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.

Walking Through My Story

By Kalvin Valdillez Tulalip News 

Did you know that as a people, 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.

Since it’s establishment, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program has been a reliable source to those attempting to kick their gambling habit for good, helping recovering addicts along their healing journey. Over the years, the program has served not only the tribal community, but non-Native gambling addicts who live in the local vicinity as well.

 Many Problem Gambling participants have experienced a great deal of progress as they worked through the program, alongside individuals who are on a similar path. People they can relate to and who they feel comfortable talking to and sharing their darkest moments with, without the fear of them passing judgement.

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 each year. The Tulalip Family Services program has been such a great success, other tribes are now following their model to start their own problem gambling programs on their reservations. 

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

 In an effort to spread the word about their services and the dangers of habitual betting, Problem Gambling hosts several events during the awareness month, as well as provides numerous resources and support to those fighting the gambling disease.

To help raise awareness, the Problem Gambling Program teamed up with Tulalip News to bring you a weekly series of articles throughout March. Over the course of the next four weeks, participants who have found success with the Problem Gambling program will share their stories about how the program assisted them in their recovery journey. And in some cases, how the program ultimately saved their lives. 

The following story was recounted by local recovering addict, Jessica D. Trigger warning – this transcription touches on difficult subjects including suicide.

Jessica D:

“My story is — I’m trying to think about where to start. I hit rock bottom to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore. I actually tried numerous times to kill myself when driving in my vehicle. At the last second, I would always turn because I was afraid that hitting a cement wall or barrier wouldn’t kill me, but put me in more pain. Gambling was one way to escape my pain and loneliness, among other stuff, because it would give me the endorphins to help deal with that pain. 

I tried [Gamblers Anonymous] for a few years and I just wasn’t ready. It was September of 2018 that I was like, ‘okay I’m going to try to go to a GA meeting one more time’. I knew I needed GA but I also knew that I needed something more. I heard other ladies talking in that meeting, and I just put it out there and told them I need something more. I needed counseling, I needed something else that is more in-depth than what GA could provide. That’s when someone mentioned the Tulalip Problem Gambling program and I reached out and looked into it because I was at my last end. 

One thing that attracted me to the program was that it is free. And being an addict, I didn’t have any money. I was behind on rent, my car payment and behind on everything. So, I took a chance. I had nothing else to lose. At the time, my train of thought was that I needed to find something or else I’d have to follow through with my demise.

I went in and filled the intake form and told myself that I’d give this a real shot. I was hopeful because they told me I was not alone and that this program could help me get into the deeper things that I was looking for. I started going to one-on-one sessions and started the group — it totally changed my life. I would not be alive today if it wasn’t for the Problem Gambling program. It was what I needed. They helped me get to the root of my addiction and figure out when I crossed that invisible line and understand why I couldn’t stop.

One thing about me is I have a scientific and logical mind, and I like to know the reasoning behind things. And having that schooling and information that they provide – learning that our brain chemicals change and learning the mechanics behind it all that was very important in my recovery. I also had all these preconceived notions about addictions. And I found out that it is exactly the same as alcoholism or drug addiction, it changes the brain chemicals the exact same way, it’s just a different form of addiction. That really opened my eyes to other addictions and how they are all connected.

The people, especially Robin [Johnson] she was my counselor, I’m so grateful for them. She met me where I was at, because I can be stubborn. She worked with me on how I needed to do things. Everything I learned in the program and learned about myself, was life changing.

I entered the program in October 2018, and I actually didn’t stop gambling until March 9, 2019. I kept having a relapse. On March 9, I finally had enough and decided to give it a good try. And that’s where the program really helped, Robin advised me to try just for a short period of time, take it more in chunks. It’s been very enlightening and I’m so thankful. Back then, I never would’ve thought I’d make this far. 

Once I hit a year, I could see how much my life changed and could feel that it made a difference. In GA meetings, every now and then we’ll do what’s called brag time and now I’m excited and celebrate my amount of time. It’s interesting how the mind changes over time when you are sober and you get the time under your belt. It feels good.

The techniques are great too. I learned some amazing tools to help work through any thoughts about gambling or urges. I learned tools that I still use to this day and have been able to share with other people. 

One of the tools is called ‘Walking through my story: Playing my tape’. With an addiction, our little addict in us – whatever you want to call it, a monster, everyone has a different name for it. It only remembers the happy things and the good feelings we get from our addictions. But we have to remind ourselves about the horrible bad feelings that we go through when we succumb to the addiction. So when playing my tape, I have to remind myself what would happen if I went to the casino. I would ultimately lose, that happens 99% of the time. I would get the gut wrenching feeling in my stomach, the horrible feeling that I can’t stop. I would have to continue to go back to the ATM to try to win back my losses.

It also helps thinking about what I’ve accomplished since then, like being able to pay-off my bills. I have almost everything paid-off now. I have a roof over my head, I’m up to date on my rent and my medical bills. I can actually pay for stuff and I can go out with my friends. I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to eat and don’t have to scramble or look for money through the cushions of my couch.

In the beginning, it was helpful to set an alarm. I’d set an alarm for ten, twenty or thirty minutes, however much time I think I need, and distract myself and do something else for that amount of time. When my alarm goes off, I re-evaluate and see if I still have a strong urge to gamble. If I do, I reset my alarm again, and just for that time frame I don’t gamble or give in to my addiction. Instead of taking it one day at a time, I take one moment at time. 

And of course there’s phone lists, reaching out to people and talking to others who I met through the program. We created amazing bonds. One of my best friends now is from that group. I shared things with them that I will never share with anyone again, not even with my family. In that group I had to share it. 

Now when I’m at a GA meeting and I am talking to somebody after hearing their story, I’ll usually tell them that it’s awesome they are there and let them know that if they are ever wanting or needing extra help, I know of this great program. It’s a more intensive program that will help you get to the root of the addiction and help you work through recovery. 

Right now, it’s more of a word of mouth type of program and I feel like more people need to know about it. Especially with gambling addiction, because it is acceptable to go out gambling and people don’t realize it can become an addiction and you can cross a line with it. 

It’s important to make other people realize that there is hope out there and there is help. I know that I would not be here without the Problem Gambling Program today. I tell everyone that it saved my life.” 

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.  

Is your goal to stop smoking? Tulalip Community Health is here for you

scissors cut a cigarettes, concept for anti smoking

By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News

Like most goals, people have the mindset to change habits in their life. Whether it’s to negative a habit or improve upon one. Throughout the years, one common goal amongst Americans, and one of the hardest to stop, is trying to stop smoking.

According to the FDA, smoking cigarettes accounts for 480,000 premature deaths per year. Even though the knowledge about the negative effects of smoking is widely known by Americans, still around 34 million Americans smoke cigarettes today and smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. “In 2015, nearly 70 percent of current adult smokers in the United States said they wanted to quit. In 2018, about 55 percent of adult smokers had made a quit attempt in the past year, but only about 8 percent were successful in quitting for 6-12 months.”

If you break down the components of cigarettes, the most harmful ingredients are nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. Not to mention, over 600 other deathly chemicals including but not limited to, benzene, arsenic, and formaldehyde. These chemicals lead to issues like cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The active and most addictive ingredient is the nicotine, which inevitably makes quitting that much harder. 

Much like cigarettes, what is becoming more of a concern in society is the rise in use of e-cigarettes. Even though they do contain different ingredients, and cause different health issues, e-cigarettes can be equally as devasting to your health. According to monthly newsletter from the National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “A new survey found an alarming rise in the number of American teens who tried vaping last year. The study suggests that vaping may be driving an increase in nicotine use for teens”, and “Exposure to nicotine during youth can lead to addiction and cause long-term harm to brain development. The vapor can also contain toxins (including ones that cause cancer) and tiny particles that are harmful when breathed in.”

One could argue that the use of tobacco is a part of tribal culture. Traditional tobacco used to be harvested and used by Native Americans for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. It used to hold cultural and spiritual importance, and was offered when asking for help, guidance, or protection. In many teachings, the smoke that burned from the tobacco would carry thoughts and prayers to the spirit world or to the Creator. However, these traditions used tobacco in its purest form, and its ingredients differ widely from the products that tobacco is paired with today. Along with that, the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes don’t hold the traditional values that smoking tobacco once had, but rather are used on a more recreational basis. 

Like many other health issues, the Tulalip Community Health Department is invested in the wellbeing of tribal members. One of these efforts includes the 12-week, Smoking Cessation program. The purpose of the program is to provide a sanctuary for tribal members and any Snohomish County residents and assist them as they attempt to tackle quitting smoking. They do this by providing education and resources for community members on replacing addictive behaviors with health and wellness. This is accomplished through prevention activities, counseling (one-on-one, and group), and support for ongoing prevention (such as smoking cessation and use reduction). Additionally, they provide various nicotine replacement therapy like patches, gum, and lozenges.

When speaking with Seilavena Williams, prevention coordinator for the program, she said “what makes it unique is that we intertwine with myself, and two nurses who have had the tobacco specialist training. Also, that it is free. Most clinics or services don’t offer those products for free. But we do training, provide education and support, but also, we supply you the products as well.” 

The value of the training that these representatives have is that they have a better understanding of someone’s journey. Williams said, “We know it takes time and understanding and patience with an individual. When they want to take this next step of wanting to quit, sometimes it doesn’t happen right away. Sometimes it takes a few times, but we are there supporting them throughout their journey.”

Currently with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the respiratory issues that follow the virus, it becomes a crucial time to stop smoking. Studies have shown that people that have predisposed illnesses and health concerns are more likely to have higher complications when contracting Covid-19. In a pandemic time, with the assistance of the Smoking Cessation Program, you have the ability to try and take control of your health again.

If you or someone you know is needing help quitting cigarettes or e-cigarettes, and need more information about the Smoking Cessation program, please contact Seilavena Williams at 360-716-5662. 

Introducing the Maternal Infant Health Program

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

It takes a village to raise a child is a powerful proverb that means an entire community of people must provide for and interact positively with a child so that it may grow in a safe, healthy, and culturally vibrant environment. On paper it sounds perfect, right? But among the concrete jungles and techno-filled landscapes of modern America, its increasingly difficult to find examples of this proverb being fulfilled.

For expectant mothers and those with babies, not having a village or support system of encouraging individuals around during such a vulnerable time can be devastating. On the Tulalip Reservation, there’s a new program striving to provide that critical support for our life givers. The Maternal Infant Health Program (MIHP) seeks to improve birth outcomes within the Tulalip Tribal community. The program’s vision is to provide education and support resources that create an environment of empowered, educated and supported mothers and children.

To better explain the program’s purpose and services, it’s coordinator, Community Health nurse Morgan Peterson, sat down with Tulalip News for a thorough overview. A Rosebud Sioux tribal member, she’s lived locally to Tulalip most of her life. After receiving her nursing degree and working in OB-GYN offices throughout the area, Morgan has spent the last twelve years dedicated to prenatal health in Tulalip.

Morgan Peterson, 
Community Health nurse 

What is the purpose of the Maternal Infant Health Program?

“The ultimate goal is for our families to feel empowered and to ensure they are having a birth experience that is positive. For young, first time moms this may mean education and providing a safe space to ask questions or seek guidance. For a mom adding to her family, this may mean improving birth outcomes and healing from past traumas so that mom and baby are treated with the best care available.

 A major part of MIHP includes building resiliency. We want our life givers to be confident in all aspects of motherhood. I’m passionate about meeting my clients wherever they are in life, and walking beside them on their journey to self-determination.”

Does this include coordination of home births? 

“Yes, it does. More and more moms are choosing to give birth in the comfort of their own home or a setting of their choosing outside of a hospital. We’ll help our life givers achieve their birthing goals, whether it’s by coordinating a hospital birth or navigating the home birth process. There’s different options available to our families, such as birthing centers, too, which we can tour together if they’re interested.”

Are MIHP services for individual mothers only, or can family units be included?

“Having a child in a warm, nurturing environment may mean having your family or even grandparents involved. We understand a lot of Native homes are multi-generational. We are more than willing to work with our Native family units, however they may look, to assist mothers be in the best position possible. If you’re living with your parents, grandparents, or other relations we want to make sure your immediate support system is educated to yours and baby’s needs.”

Breaking cycles of abuse and healing from generational traumas are common concepts to Native parents. Are these processes you help with?

“Our history with boarding schools and the foster care system has resulted in whole generations of traumatized families. If not addressed and healed, then that trauma gets passed on from one generation to the next, which we often see. I understand the intricacies of this process because my grandma was in a boarding school. She was forcibly taken from her family in Pine Ridge and never mothered. She grew up with the nuns, was beaten and stripped of her language. My grandma was never taught to be motherly or maternal, so when she raised her kids, she provided for them, but was never motherly. That’s to say she wasn’t loving. That led to my mom wanting to be better, and to do so she had to learn to be loving because she wasn’t taught that by my grandma.

We understand everyone is trying to be better than the generation before, but it’s often difficult to admit these traumas that need to be healed so we don’t pass them on to our kids. That’s where we can help by offering services to learn how to change parenting styles in order for our children to be nurtured and feel loved.”

The concept of ‘birth outcome’ is new. You mentioned your goal to improve them, but what does a negative birth outcome mean? 

“A common negative outcome is described by those who have experienced racism and traumas by medical providers or the medical community at large. Those who have felt judged or were treated as addicts, and those who experienced a general lack of cultural competency by their providers, all lead to negative birth outcomes. 

Another common one is unnecessary CPS reports or accusations of bad parenting that lead new parents or parents with multiple kids to avoid routine doctor visits and check-ups. Teen moms can feel shunned and stereotyped in ways that deter them from receiving the critical information and services they need.

We seek to improve birth outcomes by providing education and support resources that create a positive environment where mothers and their children feel supported. This includes recommending medical providers who are familiar with Native American culture and are sensitive to the unique aspects and issues of Tulalip families.”

Can you share one of your favorite improved birth outcome experiences?

“Sure. One of my favorites is about a mom who found out she was pregnant while in jail. She contacted me after she was got out and was living in a halfway house while going to treatment…all while having a new born baby. I was familiar with their family and knew where the traumas come from. Their parents had massive addiction. Assisting this mom build the resiliency to stay strong, find the right support system for her, and maintain a journey of sobriety was life changing for her and her children. That was a couple years ago when she called me, and she’s still sober to this day. Her journey and love for her children inspired one of her parents to get clean as well. This is an inspirational story for some and motivational for others. It lets them know what’s possible.”

For an expectant mother or mom with a new born, what does the MIHP startup process look like?

“It starts with either a simple phone call or in-person visit, whichever they prefer. We would discuss their pregnancy, how they are doing, and what services they need. Each mom is unique as is what she may need help with. Our help ranges from maternal and infant health assessments; pregnancy and parenting support; infant health and development education; breastfeeding and nutrition support; and referrals/registration to community resources based on their needs. Just to name a few. We have so many possible services and ways of helping our new moms.”

The Maternal Infant Health Program is an evidence-based, culturally-tailored home visiting partnership designed to assist, support, and empower expectant moms (those currently pregnant) and moms with children under 3-years-old. If you or a loved one meets these criteria and could benefit from hearing all of the amazing details this program can offer, please contact Morgan directly via email mpeterson@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov or call/text 360-926-5978.