Potential life-saving treatment for COVID-positives available at Tulalip Health Clinic

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

As COVID deaths continue to spike in Washington State — the 7-day average for deaths has reached its highest sustained peak all pandemic — newly developed treatments for the disease are beginning to receive global attention. Monoclonal antibody therapies are among the most effective. In this treatment, COVID-positive patients are infused with high concentrations of antibodies specifically designed to fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID.

On the Tulalip Reservation, a recent explosion of positive test results has corresponded with the return of in-person schooling and a number of large gatherings (birthday parties, funerals and community activities) Probable positives reached the triple digits in mid-September and yet another elder was a suspected pandemic casualty, bringing the total to 9 elders lost according to Emergency Management.

With the pandemic clearly not ending any time soon and many more COVID-positives a forgone conclusion at this point, the new interim Medical Director of Tulalip’s Health Clinic, Dr. Elizabeth TopSky (Chippewa Cree) has brought monoclonal antibodies to the reservation. She wants all eligible patients of the Health Clinic to know about this potentially life-saving treatment. 

It is important to note this therapy is only available to those who have recently tested positive, and it can be administered to individuals as young as 12-years-old. Since mid-September the antibody treatment has been administered to multiple Tulalip elders and high-risk teenagers alike. The results have been overwhelmingly favorable. 

One such elder, 81-year-old Keeta Sheldon, shared her experience with the antibody therapy. “Well, I was vaccinated so when I tested positive that was a bit of a surprise. My family reached out to local medical centers inquiring about this new antibody infusion and when they found out it was offered at our Health Clinic, they made the necessary arrangements,” she said. “The treatment only took 20 minutes and I felt pretty good right away.”

When asked if she’d recommend the monoclonal antibody treatment to her fellow tribal members, Keeta responded emphatically, “Yes. For those who catch COVID it’ll make them feel a whole lot better.”

Tulalip Health Clinic director Dr. TopSky was gracious enough to answer a few prevailing questions our readers may find insightful in regards to this breakthrough medicine intended to prevent severe symptoms and possible death from developing among our community’s most vulnerable. 

Health Clinic Medical Director Dr. TopSky.

What is monoclonal antibody therapy?

Dr. TopSky: Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells. The product is available for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients (over 12-years-old and weighing over 40 kg) who are at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization.

How is this therapy relevant in today’s current climate with the Delta variant running rampant in our community?

Dr. TopSky: Unfortunately, we have a fairly large population that is unvaccinated and we are dealing with the largest ever number of positive patients during this Delta surge. The vaccine is the first line in healthcare worker’s fight against negative outcomes from this infection. This therapy is a second option for our eligible patients to prevent hospitalizations and other complications. As a healthcare clinic, we are also able to help the local hospitals and ERs in this surge by providing this treatment to our eligible patients. 

Who is eligible to receive this therapy at our Health Clinic?

Dr. TopSky: We are presently offering this therapy to eligible patients of our clinic when we are first aware they have tested positive. This is a collaboration from our medical staff and the Community Health Nurses. They have the information on community members who test positive outside of our clinic and forward to us. We review the list of positive patients to determine if they meet the criteria for the antibody infusion. We reach out to these patients at risk with a phone call. 

If they voice interest, we then schedule an appointment for the infusion. Ideally, the infusion occurs as early as possible in the infection and needs to be completed in the first ten days of symptoms. The clinical worsening happens around 14 days and it can be difficult to predict who will worsen at that time. That’s why the guidelines are in place for who is eligible to receive the infusion. 

To date, how many patients have received the antibody therapy at the Health Clinic?

Dr. TopSky: As of today, we have provided twelve treatments to our clinic patients, some of whom are not Tulalip tribal members. We will continue to monitor our positive patients and reach out to them by phone. We would definitely encourage any of our patients who test positive to reach out to us if they want to know if they meet the criteria. 

We continue to improve our processes and we might not always be aware of a patient’s recent diagnosis. Howard Johnson, PharmD has been our primary contact for scheduling and providing this service. It does take 2-3 hours to complete and can be tiring sometimes for the patient when they are already not feeling well.

Any other pertinent information you’d like to share?

Dr. TopSky: Our medical providers and nursing staff, like all other healthcare providers in the country, are significantly overwhelmed with the present Delta surge. I would like to recognize them for their service to our patient population. They are exposed daily to this deadly virus and their dedication and service should not go unrecognized. 

Also, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when able as this is the first step in getting this pandemic under control. We are all in this together and getting vaccinated protects our families and community.

For more information about monoclonal antibody therapy and patient eligibility, please contact Tulalip’s clinical pharmacist Dr. Howard Johnson. He can be reached at (360) 716-5699

Healing from within: Local Group aims to bring Recovery Café to Tulalip-Marysville area

Tulalip Recovery coaches at a recent ethics training hosted by the Tulalip Problem 
Gambling Program and taught by Whaakadup and Lisa Monger.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Back in 2020, just weeks before the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, the Tulalip Problem Gambling Program held a four-day training, over the course of two weekends, designed to build a network of support for local individuals on the road to recovery. Approximately twenty people attended the training and became certified recovery coaches, learning skills to help empower and encourage those battling addiction to stay the course, especially during difficult times when they are on the verge of a relapse. 

“A recovery coach is someone in-between a sponsor and a counselor,” explained Problem Gambling Counselor, Robin Johnson. “They’re not there to tell them what to do. They are not doing the twelve steps with them, that’s not what they’re there for. They’re there to help, depending on their individual needs, finding out what those needs are, and meeting them there.”

She continued, “This is not the first recovery coach training that we’ve had, but it was by far the most successful. We’ve had better response and incorporated not only addiction, or chemical addiction, but also gambling addictions. Our philosophy is that we help the community heal from within, and the more people that we can teach to be recovery coaches, and have them in the community and available to others, that is just going to snowball. That was our hope and that is actually what seems to be happening at the moment.”

Through the recovery coach training, the Problem Gambling program planted a seed that is coming to fruition today. Six of those recovery coaches stayed in contact throughout the pandemic’s stay-at-home mandates, meeting virtually to discuss how they can spread the word and let those in recovery know they are available as a source of support, brainstorming ideas on how they can better serve their community. Ultimately, the group decided they needed a physical space where recovering addicts can go in times of distress and when in need of support, and with that came the idea of opening up a local Recovery Café. 

The original Recovery Café was established in 2004 right here in the Pacific Northwest, in the Belltown neighborhood before migrating to South Lake Union in 2010. Since then, the Recovery Café has assisted not only those wanting to lead a clean and sober lifestyle, but also the homeless population in Seattle as well. 

The café offers a positive environment where people can enjoy coffee and healthy meals while interacting with others in a number of activities including open mic nights and birthday celebrations. Café goers can take part in peer-to-peer groups such as recovery circles and they also have access to computers, WIFI and a plethora of resources. The Recovery Café model has been such a success that over 20 non-profit organizations have opened cafés of their own in cities throughout the country. And recently, a second location was opened in Seattle’s SODO district. 

Although there is an established Recovery Café in Everett, opening a location in the Tulalip-Marysville area will benefit a community that has been significantly impacted by the opioid crisis over the years. This establishment could not come at a better time either as early projections predict that overdose cases and excessive gambling cases have been on the rise since the first wave of the pandemic hit. Offering a space where people can go to simply be around others who strive for the same goal can help during the recovery journey. 

Still in the early planning phase, led by those six individuals who attended the Problem Gambling’s recovery coach training in 2020, the group is working on establishing a board of directors, designing a logo, raising funds and most importantly finding a space to set up shop. Ideally, the group would like the café to be in an area that is convenient and accessible to both Tulalip and Marysville community members. If you happen to be reading this and the perfect location comes to mind, the group would love to hear from you. 

 The recovery coaches also enlisted a number of professionals to help navigate the process of opening up the café, including Tulalip Tribal Prosecutor Brian Kilgore, Tulalip Recovery Liaison Helen Gobin-Henson, Tulalip ODMAP Social Worker Jackson Nahpi, and Robin Johnson and Sarah Sense-Wilson of the Problem Gambling program. The Tulalip Foundation has also leant their expertise to the project, helping the Café become a non-profit organization and apply for and obtain grants. 

“I’m really excited about this group of people,” said Brian. “I think that they’re going to go out into the community and they’re going to create a physical space where people can come in and get wraparound support and services. I think that the power of having a physical place, around which to build services, is going to be really transformative for all the work we’re doing. Government, non-government, volunteers, we’re all working the same problem, right? We’re trying to save lives, trying to get parents back to their kids and rebuild families and communities and stop people from dying, but we just haven’t had a physical place to do it.”

Once the group finds a space to operate, they believe everything should easily fall in place, and they are aiming to have the café up and running by the end of the year. In addition to finding a space for the Café, the recovery coaches will be doing community outreach over the next couple months. If you are interested in helping get this project started and helping people maintain a clean and healthy lifestyle, please contact the Problem Gambling program at (360) 716-4304 for more information. 

Helen expressed, “This project is important because we have nowhere for our people who are sober and clean, or want to get sober and clean, to gather. And we have so many people who are homeless, who are hungry, and they could come to the café and enjoy a meal. I feel like when the people who are sober and clean get together as a group, they can connect with each other and say, ‘Are you going to an in-person meeting today? I’d like to go with you’, or ‘what Zoom meetings are you hitting?’ They can connect there at the café. This is so important to me, to help the people who are sober, and encourage the people who might be thinking about getting sober and clean, find a safe and supportive place to gather.”

Virtual Family Night: Providing education about gambling addiction and building strong support systems

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“During recovery, it’s really important that your family has an understanding of the addiction, because if you’re not an addict, you just won’t understand it,” said Tulalip Problem Gambling Counselor, Robin Johnson “Especially gambling. Gambling is hugely overlooked as being an addiction, so the family is left thinking, why? Why can’t you just pull yourself up, why can’t you quit, it doesn’t make any sense to them.”

The Tulalip Problem Gambling Program is inviting you to their upcoming virtual event that will take place on September 30, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Known as Family Night, the monthly event is more than just a social gathering for recovering addicts and their families, but a support group where both friends and family members of recovering excessive gamblers can get a better understanding of the addiction. 

Recovery can be a strenuous journey full of ups and downs as well as milestones and setbacks. Families are often affected throughout the process and also carry the burden of the addiction as well, whether that’s financially, emotionally, mentally, physically or all of the above. The Family Night support group is an opportunity for family and friends to learn about the many tribulations they could face while helping their loved ones on the road to recovery, while also getting insight to what fuels the addiction and how they can help end an often-vicious cycle of trying to hit it big.

The monthly gathering also features guest speakers on occasion, providing recovering addicts and members from groups such as gambler’s anonymous and al-anon a space to share their story, to help serve as inspiration to those in recovery and provide any helpful tips or suggestions to family members, friends and compulsive gamblers alike, as they’re in the same journey together. And if you’ve ever attended a Problem Gambling event in the past, then you already know that it is sure to be an entertaining evening with fun and educational activities and plenty of good-medicine-laughs to go ‘round. 

As a people, Native Americans are at the highest risk of developing a gambling habit. According to a 2019 study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol and Related Conditions, 2.3% of the entire Indigenous population are battling gambling addiction, one of the highest percentages in the nation. Sarah Sense-Wilson, the Problem Gambling Program Coordinator, predicts those numbers will be on the rise because of COVID-19. Due to restrictions and stay-at-home orders, the amount of online gambling and sports betting is projected to be much higher than usual over the past two years.  

Sarah shared, “There’s been a lot more relapse and people gambling. Whether that’s online gambling or gaming or other forms of gambling, there has been an increase since COVID and it’s been harder for people to really grab ahold of recovery.”

For this reason, it is important that those individuals, who are attempting to escape the grips of excessive gambling, have a strong support group of people they can rely on when the going gets tough. Family Night is the perfect opportunity for recovering gambling addicts to start and build that support system.  

“A big part of recovery is about fellowship and building on that recovery support system, having a network of people who you can draw on for strength, hope, inspiration and support,” Sarah expressed. “There’s still a lot of stigma around this particular addiction. Gambling disorder is a disease, it is an addiction. There’s still huge denial throughout Indian Country and mainstream as well. We’re still way far behind in accepting, acknowledging and supporting people to get help. It’s a hidden illness.”

If you wish to be member of this monthly support group, to better understand the disease and learn how you can assist someone during their recovery journey, all you have to do is RSVP with the Problem Gambling program at (360) 716-4304. And on the day of the event, Thursday September 30 at 5:00 p.m., simply enter this Zoom ID number: 313 507 8314 on either the Zoom app or at www.Zoom.us  Family Nights are held once a month on every third Thursday. 

“Family Nights are really important,” Robin stated. “Because it’s not just as easy as sending your person to treatment and they fix them there and send them back home. The education is a requirement that we have for our clients, that one of their family members or friends attends Family Night during their treatment to gain an understanding. Family Night is about education and gaining information about gambling addiction. We always offer resources, so that beyond us, they have a resource list that they can go to and access.”

Get your huckleberry harvest on before time runs out

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

For thousands of years, huckleberry has served as an important food, medicine, and trade good to the Coast Salish peoples. Mountain huckleberry is most abundant in the middle to upper mountain elevations, and favors open conditions following disturbances like fire or logging. Prior to European colonization, Native peoples managed ideal harvesting locations by using fire and other traditional means to maintain huckleberry growth for sustainable picking.

In 2011, the Tulalip Tribes began working cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service to sustain huckleberries at a 1,280-acre parcel of land, 4,700 feet above elevation in the upper Skykomish River watershed. This particular location is one of several co-stewardship areas throughout the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest where Tulalip collaborates with the Forest Service to preserve and maintain important cultural resources. 

“It is not only important that we continue the struggle to uphold our treaty rights, but we need to be involved in taking care of those resources our culture depends on so they will be available to future generations.”

– Wisdom from elder Inez Bill

Named swədaʔx̌ali, Lushootseed for ‘Place of Mountain Huckleberries’, this end of summer destination gives Tulalip tribal members an opportunity to walk in the steps of their ancestors and harvest the highly prized mountain huckleberry. The gate to swədaʔx̌ali was officially opened on August 23 and will remain opened, tentatively, through the end of September. 

Northwest mountain huckleberries generally ripen in the late summer and can be picked into the early fall. Huckleberry, well-known for boosting the immune system and being rich in antioxidants, has always had a strong relationship to the area’s Indigenous cultures. Coast Salish tribes consider the huckleberry to be an important dietary staple because of its medicinal properties and sweet, delicious taste. 

“Huckleberry is a food and medicine to our people,” explained Tulalip elder Inez Bill. “Our ancestors visited certain areas for gathering these berries. They knew where the berries were growing, what companion plants were growing there too, and how to use them. 

“Through the teachings of how we value, take care of and utilize our environment, we pass down our history and traditions, and what is important to the cultural lifeways of our people,” she continued. “This connection to the land enables us to know who we are as a people. It is a remembrance. Today, it is not only important that we continue the struggle to uphold our treaty rights, but we need to be involved in taking care of those resources our culture depends on so they will be available to future generations.” 

Wild mountain huckleberries only grow in soils at elevations between 2,000 to 11,000 feet.

swədaʔx̌ali is a prime example of how Tulalip is diligently working to reclaim traditional areas. Stemming directly from the Point Elliot Treaty, which secured claims to gather roots and berries in all open and unclaimed land, the ‘Place of the Mountain Huckleberries” is clear expression of Tulalip’s sovereignty.

Embracing that sovereignty is every tribal member who journeys to this ancestral harvesting area and practices their cultural traditions that continue to be passed on from one generation to the next. The mountain huckleberry is intimately tied with traditional Tulalip lifeways and culture. 

Historically providing an end of summer harvest opportunity, the journey to swədaʔx̌ali strengthens a deep connection to the land.  Nearly 5,000 feet up, in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, berry pickers are completely immersed in the grand splendor that is the Pacific Northwest. Epic views of luscious, green-filled forestry, towering mountains, and clear waterways can be mesmerizing.

swədaʔx̌ali is a sustained effort between Tulalip Tribes and U.S. Forest Service partnership.

“It was a beautiful, uplifting experience. Once we hit the forest, where there were no buildings, no cars, no people, just trees…my spirit soared,” said Lushootseed teacher Maria Rios after staining her hands purple from a day of Huckleberry picking. “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to speak my language, but that is only a piece of my culture. Berry picking feels natural, like I’ve always done it. The smells are intoxicating. The sounds are beautiful, from the buzzing bugs and chirping birds to the gentle breeze rustling the huckleberry leaves. These are the meaningful experiences that we all need to share in.”

 Mountain huckleberry season is short, lasting only a few weeks between August and September. The sought after super food and medicine ranges in color from red to deep blue to maroon. They are similar to a blueberry in appearance and much sweeter than a cranberry, with many people rating huckleberries as the tastiest of the berry bunch. The gate to swədaʔx̌ali will only remain opened for a couple more weeks, so don’t miss the opportunity to harvest, take in breathtaking views, and, most importantly, express your tribal sovereignty.

Huckleberry Health Benefits:

  • Huckleberries are full of antioxidants, compounds that are essential for improving the health of numerous systems within the body, while also preventing the development of serious health issues.
  • An excellent source of vitamin A and B, huckleberries are great for promoting a healthy metabolism which in turn helps reduce the risk of stroke. They are also known to help stave off macular degeneration as well as viruses and bacteria.
  • Huckleberries are associated with lowering cholesterol; protecting against heart diseases, muscular degeneration, glaucoma, varicose veins, and ulcers.
  • Huckleberries are an excellent source of iron which helps build new red blood cells and helps fatigue associated with iron deficiency.
  • High in vitamin C, huckleberries protect the body against immune deficiencies, cardiovascular diseases, prenatal health problems, and eye diseases.

Monitoring Water Quality at Mission Beach

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

It has been a hot summer at Tulalip this year, with record-breaking heat during the last week of June reaching over 100-degrees, and multiple 80-degree days so far, people are getting out and having fun in the sun, taking advantage of weather that comes very seldom to the Pacific Northwest.

There are many ways Western Washingtonians can enjoy the clear skies and warm weather and some of those summertime activities include hiking and exploring nature, taking a scenic cruise with the windows down and good tunes blasting, visiting a zoo or a waterpark, catching a Mariners game, floating the river, or enjoying a cookout with your closest friends and family members. 

Tulalip tribal members have additional options to connect with their culture, traditions and people during the summer months such as huckleberry picking, cedar-harvesting, fishing, canoe-pulling, participating in the Salmon Ceremony and Spee-Bi-Dah festivities, and of course you can’t forget, spending the day at Mission Beach. Whether swimming, exercising, relaxing, or simply creating good times with good friends, Mission Beach is a staple destination for the local community, especially when blessed with gorgeous weather.

To ensure the safety of the public, Tulalip Natural Resources has monitored the waters at Mission Beach every summer since 2016, with the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The local waters are integral to the Tulalip people whose ancestors traveled upon and procured nourishment from since time immemorial. With each passing generation, memories are made at Mission Beach by Tulalip youth who splash amongst the waters and laugh along the shoreline. By monitoring the bacteria present in the Mission Beach waters, the Natural Resources department is making sure the kids, elders and everyone in-between can safely continue swimming at the beach. 

“We do the Mission Beach sampling every year during the summer,” said Tulalip Natural Resources Storm Water Planner, Valerie Streeter. “We’re catching the times that people are out in the water and we take a sample in the areas where people will swim.”

Samples are taken from three separate spots along the beach when the tide is in and the average bacteria level is calculated and recorded based on those samples. 

Valerie stated, “If we get too much bacteria, people start to get sick. I heard stories of people who contracted a stomach illness, some had diarrhea or they got a skin rash. Sometimes it can be more serious like typhoid fever. If it’s not healthy, it basically means there’s a lot of sewage in the water and that’s what we’re measuring. We use one particular indicator that the EPA said correlates with human sickness, so that’s why we chose that and that’s really why we’re monitoring the water, trying to protect us humans.”

Over the years, Mission Beach has had great water quality, and the bacteria level never once rose over the 104 bacteria threshold limit. Twice in 2016, during the first year of testing, the bacteria levels reached 80 or above. There were three readings in 2017 that showed the bacteria level exceeded 20. But other than that, all the measurements from 2018, 2019 and 2021 have been low and the bacteria level remained under 20. In fact, the highest it has reached this summer is 14. 

The water samples are collected and recorded by volunteers of the WSU Beach Watchers. Every year prior to summer, Valerie and the Beach Watchers hold a training over the course of one day to teach volunteers how to take accurate bacteria level samples. Samples are taken on a weekly-basis for the duration of summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. After the volunteers collect the water sample, they deliver it to the Tulalip Water Quality Lab, based at the Tulalip Fish Hatchery, where Harvey Eastman, the Water Quality Program Manager, grows the bacteria to get an accurate reading of how much bacteria is actually present in the three samples. 

With low bacteria readings so far, the water quality at Mission Beach has been great all summer long. Valerie encourages the community to have some safe, healthy fun and to enjoy some of the remaining days of summer down in the waters of Mission Beach. The volunteer WSU Beach Watchers will continue collecting samples through Labor Day, so be sure to give them a friendly wave and ask any questions if you are feeling inquisitive about the local water quality.  

Valerie shared, “If you’re interested, come out to our training next year and learn how to collect water samples and measure it’s temperature and salinity. It’s not that hard and every time you collect a sample, you get to enjoy a beautiful morning at Mission Beach.”

For more information, please contact Valerie at (360) 716-4629.