getting to treatment and with the help of Family Wellness Court, I was able to do that. The assignments kept me busy and focused on my recovery. It was an amazing journey with tribal court. I felt like they cared about me and the kids, and more importantly what was best for the kids. They were encouraging me the whole time. They enjoyed seeing my progress and I felt like I was doing a really good job. It really worked for me. If you do the work, and you follow through with everything, you will be successful.”

On the afternoon of March 30, the Tulalip Family Wellness Court celebrated their very first graduate of the program. The very same mother whose identity will not be released, held the honor of the first person to successfully complete their individualized and intensive plan to recovery and reunification. Through the program she regained custody of her child, she had a healthy pregnancy and delivery, and she is living a completely clean life. The mother obtained housing for herself and her babies, she gained employment and is currently attending college and learning the trade of her choosing. She is also active in her children’s traditions and now has a strong understanding of tribal lifeways, as she completed several ‘give back’ hours and participated in cultural events as a requirement to the Family Wellness Court. 

Her team and those presiding over her case were moved to tears during the graduation ceremony as they gathered in the tribal courtroom and met with the mother over Zoom. Due to both the specifics of her case and the worldwide pandemic, she was able to participate in the program remotely while at a treatment center. The courthouse sent her a cake, a number of gifts and an official certificate of completion, which she opened and enjoyed during the ceremony. Her mother, father and oldest child tuned-in to take part in the celebration. And through wavering voices and teary eyes, they shared their awe when reflecting how far she’s come in just a year. Members of her team also took a moment to express their joy in seeing her complete the program.  

Chori Folkman, the Children’s Attorney for TOCLA shared, “Seeing her success today reminds me that the Family Wellness Court process at Tulalip can reunify families – even when it seems hopeless at times. Or a parent, who might have a history with a significant addiction, they can overcome it and get their children back. Even if it’s been a long time since they had that child in their care. Even when it’s really late in the case and it feels like it might be too late. She was able to commit to becoming clean and sober and she was able to get placement of her child and close her case. It shows me that these supports really do work to bring families back together.”

Tribal member Josh Fryberg and two of his daughters offered medicine through traditional song to the mother, as well as some heartfelt and encouraging words. The judge, filled with excitement, showered the mother with applause, praise and compliments, and also a few inside jokes while she recalled all the memories they made together along the way. 

The first Family Wellness Court graduate stated, “The Family Wellness Court made me feel like even if I really failed, or if had a hiccup along the way, they were going to help me get back up and encourage me to keep moving forward. And ever since I came to that realization, I just made sure that I did everything I was supposed to do for the Family Wellness Court, so that I could graduate the program, keep my kids and get my child back.”

Continuing she shared a few words to other parents who are currently battling with an addiction, “The Family Wellness Court will help you get the help that you need. Even though you might not see that you need help right now. They will work with you to make sure you get that help, so that you can be better parents and so you can get your kids back and be good parents to them.”

If you or a loved one is ready for a new approach to sobriety and reunification, and willing to take on the intensive but evidence-based model to regain custody of your child, please contact Melissa at (360) 716-4764 for more details. 

Problem Gambling program hosts evening of laughter and celebration

By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News

On Saturday, March 26th, the Problem Gambling Program put on a special dinner event, Reclaiming Our Connections. It was a night of celebration for the tribal recovery community and those in recovery from gambling addiction.

The night consisted of drums and ceremonial songs, prayers, speakers that are in recovery, speeches from recovery coaches, and a special guest comedian. Sarah Sense-Wilson, Problem Gambling Coordinator, said “it’s important for us to take a lighthearted look at our lives. Addicts have been through a lot but it’s important for us to remember to laugh and celebrate life.”

The event brought forth a positive environment for a topic that can often be so dark. It was informational, helped spread awareness about addiction, celebrated how far the people in recovery have come, and paid tribute to the staff who work diligently at the Problem Gambling program. 

Sarah gave a special thanks to Natosha Gobin for her tireless efforts with the program and helping other members in the community with their addictions. Natosha shared how she classifies as living a sober life. She spoke about how she could see what addiction has done to people around her, and she didn’t want to risk walking down that same path. One of the major vices she has cut out of her life is alcohol. Using an app to help keep a record of her sobriety has helped keep her on track, and she is now is over 2,000 days sober. 

Participants spoke of how addiction can stem from a traumatic moment in your life, an abusive relationship, or even just small moments over time. How you don’t just have one experience, and suddenly you’re an addict. That it isn’t just about an uncontrollable behavior, but also about the evolution of your own brain chemistry. 

After which, some of the recovery coaches who were in attendance spoke about their own recovery, how they have helped others, and some of the goals that they have. They are currently looking forward to opening a Recovery Café. They have been working diligently with Tulalip Tribes in finding a building, looking for volunteers, and establishing bylaws. They spoke about the goals for the café saying, “this is for any type of addiction. We want to outreach to everyone and have a place where people can come and visit. A sanctuary for people to hang out, have food and drinks supplied. We want to be able to provide additional counseling, crafting and art opportunities, etc.” 

Comedian, Kasey Nicholson wrapped up the event with light-hearted jokes. The roomed filled with laughter as Kasey talked about how Native Americans are often stereotyped, how singing Native ancestral songs has helped him get girlfriends, and how he used to get in trouble growing up on a reservation.

foot, four-panel mural project is complete, the Problem Gambling program and the Healing Lodge plan on displaying it throughout the reservation so others can see the inspiring work that served as medicine to many while on their road to recovery.

Once the evening concluded, gifts were distributed to supporters of the program, and to the speakers. 

It was an important night for the Problem Gambling program. As they continue to grow and develop further, and outreach to more people, they rejoiced in all their efforts and accomplishments. It was an evening filled with compassion, support, and laughter. 

If you are in need of counseling services, are wanting to volunteer, or just have questions about the Problem Gambling program, please contact (360) 716-4304.  

NARCAN distributions ‘about saving lives’

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Since its formation in late 2020, the dedicated staff of Tulalip’s Overdose Detection Mapping & Application Program (ODMAP) has been hard at work tracking and monitoring overdoses on the reservation. They are focused on promoting a healthy community and providing outreach work through accessible resources for those hit hardest by the opioid crisis.

Through their overdose mapping technology, it’s evident that the Mission Highlands and Silver Village housing projects are the leading overdose hotspots on the reservation. With this invaluable information in mind, the ODMAP team held potential lifesaving NARCAN distributions in both neighborhoods. NARCAN is a fast-acting drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. It can prevent death if administered quickly.

“NARCAN saves lives,” said Tashena Hill, ODMAP outreach specialist. “Until we can connect a person suffering from opioid use to treatment, we will wok with individuals, loved ones and concerned members of the community to make sure they are prepared to respond if an overdose does occur. We urge anyone who needs access to NARCAN to attend one of our distributions or, better yet, reach out to us directly so we can review the signs and symptoms of an overdose and how to easily administer NARCAN. The mission of our department, including these free to the public distributions, is all about saving lives.”

How to save lives is a prevailing mission behind so many local, state and federal health departments as the nation comes to grips with yet another pandemic. This one is opioid-based and being super charged by a steady surge in fentanyl-laced street drugs.

According to provisional CDC data released March 16, an estimated 105,752 Americans died from overdoses in the 12-month span ending October 2021 – the highest number of overdose deaths recorded in the United States in a single 12-month period. Bringing the scope more local, Snohomish County logged 232 deaths from overdoses in 2020, which is also the most in recorded history. And if focused solely on the Tulalip membership, the scope reveals there have been at least 16 overdose deaths since the start of 2020.

It is with these sobering statistics in mind that programs like Tulalip’s ODMAP are prioritizing making lifesaving resources assessible and bringing them directly to where they are needed most. By going directly into the neighborhoods at most risk of producing more overdoses, the ODMAP team and their NARCAN distributions are impossible to miss, with their drive-thru like setup and rallying signs to nab the attention of passers-by. 

Their Mission Highlands distribution was held on Valentine’s Day, when twenty-five NARCAN kits were given away. Silver Village’s distribution took place on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, and was even more successful as thirty-plus NARCAN kits were given out. 

“We’re bringing the resources to the people,” said ODMAP project coordinator, Kali Joseph. Armed with her upbeat attitude and ‘NARCAN SAVES LIVES’ sign, she corralled several vehicles as they entered the Silver Village main entrance where they were then greeted by Tashena or Jackson Nahpi. Together they reviewed everything in the Tulalip Pharmacy Narcan Kit and answered any questions that were asked. 

“For the simple fact that NARCAN can save lives, it’s worth having in every Tulalip household. It just furthers the conversation and makes it not a taboo subject. I carry one on myself in any situation, just to have it accessible in case I’m a bystander and it’s needed…because you never know,” shared Kali.

“It’s so important that as a community we destigmatize substance use disorder (SUD) because often times its mistaken as a moral failing or personal choice,” she added. “As Native people, we are overrepresented in SUD and overdoses and things like depression and suicide. A lot of the SUD may stem from impact of intergenerational and historical trauma. There’s a lot of social factors at play as well.”

Normalizing NARCAN and viewing it like an inhaler or EpiPen that can be used as an antidote to revive people from the brink of death is an effortless way of practicing effective harm prevention. NARCAN is a nasal spray. It looks like a common antihistamine and is administered by squirting directly into the nose. It is not dangerous to the person administering it, and it will not hurt anyone who doesn’t have opioids in their system. Plus, anyone administering NARCAN is protected by the Good Samaritan law.

The degree of disclosure at both of ODMAP’s neighborhood NARCAN distributions was perspective altering. Several citizens shared with members of the ODMAP team their experiences, both personal and as witnesses, with opioid overdose and how NARCAN saved the day. One young lady shared she keeps NARCAN at the ready because her mother is a heroin user and fears she’ll find her overdosing one day. Another young man disclosed his partner overdosed in the past and if it weren’t for NARCAN, she probably wouldn’t have made it.

While future distributions are in the works, ODMAP is also considering going door to door in order to reach their goal of having a NARCAN kit in each Tulalip household. In the meantime, if you’re a Tulalip community member and would like to receive a free NARCAN kit please call or text 360-722-2255 or visit

Walking through my story part 3: 

Tulalip Problem Gambling program participants shares recovery journey during awareness month

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“It’s an escape. It’s a high for sure. It’s a risk. I thrived for that high,” recalled recovering gambling addict, Walker. “It wasn’t the win; it was the anticipation of the win. What made it the most destructive addiction I ever known was that I could show up like a regular person and just sit down and all I had to do to make it happen was put money into a machine. It’s such an acceptable thing, but it’s so dangerously addicting. And once people are addicted, it’s really hard to tell that they are. There are so many ways to feed it. You can sell your stuff, you can cash out your 401k, you can get payday loans, you can do all these things in the hope of getting that next high, but because you’re addicted, it’s never enough. Like any addiction, you destroy yourself to feed it.”

An estimated two million American citizens meet the criteria for severe gambling addiction any given year, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Although that is only one percent of the entire population, that is still a lot of people who are more-than-likely quietly battling this dangerous disease as well as the many problems that occur as a result of the addiction. 

Walker expressed, “Nobody knew I had a gambling problem. I’d have to make up all these excuses like why my cell phone got shut off. I’d tell all these lies with a smile on my face. I couldn’t control myself. I sold everything I could sell. I just didn’t have anything left and I couldn’t stop. There was no way out. But I maintained my job, I would put myself through all this turmoil and then I would go to work and pretend like everything was okay. There were people who loved me, but they didn’t know I needed help.”

Native Americans are at the highest risk of developing a gambling habit. If you have been following our coverage of National Problem Gambling Awareness month, you may be familiar with the following and shocking statistic. A 2019 study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol and Related Conditions showed that 2.3% of the entire Indigenous population are fighting a gambling addiction, the highest percentage in the nation. Unfortunately, this three-year old study is the most current research, but after three-years of dealing with the global pandemic, that percentage is expected to be on the rise.

“I’ve had other substance abuse issues in my life,” Walker said. “In my youth I had trouble with marijuana, and in my adulthood, I had trouble with alcohol. I was into drinking pretty heavy, I already started some isolation in my life, I was single at the time. And I just started gambling. It started out pretty innocent, and it just progressed. What was interesting for me, as it progressed, my need for alcohol kind of fell away and gambling took hold. I got to a point where I was still drinking, but gambling became my main addiction. I wouldn’t drink when I gambled, and the insanity of it is, I looked at it as a benefit, as a positive early on.”

He continued, “I was gambling during the week, and it was just so progressive in my life. I went from gambling afterwork to where my weekend routine was getting up, throwing on my clothes and going out to gamble. I would get paid on Friday and I would go to the casino. I would either devastate myself with my losses or I would win. No matter which the case was, I couldn’t wait to get back there on Saturday morning. And my Saturday mornings were spent either trying to keep the high or get back my losses. When I would gamble, it was a reckless cycle. I was going to gamble until it was gone, and I was going to suffer until I could go back again.”

Throughout the month of March, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program takes part in a nationwide initiative known as National Problem Gambling Awareness month and hosts several events and gatherings in the Tulalip community. Originally, the campaign began nearly twenty years ago in response to the amount of sports gambling surrounding the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament. 

During awareness month, the Problem Gambling program and Tulalip News teamed up to share a series of stories of individuals who utilized and benefited from the program during their recovery journey. Walker is the third individual to share his story about how the Tulalip Family Services Problem Gambling program helped save his life through their intensive outpatient recovery care.

“I first heard about the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, I was just a little bit less than a year in recovery, I had 11 months clean time,” Walker reflected. “A friend of mine was in the program and she told me about her experience with it. I hadn’t heard of it and my background before that was only GA (Gambler’s Anonymous). So, I went into Tulalip Family Services and took an assessment, and I honestly didn’t think they would take me because I had clean time. My perception was that it was for somebody who was just beginning to get help with their addiction. I did my assessment with Robin and was admitted to the intensive outpatient program. That’s where my recovery really took on a bigger meaning for me, I can’t tell you enough my joy in the fact that I began to work on myself. I began to look at my past, my childhood and young adult life, and identified some of the triggers that led me to addictive behavior. 

Right away when I walked through the door, there was an expectation of accountability – that was really big for me. And the homework. We would do in-class assignments but the real tough one for me, that really challenged me, is I had to write a timeline of all my major life events and along that timeline, write-in my addictive cycles. I was able to see that maybe I had some trauma in my life and that would result as the beginning of an addictive cycle.”

The Problem Gambling Program, led by counselors Sarah Sense-Wilson and Robin Johnson, provides a plan to recovery tailored to each individual’s needs while incorporating tribal culture, and a number of fun events and activities throughout the year. Several Problem Gambling participants have experienced a great deal of progress as they worked through the program, alongside individuals who are on a similar journey. Due to all the success stories that are a result of the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, many local tribes are now following their model and building programs on their own reservations to help their membership and fellow community members. 

“Sarah was my counselor and one tool that she taught me was just to weigh everything out,” he shared. “It was how to deal with issues, how to deal with the problems in your life. For me, the main tools I walked away with were how to cope with life, how to avoid triggers, how to deal with triggers, and thinking things through before you encounter them.

There was that, and there was also an exercise that is called ‘Our First Step’, which is a no-excuses, no-reasoning account of our addiction. And what that means is that you don’t put down that you behaved a certain way because…. – you leave out the ‘because’. You just write down what you did. If you committed a crime, you write down you committed that crime. You don’t write down that it was because where you were at in that particular moment of your life, just the facts. It was really stunning – I’m going to come to tears a little bit – it was really stunning to read that back to myself. You don’t want to return to something when you look at it straight in the face and you quit rationalizing it.”

As you can gather, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program has been a reliable source to those attempting to put an end to their gambling addiction, helping those in recovery along their healing journey. Since its establishment, the program has served not only members of the Tulalip tribal community, but non-Natives, who are fighting a gambling addiction and live in our neighboring communities as well.

Said Walker, “I was in the program for a solid two years. I did finish the program, but I am still in contact with them. My life is nothing like it was before.  I was in complete devastation. I lost everything. I had nowhere else to turn. I feel it was the grace of God that gave me recovery, and led me from GA to the Tulalip Problem Gambling program to where I am at today. It’s a completely different life. I am married today, I couldn’t even visualize for myself having a relationship, much less a marriage. And here I am, married to my wife who knows about my addiction. One of the things that recovery at the Tulalip Problem Gambling program taught was don’t keep secrets because secrets just give you an excuse not to work on yourself, not to face it. There’s real power in walking through a door when you are so screwed – there is nobody to understand you – that’s what you believe in your head. But, when you walk into Tulalip Problem Gambling program, there’s people who been there and understand and want to stand with you. That’s where you can have a fresh start. 

You can’t do it on your own when you’re hurting, you’ll resort back to what you believe is going to fix you, which is your addiction. For me, I always felt that I could fix it with another win. The GA programs are really great, but they don’t allow you to talk about other opportunities during an active meeting. I think a lot of people who hear about the Tulalip Problem Gambling program they [assume] that it’s sponsored by tribal funds from the casinos, and they think it’s not good. But it is so the opposite. I encourage those who need that extra help to give themselves a chance, to work on themselves, to recognize that other recovery programs are great for support, but intensive outpatient treatment is what we need because we need to get better, so we don’t return to our addictions.”

The Tulalip Problem Gambling Program is hosting events throughout Problem Gambling Awareness Month, leading up to an in-person dinner event taking place at Tulalip Resort Casino on March 26 at 6:00 p.m.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a gambling addiction, or if you would like to find out more information about Problem Gambling Awareness month, please contact (360) 716-4304

*The following is a more in-depth look at Walker’s journey to recovery in his own words, which were shared and recalled upon through tears and heartbreak. Trigger warning – Walker speaks about serious issues including contemplating suicide.*

It was November of 2017; it was the first time I couldn’t pay my rent and that was a real shock to me. Basically, I fantasized about playing with my whole paycheck before I would even get it. I gambled heavily but I wanted to gamble even more, so I did just that. It had various outcomes and it caught up to me when I couldn’t pay my rent.  I thought I was going to be evicted because I never been in that situation before. 

I went to my landlord and to my parents and told them I had a gambling problem. That was my first step towards recovery, but it wasn’t true. It was false because that was it – that’s all I did, tell them. I got a stay on my rent and got caught up, but by December I was back in the casinos. It went from December, January and February, those three months my addiction took off. I couldn’t keep a paycheck for all those months. 

It got so bad that I couldn’t eat. I didn’t have food on the table. My house was falling all around me. I isolated myself from my friends, family and kids. I wouldn’t let anybody in my house. I couldn’t take care of my dog. Some of my worst memories are using my free play to get a burger and tater tots and bringing it home to split it with my dog. And going to Fred Meyer with change and putting in the [Coinstar] machine so I could buy a bag of potatoes. 

One weekend I went out and did it to myself again and I just lost it. I couldn’t do it again; I was completely out of steam, so I was making plans to take my life. As I was in my bedroom preparing to do just that, I thought to call my parents. I needed to be bailed out and they were able to come through for me by a miracle. That was it for me. That was my reset. I’m so grateful for that. I had to hit a really hard bottom in order to reset.

I was always in a pattern of trying to get back and I was always doing the things that come when you’re addicted to gambling. I was selling my stuff, I was pawning my stuff and trying to get it back out of pawn, I was engaging in high-risk loans. I developed rituals and would only go to one casino, I felt that was the place where I could be successful – it was the Quil Ceda Creek casino and sometimes I would go to the big casino if I was ahead. I didn’t really go to other casinos in the area. I was physically addicted, later when I was trying to find recovery, I slipped a couple times. Finally, I banned myself and that really helped. 

Banning myself from the casinos was huge for me because after I hit bottom, I turned all my finances over to family and I still wasn’t in any recovery program, I just separated myself from cash. My parents would give me forty or sixty bucks and I would just battle – I would drive circles in Everett not knowing what to do. I had a social worker assigned to me because I was going to take my life. I told her one day, “when I’m done, I’m planning to go to the casino”, and she told me that I needed to go to a meeting. That’s when I found GA and later found the Tulalip Problem Gambling program.

GA is nationwide and they have a website where you can find active meetings and you just show up. But the difference for me, between GA and the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, is with GA you show up and there’s support for you, but you have to find the help yourself. Where with the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, I walked through the door, and they helped find the help I needed. They are professionals and there’s accountability, that GA doesn’t offer.

It took me awhile to find the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, but through it I found a better way of life. If there’s one thing I want to say to anybody is that there’s hope. When you’re in your addiction, it’s hard to see that there’s hope – it’s out there. That’s the great thing about the program, Sarah and Robin facilitate a lot of hope through the Tulalip Problem Gambling program.

Walking through my story part II: Tulalip Problem Gambling program participants share recovery journey during awareness month

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

As we continue our series with the Tulalip Problem Gambling program during awareness month, Tulalip News sat down with a young woman who wanted to share her story about the dangers of gambling addiction with the community. Jenny, a single parent who grew up locally, discusses the strong grip that gambling had on her life three short years ago, and how the Problem Gambling program helped her turn her life around for the better. 

Over the years, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program has been a reliable source to those attempting to put an end to their gambling addiction, helping those in recovery along their healing journey. Since it’s establishment, the program has served not only members of the Tulalip tribal community, but non-Natives, who are fighting a gambling addiction and live in our neighboring communities as well.

The Problem Gambling Program provides a plan to recovery tailored to each individual’s needs while incorporating tribal culture, and a number of fun events and activities throughout the year. Several Problem Gambling participants have experienced a great deal of progress as they worked through the program, alongside individuals who are on a similar journey. Due to all the success stories that are a result of the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, many local tribes are now following their model and building programs on their own reservations to help their membership and fellow community members. 

March is an important month for the program as they take part in a nationwide initiative known as Problem Gambling Awareness month. Originally, the campaign began nearly twenty years ago in response to the amount of sports gambling surrounding the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament.

Trigger warning – Jenny talks about heavy topics in the following Q&A, including suicide contemplation.

Tulalip News: How did you find out about the Tulalip Problem Gambling program?

Jenny: Through GA (Gamblers Anonymous).

Are there a lot of people in the local GA community who have heard about the Problem Gambling program and utilize it?

I would say no, not a lot of people. The people who told me about it had been in GA for a long period of time and knew about others having success through the program.

Like you mentioned, there’s not many from the local GA community who participate in the Problem Gambling Program, but the people who are in GA that I have spoken to, the program really seemed to help them through that next phase of kicking their habit.

Yeah, it was something that I got involved in right away in my recovery. I think I heard about it during my first meeting, and then I called within the next day or two. I found that the program is phenomenal. I don’t think I would have taken my recovery as seriously without the program, and certainly wouldn’t have learned as much as I did without the program. I think that those who are in recovery, GA is a great place to be, but I believe that this program gives you a different level of recovery that everyone should have and experience.

Can you talk about your story, and how you reached that point to where you needed that extra assistance from GA and the Tulalip Problem Gambling program?

At the time I was a single mom. I had always worked really hard – just providing for my son. I’m a registered nurse and I’ve always held down and worked a full-time job; it is kind of stressful at times. I lived by the casino all my life, but I never went into the casino until about seven years ago. And immediately, because it was such a positive experience my first time, it grabbed me. I walked in and spent $100 and I walked out with $950. I just was floored, like, what?! And I found in the casino a place to go and just escape from reality and from all of the stressors in my life. 

I felt like I could go in there during certain times of the day and just escape – and that’s what I did. I think the worst year was when I won forty-one jackpots in one year and I didn’t have a dime to account for it. And I owed a lot of money to a lot of different places. I took out of my 401k and lost it. I pretty much hit rock bottom. I had this internal struggle that I wanted to get help, and I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t. And I didn’t know how to. 

I didn’t know what GA looked like. I didn’t know what recovery looked like. And I didn’t know if I really had a problem, but I felt like I did. I felt alone. It was through the program that I learned so much about me and about why I was gambling. That journey and discovery, was amazing. At one point, at the very end of my gambling, I felt like I needed to try GA and if it didn’t work, I already had a plan on how to take my life. And so, to get a glimpse of hope from the Problem Gambling program was phenomenal. The program gave me that everyday hope to help walk me through life on a weekly basis. Now, I am over three years in recovery!

Congratulations, and we are so happy that you’re still here with us.

Thank you. It’s all because Robin is phenomenal and Sarah’s phenomenal. I was able to bond with the girls, and even the guys, who were in my program – that definitely helped.

What were some of the tools that the program provided you with?

Oh, gosh, so many different tools. Walking through the story is a big one. Anytime I felt like I wanted to go back to gambling, basically they would tell you to kind of walk that out. Every time I went to the casino at the very end, it was destruction. Walking that out helped me. They told you to make a list of things to do if you get bored. And if you wanted to go to the casino, to ban yourself, so I did. That was a huge tool for me to go around and ban myself from all the different casinos. Building my self-confidence up and learning that gambling is an addiction that doesn’t discriminate and it’s not who I am.

You mentioned creating bonds with others in the program. I know they hold events throughout the year, were you able to take part in any of those?

I have gone to the yearly problem gambling dinner that they have every March. And I have taken some recovery coaching classes to become a recovery coach so in the future I could help others who might be struggling and needing some help.

Why were those bonds important to create?

Just additional lifelines out there. They’re there if you’re struggling, you can call them and they know what you’re going through, and they can walk you through it. It holds you accountable. If they see that you may be possibly going in the other direction, they can be there for support.

Can you talk about the dangerous cycle of gambling and what it is like to be caught up in it?

It’s a horrible cycle. You can win a jackpot, but you turn around and give it right back to the casino. Your paycheck, you can blow it within hours of receiving it. I would win two or three jackpots a night, and I would still walk out empty handed. When you walk out empty handed, you just start beating yourself up, you start the negative talk – that you are so dumb, that you not only just walked away from such and such amount of money and wins, but you also just spent your whole entire paycheck. And how are you going to provide for your son? And how are you going to get gas? How are you going to get food? How are you going to pay your bills?

I would try to go to bed because I had to work the next day or a be at work in the next five hours, and I couldn’t because I would stress. I would toss and turn and hear the bells go off in my head from the casino. Then the next day would wake up and say, ‘well, if I can just go back and get a little bit more money, then I can pay my bills’. It’s just this vicious cycle and your mind is always at the casino – when can I go back? When can I try to win my losses? Every chance I could get, I would want to go to the casino.

In contrast, compared to your life before you took the step to go to GA and then the Problem Gambling program, what is your life like today?

A life without beating myself up every day. There’s no more stress. There is no worry about where am I going to find money to pay my bills. I can make my payments on time. I have a savings account. I’ve repaired my credit. I have relationships again, because before I would just isolate. I pushed everyone out of my life when I was gambling, and now I actually have healthy relationships.

Awesome. That’s great to hear! Why do you believe it’s important that these programs are available and offer that extra support like the Problem Gambling program?

Well, that’s just it – for that extra support. I honestly think that the Problem Gambling program helps people be their true self. Not only are you in recovery, but you’re learning more about yourself. It’s a journey of finding out who you are, and these counselors are amazing at it. I’ve never had anyone like Robin in my life before, who just knew me and could tell what I needed. She is pretty amazing.

There’s accountability, which I think is important. Like, GA, no one knows if you’re going or not. You don’t have to have a sponsor. You don’t have to go. With the Problem Gambling program there’s homework, there’s accountability. 

Do you have any words of advice you would like to share with those who need that extra support and could benefit from the Tulalip Problem Gambling program?

I say do it. It will be worth it. One, it’s free. How can you pass up free? And you learn so much about yourself. It was an intensive program that changed my life. For those who don’t know about it, I just try to do my part and spread the word as much as possible.

That is important because sometimes it’s almost like problem gambling is not taken as serious as some of the other addictions. What are you what are your feelings on that and your thoughts?

I wanted to stop gambling for long over a year. I felt hopeless and helpless. And it wasn’t just through the 12 steps, it was the Problem Gambling program that helped me get through it. That addiction is just the same as anything else. Addiction is a means of coping. People eat. People drink. People use drugs to cope. And gambling, that’s how I coped with life. When everyone talks about addiction, they think it’s just alcohol or drugs, but there’s so many other addictions. 

I believe that’s all the questions I have. I want to thank you for your time and your words, and for helping spread the word about problem gambling! Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I am thankful just to share my story. In GA, I have found that there are a lot of nurses who gamble, because it’s a way to cope.  I hope this reaches others and helps them reach out for that extra support if they need it. 

Native Americans are at the highest risk of developing a gambling habit. A 2019 study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol and Related Conditions showed that 2.3% of the entire Indigenous population are currently battling a gambling addiction, one of the highest percentages in the nation. And after a few years of dealing with the global pandemic, that percentage is unfortunately expected to increase.

The Tulalip Problem Gambling Program will be hosting events throughout Problem Gambling Awareness Month, leading up to an in-person dinner event taking place at Tulalip Resort Casino on March 26th at 6:00 p.m.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a gambling addiction, or if you would like to find out more information about Problem Gambling Awareness month, please contact (360) 716-4304.  

Indigenous Beginnings brings the culture to the people

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Across the land, and within each tribe, many Native Americans are fortunate and blessed to grow up surrounded by the culture. Learning the ways of our ancestors who came before us, tribal members are often gifted knowledge at numerous intervals throughout our lives, whether that be our traditional languages, the importance of ceremony, or how to live and thrive of the land, several teachings are passed through the generations. Countless tribal members develop a strong cultural identity at a young age, and that foundation helps keep our way of life alive and is in-turn taught to the future leaders – a beautiful cycle. Which is amazing considering that our traditions were once outlawed with the intention of being completely erased and stripped away during the era of forced assimilation.

However, there is a percentage of Natives who aren’t raised within the culture, especially in today’s modern society. Maybe they grow-up away from their homelands, and only visit their reservations every so often. Or perhaps, with the everyday hustle, their families can’t attend local cultural happenings as often as they would like. And of course, there are those who simply haven’t gravitated to their traditional lifeways just yet. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they do not want to get involved at some point in their lifetime. 

For those individuals who are ready to learn their ancestral teachings, where do they begin? How do they attain that foundation, that base of knowledge to the point where they can practice their traditions with confidence in both a group and personal setting, without feeling awkward, embarrassed or looked-down upon? These are common concerns for urban Natives and others who grew up outside of the culture, especially at large gatherings when you are expected to just jump-in. 

The answer comes in the form of a newly established, non-profit organization called Indigenous Beginnings. Founded by Nooksack tribal member and Tulalip community member, Stephanie Cultee, Indigenous Beginnings hosts a variety of cultural workshops and helps tribal members connect to their traditional lifeways.

“Indigenous Beginnings started after COVID happened,” explained Stephanie. “All the programs were kind of shut down, and I thought that it was possible to host a workshop in a safe environment while still practicing our ways. The organization is geared toward passing down the knowledge, so it stays alive and preserving it. There was a whole generation that couldn’t practice or learn their ways from their grandparents because of the boarding school era. And there are a lot of programs that happen at each tribe, but they are all kind of geared towards the youth, and I always felt left out. What about us who aren’t youth? It would always feel weird to attend those events and programs.”

She continued, “With Indigenous Beginnings, all of our workshops are for all ages. For those older generations who want to learn, they could come and don’t have to feel weird about it. I am from Nooksack and moved down here when I was fifteen. I have three daughters who are Tulalip, and I want them to learn their Tulalip heritage and Nooksack’s as well because they are descendants from Nooksack too. I didn’t know much about my tribe, because I moved away when I was young, and I thought this could be a way that I could teach them, and a way that I can learn as well.”

Officially established in the late summer of 2021, the non-profit has already hosted numerous workshops over the past several months. Over ten in fact, and each project is different, so the participants are always learning something new or receiving a fun and interactive refresher. So far, Indigenous Beginnings has hosted harvesting classes, and gathered devil’s club, fireweed and mountain huckleberries, as well as a number of carving classes where participants crafted canoe paddles, fish sticks and cedar earrings. Other classes included a two-part beading seminar, a drum making workshop, and a salmon canning lesson. 

For their most recent gathering, a stinging nettle harvesting workshop, the organization enlisted Tulalip tribal member Thomas Williams to lead the class. On the frosty morning of March 6, approximately a dozen participants met at a clearing in a nearby forest, a local area known as Arcadia. 

After teaching the group Lushootseed words for several local Indigenous plants, Thomas shared, “I arrived early in the morning as the birds were still waking and I prayed for the work we are doing today. Before you start harvesting, I ask that you get yourself in a healthy state of mind and let the plant know that you’re a good person and that you come in a good way. That’s part of why I feel that it doesn’t sting me as much, because I have a relationship with this plant and I’m learning how to protect it. 

This is our land, and it’s our responsibility to protect it. If we’re coming here and utilizing the medicine, it’s our responsibility to also use our ability to speak and stick up for these resources. We need your help protecting this area so that future generations can continue to come here and utilize that medicine.”

Thomas then demonstrated harvesting techniques while informing the participants what and where to look for when harvesting the stinging nettle plant, indicating that they grow in families and can be seen along the tree lines. Equipped with gloves, buckets and a pair of scissors, the group spent two hours scouring Arcadia for stinging nettles and discussed amongst themselves how they would utilize the plant after the day’s bounty was collected. During this time, the group also shared stories, laughter, prayers and songs, providing each other with the medicine of good company while they worked.

“When you harvest nettles, you talk to them and let them know who you are, who your family is, and that you’re there with good intentions,” said young Tulalip tribal member, Kaiser Moses. “You let them know that you care about the plants, and you care about the environments that the plants exist within. This is important to me because it makes good tea, it’s good in stews and it has good practical benefits, but it also connects me to the environment that I exist in. The forests I drive-by every day, I walk in them and have a connection to them. That plays a big part in my life, because I need the grounding that it provides.” 

Many participants echoed Kaiser’s sentiment about feeling connected, not only to the culture, but also to the natural world while taking part in the Indigenous Beginnings workshop. Tulalip tribal member Kali Joseph noted that this work is important for our people going forward and continuing to learn and pass on the knowledge of our ancestors. 

Said Kali, “It was so cool, and it was super healing. I felt very connected to the land today. It was an honor to be a part of this. It makes me so thankful for Stephanie’s organization because it brings the culture to the people. This was my first-time harvesting stinging nettle. I’m really looking forward to using the medicine further and maybe making a pesto and dehydrating some for a tea. I know that sometimes it’s hard to get connected to your culture when life is so busy, with work and school and other things. So, just to take some time, where everything is set-up for you, where she facilitates it for you, and your instructor teaches you how to harvest and how to use what you harvest further. I think it’s awesome to be a part of.”

She added, “It’s important, the work that we do to sustain and revitalize our culture, because as Native people, we have lots of healing to do and I think that we could utilize this type of work to collectively heal. Indigenous Beginnings is thinking about what’s in the best interest for the next seven generations. Everything we do today has a ripple effect down the next seven generations. And since this my first-time learning, and my little sisters first time learning, we’ll be able to pass those teachings on to many generations down the line.”

There are many fun and exciting events and classes planned for Indigenous Beginnings that the people can look forward to over the next couple of months as the weather warms up. In addition to more harvesting workshops, rose hips and morel mushrooms are due up next, the non-profit is in the process of coordinating a cedar-pulling workshop, as well as a cedar weaving lesson. 

It is Stephanie’s goal to host workshops on different reservations, in addition to both of her homes at Tulalip and Nooksack, and get other local tribes involved in the organization. She also has aspirations of starting a hiking club, where participants can journey, by foot, through their ancestral homelands. Indigenous Beginnings also commissioned a cedar strip canoe from Canadian Native carver Neil Russell, which should be completed before the end of spring. They will teach participants how to pull the canoe out on the open waters.

Stephanie shared, “I want this to be a model, the framework, so other tribal members can form their own branches of Indigenous Beginnings, like Muckleshoot Indigenous Beginnings workshops. Or maybe Alaska, because there’s a lot of Alaskan Natives here in Washington and they could start their own. This is also a great way for our teachers to get funding, to compensate them because they are teaching our traditional ways. It’s mind blowing that there are still people who hold that knowledge, those teachings, and we just want to help pass that knowledge on.”

Indigenous Beginnings is currently looking to add a board member to their team who can advocate for the organization, build connections, assist in fund raising opportunities and attend all of their meetings. If you are interested, or if you would like to find out more about the non-profit, please visit their Facebook page for more information.