Honoring King Salmon

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Last year, for the first time in over four decades, the Tulalip Tribes made the difficult decision to cancel the Salmon Ceremony to help limit the spread of COVID-19 at the height of the worldwide pandemic. During the yearly event, not only does the Tribe pay respect to the entire salmon species but they also provide the tribal fishermen with a blessing for a plentiful and safe season out on the water, while also sharing good traditional medicine along the way. 

After nearly two calendar years, smoke billowed once again from the longhouse overlooking Tulalip Bay on the morning of June 5, as Tulalips gathered in traditional regalia to immerse themselves into their culture, practice the teachings of their ancestors and most importantly recognize, honor and celebrate yubəč, the king salmon. 

To really get an understanding of the significance of this ceremony and what it means to the Tulalip people, one must first delve into the Tribe’s history and learn of their stories passed through the generations. As you may know, salmon are integral to the Tulalip culture, diet, and tribal lifeways. Pre-contact, and prior to the current decline of the salmon population, this delicious source of nourishment swam through the Salish Sea, through local rivers and lakes, in abundance. The Tulalips have a traditional story that explains why the salmon returned each year in such great quantities. Back in 1993, Bernie ‘KyKy’ Gobin provided a fantastic retelling of the story Salmon Man, as told by Harriette Shelton-Dover, for the Marysville School District and it goes as follows:

This is one version of the Salmon Man. You might have heard about the Tulalip Salmon Festival. The Salmon Festival was something that was practiced for hundreds of years by the Snohomish people, the sduhubš people. They are also called ‘the salmon people’.  And the story’s extremely important because it links to the present day.

And the story goes that there is a tribe of Salmon People that live under the sea. And each year, they send out scouts to visit their homeland. And the way that the Snohomish people recognize that it’s time for the salmon scouts to be returning to their area is when, in the spring, a butterfly comes out. And the first person to see that butterfly will run, as fast as they can, to tell our chiefs or headmen or, now, they are called the chairman. One of the other ways they recognize that the salmon scouts are returning is when the wild spirea tree blooms. The people call it the ironwood tree, and that’s what they use for fish sticks and a lot of other important things, like halibut hooks. It’s a very hard wood. So, when they see either one of these, a tribal member will tell the chairman, and he immediately sends out word to the people and calls them together in the longhouse for a huge feast and celebration to give honor to the visitors that are coming.

The salmon scout will arrive out in the middle of Tulalip Bay there. And the people send out a canoe to meet him. And they put the salmon scout inside the canoe, where a cradle is filled with fern leaves and other soft leaves for a bed for him to come in on and keep him fresh. And he’ll come in by canoe to the cliff right below our longhouse, and, there, the whole tribe will be there on the water to greet him. And they’ll walk him in with songs of honor and just greet him in a special way. Then, he’ll be carried on that cradle up into the longhouse, where he’ll be taken around the fires three times and special songs will be sung in his honor. And they will show him the proper respect he needs as the high chief visitor from the Salmon people. And they will go through some different ceremonies there. Then, they will go up into what is now the tribal center, and prepare the feast. Before the feast, everyone will share in a tiny piece of the salmon and drink a glass of water with it, a little water.

That’s what is done. And then, everyone sits down and feasts and enjoys the salmon and visits with friends and neighbors.

At the end of feast, they get up. Maybe a speech will be made, and, hopefully, it won’t be too long. Then, a song is sung and they bring the remains that are left of the salmon back into the longhouse and thank him for coming and again honor him for the chief that he is and take him back down to the canoe, follow him back down there. And they take him back out and lay his remains back where they picked him up, out in the middle of Tulalip Bay. And, if they have treated that chief properly and showed him the proper respect, and treated him like the king he is, he’ll go back to the Salmon People that live under the sea and he’ll tell them that, “Hey, they greatly honored me. They treated me like I should have been treated. They gave me all the recognition I needed.” And he’ll recommend that the Salmon People return back in abundance.

And the reason to tell this story is because it concerns the environment. And to show that the Snohomish people practiced this for hundreds of years. They gave thanks for many things. One of the things was to honor this great chief from the Salmon People and try to protect his environment and have a place for him to come home to. It’s hard to imagine nowadays this visitor going back and telling them, “Hey, things are all right.” Because he has to tell them, “I’ve been up there, and I entered around Admiralty Head, and I started getting a headache.” And he says, “As I traveled further in I become confused and had a hard time finding Tulalip Bay this time.” And he says, “Worse than that. When I went up the Stillaguamish River my home was gone. Where I was born and raised, it’s not there.” 

So, you know, it tells us something, that’s been told a long time: to conserve and keep things and honor all things because they’re alive. The trees are alive. Everything we eat was alive at some time. And we should give thanks and respect these things as living spirits and show them respect appropriately. And if we don’t, we’re going to lose everything as we know it today. The salmon are about gone. The forest is all but gone, and other resources are gone because of greed and mistreatment. We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to restore any of these things. So, this is an important story, the Salmon People story.*

As Bernie mentioned, the Salmon Ceremony was actually practiced for hundreds of years pre-colonialism. During the assimilation era, all Indigenous traditions, ceremonies and even the use of traditional languages were outlawed by the US Government across the country. For several generations, there was no Salmon Ceremony celebration at Tulalip. That is, until 1976 when a group of elders, led by Harriette Shelton-Dover, brought the tradition back.

Said Tulalip Vice-Chairman Glen Gobin, “after the treaty signing and after the boarding school era, much of our teachings were taken away. We were not able to speak our languages. We were not able to live with our families. Much of what we had as a culture was disappearing quickly. Some of the elders remembered certain aspects and would share those memories of how things used to be. The elders in 1976, Harriette in particular, said we need to revive Salmon Ceremony, we need to bring it back. She gathered up different elders and they pieced together what each of them knew about the Salmon Ceremony from either things they personally witnessed or things they heard their grandparents talk about.”

He continued, “Harriette always said that so much was taken from us and what we do today may not be exactly the same way it was done two hundred years ago. But as long as we do it with good intentions and with a pure heart, our elders will receive it in that manner. So, we hang on to those bits and pieces that we have and we’re thankful for them.”

Ever since the revival, with the exception of 2020, the Tribe has turned out in large numbers, adorning cedar woven hats and headbands, traditional shawls, and beaded jewelry to welcome the guest of honor, the representative hailing from the underwater village. They sing passionately in the language of the ancestors, they keep time with elk and deer hide hand drums. They dance and feast in honor of the salmon people. And they keep the traditions and teachings of their own people alive and strong. 

* Bates, Ann and Karen Bayne. 1993. Tulalip History and Culture: Supplemental Class Materials. Marysville: The Tulalip Tribes, Marysville School District, Catholic Community Services of Snohomish County. https://www.tulaliplearningjourney.org

‘Seeds of Culture’ shares stories of endurance, culture and hope for the future

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News; photos by Matika Wilbur

Matika Wilbur captivates her audience with unrelenting pride and an infectious giggle while presenting Seeds of Culture.

It’s been nearly a decade since Tulalip tribal member and celebrated visual storyteller Matika Wilbur made the bold decision to sell nearly everything she owned to begin an unprecedented journey of collecting the boundless beauty of Native American culture. Her journey is known as Project 562, a multi-year national photography project dedicated to photographing over 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States. 

To unveil the true essence of contemporary Native issues and the magnitude of tradition, Matika travelled hundreds of thousands of miles, many in her RV dubbed ‘the Big Girl’, but also by horseback, train, plane, boat and on foot across all 48 continental states, Hawaii, deep into the Canadian tundra and into Alaska. The depths of her travels reflect her steadfast commitment to visit, engage, and photograph at least 562 federally recognized tribes, while also revealing her passion to inspire and educate. 

“While teaching at Tulalip Heritage High School and attempting to create a photography curriculum with a narrative that our children deserve, I found an outdated narrative. It’s an incomplete story that perpetuates an American historical amnesia. It’s a story that’s romantic and dire…it’s the story of extinction,” she recalled of the circumstances that led to her life changing journey.

Matika points out the extinction theme often associated with Native America is easily perceived by doing a quick Google Images search. If you search for ‘African American’, ‘Hispanic American’ or ‘Asian American’, then you’ll find images of present day citizens who represent each culture. You’ll see proud, smiling faces and depictions of happy families. But if you search for ‘Native American’ the results are very different. You’ll see mostly black and white photos of centuries old, stoic Natives who are “leathered and feathered”.  

“All of these images and misconceptions contribute to the collective consciousness of the American people, but more importantly it affects us in the ways that we imagine ourselves, in the ways we dream of possibility,” she explained. 

And so began her multi-year mission to photograph and collect stories of contemporary Indigenous citizens from the hundreds of sovereign nations that make up Native America. As her photography portfolio continued to expand, so too did her realm of possibility.

Today, the now 37-year-old Matika has come to realize that Indigenous identity far surpasses federal acknowledgement. There are state-recognized tribes, urban and rural Native communities, and other spaces for Indigenous identity that don’t fall under the U.S. government’s recognition. Astonishingly, she estimates she has photographed close to 1,000 different tribal communities. 

In a respectful way, Matika has been welcomed into one tribal community after another because they not only support her project whole-heartedly, but also because they desire to see things change. From media coverage to Google Images search results to what’s written in history books, Native Americans deserve an accurate portrayal of their vibrant, color-filled imagery and oral histories that have been passed down for generations.  

Conversations about tribal sovereignty, self-determination, holistic wellness, historical trauma, decolonization of the mind, and revitalization of culture accompany the vast collection of photographs, videos, and audio recordings Matika has diligently collected. This creative, consciousness-shifting work will be widely distributed through national curricula, artistic publications, exhibitions, and online portals.

Melding powerful storytelling with video, photography and song, Matika expanded on her experiences photographing Native American women across the hundreds of sovereign nations she has visited for nearly a decade during her special guest appearance at the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham. Her captivating June 3rd presentation was at a social distanced max capacity. Upon concluding the audience showed their respect for the evening’s eye-opening and heartwarming cultural exchange with a loud standing ovation.

“So far I’ve had the opportunity to share my journey with audiences at museums, universities, conferences, and galleries across the United States,” stated Matika. “I strive to share stories and photographs of contemporary Indigenous people as the positive role models I know them to be.

“The most amazing part of the journey has been the generosity, kindness, and knowledge that Native people have offered me. I have met activists, educators, culture-bearers, artists, and students. The topics of their stories vary – from tribal sovereignty and self-determination, to recovery from historical trauma and revitalization of culture. They have transformed and inspired me, and I want to do my part to share their stories.”

Here are just a few of those riveting stories accompanied by stunning photos that were shared during Matika’s Mount Baker Theatre presentation – Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women.

Darkfeather Ancheta, Eckos Chartraw-Ancheta, and Bibiana Ancheta, Tulalip, Washington.
Darkfeather Ancheta is pictured with her sister and nephew at the edge of Tulalip Bay. They are wearing the traditional regalia that was prepared for their annual Canoe Journey. Every year, upward of 100 U.S. tribes, Canadian First Nations and New Zealand canoe families will make “the journey” by pulling their canoes to a rotating host destination tribe. Canoe families pull for weeks, and upon landing, there will be several days and nights of “protocol”: a celebration of shared traditional knowledge, ancestral songs, and sacred dances. 
This celebration has been incredibly important to Darkfeather. She says, “It didn’t change me. It raised me. It shaped me. It’s just who we are, and where we come from…it revitalizes our cultural ways. There are so many teachings that go along with the relationship with the canoe. We take care of the canoe and it takes care of us. When we’re on the water, we all have to pull together. Everything is smoother when we all work together. The teachings that the elders gave to us – like, respecting ourselves, respecting each other, respecting other people’s songs, their dances, and their teachings – they teach us how to walk in the world. And the music and songs are so powerful. It’s all so beautiful. It touches you down into your soul. It helps you get through hard times, both in the water and in life”.
Dr. Mary Evelyn Belgarde, Pueblo of Isleta and Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico.
Dr. Mary Evelyn Belgarde is a retired professor of Indian education from the University of New Mexico. She has collaborated in establishing several charter schools focused on Indigenous education. She has raised funds to support thousands of Native students. She is very passionate about training culturally competent teachers to work within Indigenous communities. She is well-versed in the history of boarding schools and governmentally-engineered education systems of assimilation. 
During our conversation she asked, “When are we going to stop asking our children to choose between cultural education and western education? I think we are ready to stop the assimilation process. The time to change is now.”
Deborah Parker and Kayah George, Tulalip Tribes, Washington.
Former vice-chairwoman for the Tulalip Tribes, Deborah Parker is a prominent advocate for tribal women’s rights and well-being, as is her daughter, Kayah George. She advocated on behalf of Native women during the fight to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was held up in Congress due to specific provisions that would protect Native women and tribal sovereignty. 
Deborah said, “As a survivor of domestic violence, I knew that I would someday be able to help another person,” she said. “When you are asked to protect someone, when you are asked to protect a nation, that is what you do. You armor up. … For me, it will be a lifetime of this work. It will never stop because every woman is worth protecting. Every man and every woman deserves justice.”
Juanita Toledo, Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico.
Calling Walwatoa (Jemez Pueblo), New Mexico home, Juanita is a community wellness advocate and works for her tribe’s community wellness program. She lives on her tribal lands, and feels grateful for the opportunity to serve her people. Born in Washington, DC while her mother was working for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Juanita moved back to her community when she was young. 
Her mother “wanted my brother and I to know the language and the culture, and that’s a big part of why I continue to reside on the reservation, because growing up it’s become a big part of who I am and my identity as a human being. Even though I’m mixed, I’m half Indigenous and half African American, I tend to identify more with the Indigenous side, only because I grew up on the reservation. Culture and family is why I’m here, and my mom is a big reason also, and that attachment to family and land is why I’m still here on the rez. I’m a rez kid at heart.”

Fallen TPD hero honored at Washington State Peace Officers Memorial Ceremony

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Five flags were carried onto the stage of a dimly lit gymnasium, at St. Martin’s University in Lacey, on the afternoon of June 4. Seated opposite of the stage were the families of fourteen Washington State police officers whose lives were lost over the past two years. Every year, the Behind the Badge Foundation organizes the Washington State Peace Officers Memorial Ceremony to honor those brave officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. This year, five officers who passed away due to COVID-19 related complications were also included in the special honoring. 

Fourteen banners lined the entryway of the gym, each depicting the picture of a fallen officer and also featured a short bio that described the life and times of the hero behind the badge. Moving musical performances were dedicated to the officers, including the National Anthem by Detective Adele O’Rourke of the Renton Police Department, an original number titled ‘Carved in Stone’ by Shaun Bebe of the Ocean Shores Police Department, and a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace. 

“Behind the Badge is a foundation that supports law enforcement officers and their families in times of critical need,” said Behind the Badge Executive Director, Brian Johnston. “As we began building this foundation, our eyes were opened to so many needs within the law enforcement community and within our family community. Healthy officers and healthy family equal healthy communities. From the response side of trying to support our law enforcement officers and their families in a line of duty death, or even a suicide death or unexpected death, we think it’s very important to continue to build the relationship with the department and the families so they feel supported throughout time. The other part of that is that there is significant honor in being a police officer and if you were to lose your life in any form of law enforcement, there are things we should be doing to memorialize that person’s service, duty and life.”

The touching tribute featured prayers and heartfelt messages from state officials and a handful of leaders of police departments across the state.

During the reading of the roll call of honor, a single rose was placed into a vase each time a fallen hero’s name was said aloud. A family sitting near the back of the audience watched intently, wiping tears from their eyes, waiting for their loved one’s name to be called, and they held each other close when they heard, “Officer Charlie Joe Cortez, of the Tulalip Police Department,” over the loudspeaker. 

“This to me is about making sure that they will never be forgotten, that they’re honored for the sacrifices that they made to their communities that they loved,” expressed Charlie’s mother, Paula Cortez. “It was special for me to know there are still people out there who care and are willing to let us know that our fallen officers will not be forgotten and that their sacrifice was worth something. The Behind the Badge Foundation said ‘it was their duty to serve and it’s our duty to remember’ so that’s what this ceremony is about.”

The two-hour memorial ceremony ended with a trumpet performance of TAPS and a 21-gun salute in honor of those fourteen officers who died protecting and serving their communities. The families were then invited to make a ten-minute journey across town to the State Capitol to view the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial Wall, overlooking Capitol Lake, where the names of the fourteen officers were recently inscribed. 

Before heading over to the memorial wall, Charlie’s family and his fellow TPD officers took a second to snap a few photos with Charlie’s banner, a special moment for his children who wore smiles when posing next to the life-sized photo of Charlie.

Said TPD Chief of Police Chris Sutter, “It’s a real special day to honor and pay our respects to the officers in our state who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty and we’re here representing the Tulalip tribal police department in honor of Officer Charlie Joe Cortez. Our thoughts and prayers, every day, go out to officer Cortez and family, all of his loved ones and friends and co-workers and tribal community who love and support him so much.”

Upon arrival at the memorial wall, which was also funded and designed by the Behind the Badge Foundation, blank sheets of paper and pencils were distributed to the family members so they could trace their fallen hero’s name onto the paper and take home a special memento to commemorate the day of honoring. 

“It’s a permanent reminder for generations to come,” Chief Sutter said. “To see these names on that wall, it’s a very sacred place and a reminder of the sacrifice that women and men in our state have given in the line of duty for public safety. It’s a very highly reverent place for law enforcement.”

Charlie’s lifelong friend and fellow TPD Officer, Beau Jess, attended the memorial ceremony that day and plans on visiting the memorial wall with his family in the near future. Working through some tough emotions after a beautiful ceremony Beau shared, “this one is hard in particular because I’ve known him my whole life. It’s more than just a badge for me, it’s legitimately losing a brother. It’s good for closure, especially after not having any.”

A video recording of the 2021 Washington State Peace Officers Memorial Ceremony will be posted online at www.behindthebadgefoundation.org in the upcoming days. 

It has been seven months since Officer Cortez was announced lost at sea, and the search for his body continues. Charlie’s family is determined by all means to bring the fallen Tulalip hero home. A memorial service for Charlie is planned for 1:00 p.m. August 17, at the Angel of the Winds Arena with a meal to follow at the Tulalip Gathering Hall.

Thank you for keeping Charlie’s family and the Tulalip Police Department in your prayers. As always, please send any potential evidence, information or your own informal searches to us by texting 360-926-5059, or emailing bringofficercortezhome@gmail.com, or leaving a voicemail at (909) 294-6356.

The ultimate sacrifice: Tulalip honors fallen service men and women on Memorial Day

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“I come from a line of many people who have served in the military,” said Tulalip Veteran Angela Davis. “I want to thank everyone for being here and supporting our veterans and those who have gone before us. I was told by a commander one time that less than 1% of our population chooses to serve in the military. But when it comes to Native Americans we actually have a higher percentage; Native Americans serve at a higher rate than any other population. I want to thank our Native American veterans and remember the ones who have fallen.”

Two special Memorial Day services were held at Tulalip to honor the brave men and women who fought to defend this Nation’s freedom and are no longer with us. Mini U.S. flags and flower arrangements decorated the final resting place of over 200 tribal members who honorably served during their lifetime, at both the Priest Point and Mission Beach cemeteries. Families from near and far traveled to the reservation to witness the ceremonies and pay their respects on a gorgeous morning during the last day of May. 

Sticking to tradition, Vietnam Veteran and Tulalip BOD Mel Sheldon took up hosting responsibilities, providing good natured humor as well as sincere recollections and sentiments throughout the day of remembrance. 

Mel shared, “Across the Nation, as we gather to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those that died for our country, we remember our Tribal members who died fighting from Tulalip. Special thanks to our brothers and sisters, they didn’t ask for it but they made the sacrifice. Today we are also remembering Stan [Jones], our former chairman for many years, every year he was here with the veterans.”

Teri Gobin, Tulalip Chairwoman and daughter of Stan Jones added, “I think about what you have to go through being in the service. I think about my father and the stories he told me. I want to say thank you to all who came out to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who served to protect us, and their families who stood beside them.”

As this Nation’s original caretakers, defending this land may have a more significant meaning to tribal members across the country. It maybe the reason why there are 31,000 active Native American men and women serving today, and why there’s over 140,000 living veterans who are Indigenous, according to the Department of Defense. And as Angela stated, Natives serve at a higher rate than any other demographic, five times the national average to be exact.  

Throughout the many years that Tulalip celebrated Memorial Day with its membership, Tulalip Veteran Cy Hatch III held the honor of reading the names of each tribal member who served and died for this country during roll call. However, the 2020 ceremonies would serve as the last time that Cy spoke the names of his fallen military brethren aloud as he officially passed the torch to Sara Andres this year. 

A number of veterans shared words at both ceremonies, thanking the groundskeepers for maintaining the cemeteries. The maintenance crews were credited with enhancing the beauty of both of the sites to compliment the views of the Salish Sea, and for providing an exquisite space where families can gather and remember those who have transitioned to the next journey after providing years of dedication and service to their country. 

William McLean III, Tulalip Veterans Department Manager said, “I want to thank the maintenance crews, all of them. We have a few veterans that came out to clean the cemetery today. We have the regular grounds maintenance crew that cuts the grass and does pick-up, and we have building maintenance crew members – every single day they come out and put these flags up and take them down. They show their respects to each individual flag, for each branch of service and our country. I want to thank everybody that put in work this entire month to give respect.”

Tulalip elder and Marine Veteran, Cy ‘Saigon’ Williams recounted, “When I think of our people who have lost their life at war, I think of my dad. My father was Bernard Williams Sr. he fought in the South Pacific from island to island and he didn’t make it home. The next one I think of is my oldest brother, Bernard Williams Jr. he was in the United States Marine Corps, he served in 7th Engineer and he came into Vietnam in ’65. They fought their way all the way to the Ho Chi Minh trail. And I think of my youngest brother, Randy Williams, he was Naval personnel and took care of records that brought in ammo, personnel and equipment for the war. We all made it home, but I do miss my brothers now – how we used to visit as a family every weekend and share some beers and a lot of bad memories. I want to thank my people for being here to remember our fathers, grandpas, uncles, brothers, sisters who have served this Nation.” 

The ceremonies concluded with roll call and a 21-gun salute in honor of those who enlisted and since have passed. As the people left the Mission Beach cemetery, visiting the graves of their fallen heroes on their way out, an eagle soared high above the cemetery grounds, a symbolic gesture that many family members in attendance will undoubtedly hold dear to their hearts for years to come.

“When we went to Vietnam, there are guys I remember who became pilots [with me],” Mel shared. “Because of Operation Lam Sun 719, twelve of them did not get to come home. During my unit in Charlie Troop, I had two crew chiefs that did not get to come home. Two cobra pilots, their aircraft flew into the ground – we still don’t know why. I talked to them that morning, by noon they were gone. It is this day that I remember them in a good way, to remind us how fortunate we are. To remember too, how many Native Americans step up to the plate, especially at home here in Tulalip. If you look around, look at all the flags. We are very proud of our veterans who serve.” 

A Ride to Remember

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Ducati’s, Harley’s and Suzuki’s revved to life on the morning of May 30. They zoomed out of the parking lot of the Tulalip Justice Center, getting set in formation behind a cohort of Tulalip Police Department (TPD) Fish and Wildlife pickup trucks, leading a giant trailer which featured the photos of 338 police officers who died in the line of duty over the past year. A warm, loving bright smile, that many Tulalip community members knew so well, and will continue to fondly reminisce of, can be spotted on the trailer, on the passenger side near the front. 

A community still hurting, many Tulalip tribal members and citizens were amongst the procession of about 100 motorcycles, ATVs, police vehicles, cars, trucks and vans, rallying behind the family of Fallen TPD Officer, Charlie Cortez. It’s been over a-half-a-year since the tragic accident occurred on local waters, which claimed Charlie’s life at the young age of 29. As Charlie’s remains still have yet to be recovered, organizations and multiple police departments have reached out to his family, offering support and ensuring his legacy lives on for years to come. In the past few months, Charlie’s name has been read aloud during roll call at virtual memorial tributes and etched into marble memorial walls. Charlie recently received a posthumous award, a medal of honor for his sacrifice to his people and community.  

With everyone in position the motorcade was off. Sirens wailing and headlights flashing, the vehicular ensemble traveled the length of the reservation from the court house to the marina, receiving support from commuters along the way who honked, waved and pulled to the side of the road during the honoring parade.

The moving tribute to Officer Cortez is a project that spans across the Nation called End of Watch – A Ride to Remember, arranged by a non-profit known as Beyond the Call of Duty. The organization has one sole mission; to honor the legacy of all the fallen police officers throughout the country. Tulalip was just the second stop on an 84-day, 22,500-mile journey around the U.S.

“This is our second year, we have six motorcycles and we plan on keeping it going,” said Beyond the Call of Duty Founder, Jagrut ‘J.C.’ Shah. “It was something I was thinking about for a number of years, and it’s something that should be done as far as letting the Nation know versus just the state or local city. I wanted all the departments to know that we’re all together in the same boat. I wanted the survivors to know that they aren’t alone. That’s really been our mission since last year and we’re seeing it today. We we’re able to bring a survivor from 2019 to talk to the Cortez’s. He lost his son; it is difficult, but they speak the same language because we can’t express that hurt, that loss.”

Upon arriving at the marina, a number of local leaders spoke about the Tulalip hero, about how he gave his life defending his Tribe’s treaty rights as both a Fish & Wildlife officer as well as a tribal hunter and fisherman. 

“Charlie was a peacemaker, he was a loving, wonderful young man who came to work to do his duty always with a smile,” recalled TPD Chief of Police, Chris Sutter. “Charlie laid down his life for his tribe, protected treaty rights that were negotiated 150 years ago to preserve a way of life and a culture. He was out doing his duty as a fish and wildlife officer for the Tulalip Police Department and was taken in the line of duty. Charlie Joe Cortez will always be a hero in our community. Always remembered and never forgotten. We love you, we love the family.”

Said Tulalip Vice-Chairman Glen Gobin, “Charlie became a part of each and every one of you in his walk. When Charlie lost his life that day in the line of active duty, he gave it all doing what he signed up to do, with the greatest honor and respect that he had for what he believed in when he put that badge on, what he stood for – to stand up and serve his community, his people. Charlie’s birthday was yesterday, he would’ve been 30 years old today. Forever 29 in our hearts, forever 29 in our memories. In whatever way you walked in his life, whatever you shared in his life, you carry that with you.”

Charlie’s parents, Paula and Alan Cortez also spoke, thanking those in attendance for their continued support. 

“Seeing you guys all ride in and watching the Beyond the Call of Duty memorial come in was an amazing feeling that is helping us heal,” expressed Paula while fighting back tears. “We still have yet to have our son’s service. We’ve been active as parents to let the media know that we will not give up. We have had people volunteer. Our police department, while they’re working on other fishery related matters out on the water they are keeping their eyes open. We have had people contact us who raced with him while he was in motocross and they are wanting to help, they are divers and have sonar equipment and they want to be here for us. I want to thank all the agencies that came that night on November 17, 2020, my hands go up to you, you were out there that night, the next night and beyond. I want to extend the deepest gratitude for the honor that you are giving to not only my son, but to my family, his children, our community members and the police department he served.”

Alan then took a moment to gift a hand drum to J.C., which he made from elk hide that both he and Charlie harvested together. The ceremony ended with a song and blessing from a group of Tulalip singers, many of whom rode along in the convoy; some on their ATVs and in their everyday vehicles, some a part of the Tulalip motorcycle club, the Sacred Riders, who escorted the procession throughout Tulalip. 

A belated BBQ birthday celebration was planned to coincide with the End of Watch ceremony, as May 29th would’ve been Charlie’s 30th trip around the sun. While TPD officers worked the grill, the people wrote personal and heartfelt messages to Charlie on a large End of Watch banner, and took photos next to his picture on the memorial wall. 

The Cortez family is determined to bring Charlie home and they believe that his return can bring some much-needed peace, healing and a closure to the Tribe, the law enforcement community and most importantly Charlie’s loved ones. 

Thank you for keeping Charlie’s family and the Tulalip Police Department in your prayers. As always, please send any potential evidence, information or your own informal searches to us by texting 360-926-5059, or emailing bringofficercortezhome@gmail.com, or leaving a voicemail at (909) 294-6356.

To keep up with the traveling memorial wall as it journeys across America, please visit the Beyond the Call of Duty Facebook page for nightly video recaps and photos of each of their stops. 

More than a carving, House of Tears story pole a reminder to protect the sacred

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

A large crowd of community members welcomed the Red Road to D.C. story pole journey during its Tulalip visit on May 17th. Designed with Indigenous precision by Lummi Nation’s House of Tears carvers, the 400-year-old western red cedar lay front and center while embodying an unwavering message to protect the sacred.

“We are all coming together, like figures in a story pole, to produce an end vision – the protection of Native American sacred sites,” explained head carver and Lummi activist, Jewell ‘Praying Wolf’ James. “Native America has endured hundreds of years of oppression, yet our spiritual practices and beliefs have not been exterminated. We are still connected to Mother Earth spiritually, and our sacred sites are extremely essential to our native belief systems. 

“Working on story poles opens up a path to the spirit,” he continued. “It is my hope that this pole will transmit that spirit to Washington D.C. and allow the Biden Administration to follow through on their treaty obligations. Many of us believe that the United States owes it to us to listen. They entered into a sacred relationship with us, some people call it a treaty. But they use their voices to promise. To us, when you use your voice, it takes the sacred wind and the Great Spirit gives you the energy to talk. Your verbal commitment is one of spiritual significance to Native Americans. We hope by bringing this story pole to Washington, D.C., we’ll also awaken the sacred commitment the United States has to Native American Nations.”

It took over two months and fourteen pairs of hands working in synch to transform the nearly two ton, old-growth cedar log into a symbol of our collective ancestral responsibility to protect sacred lands, waters, and wildlife for generations to come. At twenty-four feet, eight inches tall and three feet wide, it tells a story of connectedness and asks for accountability by the humans who call this planet home. Skillfully etched in the pole are a moon, a diving eagle, two Chinook salmon, a sea bear, a sea wolf, a grandmother with her grand-daughter, and a number of spiritually strengthening elements chiseled throughout. 

Featured on the pole are seven tears to represent the seven generations of trauma passed on from colonialism. Also included is an image of a child in jail in reference to the U.S. – Mexico border issues and the bloodline relationship of immigrants seeking entry to the country whose lands they once occupied. No to be overlooked are the numerous blood red hands from top to bottom that symbolize the silenced voices of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

“Many grandmothers are raising their granddaughter as their daughter because the mother is missing in action,” said Jewell. “Either she got abused by a husband and ran and disappeared for her own safety or she got caught up into drugs, or she’s missing and murdered. It’s a nationwide crisis. We like to dream that we have a perfect relationship, but the fact is the United States, the State of Washington, all our tribes, the counties and cities, everybody has to enact laws to tell the men: ‘Quit beating the women! Leave the women alone. Stop it or we’ll imprison you.’ It’s sad that we have to have the law tell us it’s wrong. It’s a reflection of our attitude, and the way we treat the female in the family is how we treat the Earth. The scars are permanent.”

Mother Earth is covered with scars. Her air is polluted by the burning of fossil fuels, oceans filled with industrial waste, forests replaced by concrete jungles, and arctic shelf continuing to melt away because of global warming. What’s happening is a result of a perspective that sees everything as a resource to be exploited. Its killing Mother Earth and threatening life across the planet. Life, whether it be aquatic, avian or land based is suffering. Mother Earth’s creatures are dying of sickness because her life giving air and water are being poisoned.  

“We look at our children and our heart aches because how do we stop the devastation of what’s happening to our mother? What are we going to leave our children when we’re dust? What kind of lifestyle are we leaving them to inherent?” pondered Lummi master carver Douglas James to the intently listening crowd. “We’re reaching out and asking for all to come together with one heart and one mind because it’s for the children and their future children that we need to be accountable. We must stand up for them now, like our ancestors once stood up for us. Or else our children can look forward to only being able to breathe fresh air through an oxygen tank and drink clear water from a plastic bottle.”

The House of Tears carvers hope to bring a moment of self-reflection across the United States and an acknowledgement of past and present injustices inflicted on Native peoples and lands without consent, as they plan to journey 16,000 miles to share the messages within their story pole. Their cross-country trip is only just beginning as they intend to visit all federally recognized tribes in Washington State before going down the Pacific coast. 

They will make stops at several locations that are considered sacred to local tribes and Indigenous peoples, and are current or potential targets for dams, mining, drilling, or oil pipelines. At each stop, they will display their story pole especially created to honor these sacred sites. They will meet with local tribes and residents to underscore the message that tribes must give their consent before major infrastructure projects are approved. 

“This is a spiritual gift being shared with the people, all the tribes throughout the U.S.,” said Tulalip elder Inez Bill. “I’d like to thank the carvers for including us and acknowledge our Tulalip elders who came here today to represent our people in this historical occasion. This pole serves as an example of what we can do when we unite our hearts and minds in thanks for the blessings we’ve been given. It is a blessing to be stewards of this land. The natural environment is where our spirituality and traditions come from. Our ancestors thought about their future generations and fought to have their usual and accustomed areas accounted for in the treaties. We need to honor and respect our ancestors by taking care of these areas. The way of life of our people depends on the teachings and values that were laid out for us. It is our responsibility to carry them forward.”

Red Road to D.C. journey stops will include sacred sites such as Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; Chaco Canyon, Navajo Reservation in New Mexico; and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Planned visits also include locations where Native-led oil pipeline protests made national headlines, like the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota before finally arriving in Washington, DC on July 28, where the pole will be delivered to the Biden-Harris Administration. Concluding the Red Road to D.C. journey, the story pole will be enshrined as a featured monument in the Smithsonian National Museum. 

The story pole journey is a project that makes visible the struggle for life. It brings awareness to the connectedness of all Mother Earth’s people and our shared history. It ties together communities who are living on the front line of the environmental emergency. It makes the commonality of their suffering visible and strengthens the bonds of solidarity between them.

As the pole travels it draws lines of connection honoring, uniting and empowering communities working to protect sacred sites. It carries the spirit of the lands it visits, and the hopes and prayers of communities along the way. As the pole travels from place to place and comes into contact with more and more people, it grows more powerful. People who touch it give it power, and it in turn gives power to them. 

“This gathering was so special because we honored a story pole that will be traveling to D.C. to be presented to the White House. I’m thankful we were able to share our welcoming song and bless the pole in our own traditional way, with youth and elders as witnesses,” reflected Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “This pole recognizes our relationships we’ve created with the federal government and the many broken promises we’re trying to have corrected, to make things better for our people. 

“As tribes, we have been fighting much of the same fights since treaty times, and we’ve shown over and over again that when we come together we are strong,” she added. “Being able to have our people touch the pole and put their prayers into it, knowing that tribal members from all across Indian Country will do the same, is extremely powerful. It lets us know that we are in this fight together. We are fighting for our environment. We are fighting for our treaty rights. We are fighting for our future generations.”

To follow the pole’s journey and see a list of tour stops visit www.redroadtodc.org Events will be live-streamed via the group’s public Facebook page – Our Shared Responsibility: A Totem Pole Journey.

Charlie Cortez receives Medal of Honor

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

As the search for fallen Tulalip Police Officer Charlie Cortez continues, the law enforcement community is taking measures to commemorate the late officer’s name for generations to come. Police agencies around the country are paying tribute to both Charlie and his family, by speaking his name at roll calls during remembrance ceremonies and vigils, as well as engraving his name into memorial walls that are dedicated to officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice while on the line of duty. 

Most recently, Charlie’s family received a package from the American Police Hall of Fame, a posthumous award of the highest degree, the Medal of Honor. The medal fits perfectly on the memorial wall his loved one’s set-up at his family’s home, complete with photographs of the tribal officer, and displayed next to his many accolades. 

“We got a letter from the American Police Hall of Fame mentioning that his name is going to be etched into the marble at the Hall of Fame Memorial Wall with 8,000 other police officers that have fallen in the line of duty,” said Charlie’s mom, Paula Cortez. “We’re so proud of him but at the same time our hearts break that he’s no longer here with us. The law enforcement world has been phenomenal at making sure that he’s honored and that he’ll always be remembered. That’s special for our family and for his kids who will be able to go and visit those memorials. And in the future, they can share that with their kids, it’s something that will be there forever.”

At the end of the month, on May 29th, a nation-wide traveling event is coming to Tulalip to honor Charlie and all of the officers who transitioned to their next journey while protecting and serving their communities. A large trailer will make-it’s-way throughout the reservation to raise awareness and honor the officers and their families, beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Tribal Justice Center and ending at the Tulalip Marina. The trailer is a project known as ‘Beyond the Call of Duty’ and features the photos and the names of all the fallen officers over this past year.

The Beyond the Call of Duty trailer will be accompanied by the End of Watch Motorcycle Club, which was created in memory of those officers who dedicated their life to the badge and are no longer with us. As it happens, the event takes place one day after Charlie’s birthday, so in addition to the convoy, the local police department and Charlie’s family will be throwing a BBQ celebration for the young, fallen officer at the Marina shortly after the motorcade. 

Thank you for keeping Charlie’s family and the Tulalip Police Department in your prayers. As always, please send any potential evidence, information or your own informal searches to us by texting 360-926-5059, or emailing bringofficercortezhome@gmail.com, or leaving a voicemail at (909) 294-6356.

A vow to serve and protect: Nine officers take Oath of Honor and join TPD

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“I want our newest officers and staff to know that we value each and every one of you,” said Tulalip Chief of Police Chris Sutter. “You have worked hard to get this far and we want you to be successful. We welcome you to the department. We all look forward to seeing you progress in your career.”

Natural sunlight beamed throughout the illustrious new Tulalip Gathering Hall, on a gorgeous May afternoon. Approximately 150 people, consisting of family, friends and local citizens, came together to celebrate a momentous occasion for eleven individuals who are embarking on a new journey with the Tulalip Police Department. 

In total, nine officers received a warm welcome to the squad; seven officers who recently graduated from the U.S. Indian Police Academy in New Mexico as well as two lateral officers who transferred from other departments. The newly appointed Sex Offender Registration Program Manager, Alyshia Ramon, and the latest tribal recruit, Kanoe Williams, were also honored at the ceremony.  

Said Kanoe, “I wanted to join our tribal law enforcement to serve the community that I live in. I grew up here, I know most of the people on the rez. This is kind of my way to give back to them. I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work. I’m going off to New Mexico in the summer, and I’m excited and anxious and just ready to learn and start the process.”

A number of Tulalip leaders were in attendance including Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin and Vice-Chairman Glen Gobin who commended the new officers for pursuing a career in law enforcement and offered their best wishes to both the officers and their families. 

Respects were also paid to fallen TPD Officer Charlie Cortez who was announced lost at sea last November. In a special moment, Charlie’s family shared a few words and a gift with all the new officers. The Cortez’s were escorted by Charlie’s lifelong best friend and fellow TPD officer, Beau Jess, and the family was sure to recognize him for being a source of strength for the family during these inexplicably hard times. Each officer accepted a gift bag from the Cortez family. In return, the new officers supplied them with loving hugs. 

“I wanted to be here today to witness our new officer’s swearing-in and blessing ceremony,” expressed Charlie’s emotional mother, Paula Cortez, before saying a prayer for the officers. “Our family prays every day for our own healing from what happened to Charlie and we pray that no other family has to experience this type of loss ever again.” 

TPD Commander Jim Williams provided a bit of advice and wisdom to the officers, which he garnered from his many years of experience on the force. Then Angela Davis, the department’s Professional Standards Manger, officially introduced Darbi Boggs, Justin Coker, Michelle Kekoa-Oshiro, Christian Kentch, Angel Sotomayor Jr., Josephine Stoker, Elizabeth Vides, Joshua Tannen and Jesse Wright to the community, while also sharing a short personal biography about each officer. 

Tulalip Attorney, Michelle Sheldon, held the honor of swearing-in the new officers. Following Michelle’s lead, the officers raised their right hands in the air and vowed to protect and serve the Tulalip community. After officially taking the Oath of Honor, TPD called upon the officers’ loved ones to pin their badges to their new uniforms. The ceremony concluded with a song and blessing from Tulalip singers, as well as a longstanding tradition amongst police agencies throughout the Nation, the enjoyment of cake and company to cap-off a swearing-in ceremony. 

“It’s pretty surreal,” shared new TPD Officer and Upper Skagit Tribal Member, Justin Coker, who is most excited about defending Tribal treaty rights. “The academy was really challenging, it took everything in me to pull through it and now that I’m here it’s pretty amazing. I’m thankful my family has been behind me the whole way. I grew up out here. I come from a family of fishermen and I just wanted to do my part and keep it alive, to make sure my kids have something to look forward to. I’m looking forward to meeting the community on a different level, letting them know that I’m here for them and getting to know everybody and the environment a lot more. It’s really exciting and it was a beautiful ceremony today. If this is something you want to do, follow your dreams.”

To pursue a career with the Tulalip Police Department, please reach out to Angela Davis to begin your new law enforcement journey. For further details, visit www.TulalipTribalPolice.org or call the non-emergency line at (360) 716-4608. 

Before parting ways, Chief Sutter stated, “My charge to our newest officers is to go out be fair, be objective, be kind, demonstrate compassion for others, always remember to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and treat others the way you would want your family members to be treated. Lastly, always be safe, take good care of your partners and also yourself and your loved ones.”

Interactive Lushootseed app aims to teach kids traditional sduhubš language

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Apps play a key role in today’s technology-led society. Whether you are catching up with your pals on social media, staying up-to-date on current world events and local news, killing time with addictive smart phone games, or listening to some good tunes, audiobooks or podcasts, as the now trademarked-by-Apple-saying goes, there’s an app for that. 

In Tulalip, apps are important to the modern-day Indigenous business owner, artist, musician, and student. Tribal casino or government employees can easily swipe through a selection of apps to complete their everyday tasks, increase productivity, practice good communication skills by means of e-mails, text messaging, social media posts or Zoom meetings, and can even keep up with the latest community happenings by checking out Tulalip News on the Facebook app or the Tulalip TV app. 

The youth of today are masters of technology. Learning how to navigate phones and tablets at a young age, kids are now utilizing apps to enhance their educational journey, and often use a number of apps to complete their school projects from research to creation to presentation. Apps are proving to be essential learning tools. A newly released app was created with the kids in mind, to engage the future generations of Tulalip with the traditional language of their ancestors in a fun, exciting and interactive way. 

Now available, wherever you download your favorite apps, is a software application like none-other, known as Our Table. Brought to you by a collaboration between the Tulalip Lushootseed Language Department and the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy, the app is set-up in a game-style format to teach Tulalip’s youngest generation the dialect of Lushootseed that was known throughout the Snohomish territory since time immemorial. 

“Culturally, that’s one of the things that’s always been done,” explained Dave Sienko, Lushootseed Media Developer. “Things are done around the kitchen table, families get together and they talk and share. That’s kind of what the app is trying to convey.”

The first-of-its-kind language learning app, Our Table is centered around one of the major traditional lifeways of the Tulalip people, nourishment. Bringing ancient words and phrases into the modern world, the kids are not only able to hear the pronunciation of words like spiqʷuc (potato), biac (meat), qʷagʷəb ləpəskʷi (cookie), as well as many other tasty foods, they also learn the names of immediate family members such as tsi sk̓ʷuy  (mother) and ti bad (father). 

The object of the game is to share food with your family. At the start of the game, you choose two different foods and one family member. The family member then asks for one of the two items, and it is up to you to deliver the correct plate of food to the table. 

“All too often we talk about our kids having too much screen time,” Dave stated. ”Most of the time, screen time is considered by oneself, but this app encourages the connections between family members; between grandparents and grandkids, parents and kids, siblings – just sharing the culture together.” 

By learning the Lushootseed word for each of relative, the kids can ask a member of their family to play along in the app’s two-player ‘Talk to Your Partner’ mode, where they can properly address the other player and share the correct food item that they are requesting – entirely in Lushootseed. You are rewarded one star for every correct food item that is shared and once you reach ten stars, you unlock a hidden-bonus-round where you command your character to collect as many berries as fast as they can and place them in a cedar-woven basket.

Said Dave, “That was one of the things that was the primary focus of the app, make it very interactive and fun so it’s not just a click-and-listen. You physically need to do something, drag items here and there, and you need to do it correctly, that’s how you get points. It has a reward element to it too, especially for the younger kids, but it’s fun for all ages, you hear the fun, light music and you have to get the different berries. That’s one of the things that’s fantastic about the app is that yeah, you’re getting the different berries, but it’s also telling you what type of berries they are as an award, whether that’s t̕aqa (salalberry) or stəgʷad (salmonberry).”

  This recent app development is just the latest endeavor from the two programs who have collaborated many times in the past to ensure the kids are hearing and learning the vernacular of their people. The academy invited the Lushootseed Language Warriors into their classrooms to share words, songs and stories with the students on a regular basis, in what is known as the academy’s Language Immersion Curriculum. The kids become familiarized with the verb-based language at a young age, and can further build upon that foundation throughout their entire educational experience. 

“I believe that our children need to know from the youngest ages who they are,” said Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy Director, Sheryl Fryberg. “Research says, if they are totally connected to who they are as birth to five children, they’re going to be more successful in their lifetime because they have that solid sense of self. We really want to build that connection between our language and culture. We want to share that value; I think that the Lushootseed Department does a great job of sharing that value. We want our families to have an opportunity to learn Lushootseed too, with our kids.”

The app was officially released on Google Play (previously the Android Market) in September of 2020 and on the Apple App Store in February of this year. Dave explained that the app took over a year-and-a-half to create and would’ve been here sooner, had it not been for the challenges presented by the global pandemic. However, he assures that this is just the start of Our Table and hopes to routinely update the app and add on additional features and realms outside of the kitchen. Dave also wants to provide in-app links that forward the user to the Tulalip Lushootseed website, where the kids can hear traditional songs and stories that correlate to the round in their current game. 

Many Lushootseed Warriors can be heard throughout the app as several of the teachers leant their vocals to the project, enunciating words and phrases for the kids to hear and practice. Dave also wanted to mention that Marysville School District faculty member, David Court, played a major role in the app’s development, as well as TELA director Sheryl Fryberg and Lushootseed Manager, Michele Balagot. 

“To me, the language means that we are speaking what our ancestors used to speak. We are bringing it back,” exclaimed Tulalip Lushootseed Manager, Michele Balagot. “We thought we should be teaching them young because this is when they are developing their brains. If they start hearing Lushootseed from the beginning of their education, they’ll learn the sounds and know some of the words. It’s a very hard language to learn, so it’s rewarding to hear the students speaking it. It’s very important for the kids to carry it on so we don’t lose it.” 

Our Table is available to download on all smart devices and is the perfect app to engage the little ones with the Tulalip culture. Be sure to give-it-a-go at the next family game night or get-together.

Recognizing the national crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“My hands go up to all our friends and relatives who are joining us on this most important day – the day to acknowledge the missing and murdering Indigenous women who have been taken from us. To be honest, it’s been a really heavy day of talking about atrocities that have been inflicted upon us for 500 plus years now, since the beginning of colonization. 

“We talk about statistics and about how 3 out of 5 Native Americans will experience violence in their lifetime and have sexual crimes committed against them. We talk about statistics in a way that never make it personal because it’s too hard to talk about our own experiences and share what we’ve been forced to go through ourselves. So I’d like to acknowledge anyone who as a child experienced sexual abuse or as an adult been a victim of physical, emotional or mental abuse…it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault what happened to you as a child. It’s not your fault for what happened to you as a teenager. It’s not your fault what happened to you as an adult. That trauma does not define you.

“The abuses and the atrocities that continue to happen to our people are not our fault. We are reminded that colonization has used rape as a war crime against us. That war crime is intended to silence us; it’s to take our voice and make us feel like we have no rights. And sometimes the law, the police and the justice system make us feel like we don’t have any rights either. This gathering today proves our voices have not been taken away, that we will not be silent, and that we are not giving up.

“Together, we say ‘we will not silence anyone and enough is enough!’ in one united voice. That is so powerful. When we speak we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, who never knew us but prayed for us in this moment. They knew we would need their prayers and their strength to continue and carry on. So I ask us to make the prayers for our next 7 generations. I ask us to make a commitment to work on our own hurt and pain, a commitment to do more, a commitment to be better. 

“I thank you all for stepping into this space because I know it’s not comfortable and to talk on these issues isn’t fun. To say you have an abuse problem in your family is not comfortable. To say that you come from sexual abuse and physical violence in your family is not comfortable, but it’s a reality many of us share. 

Let us continue to find ways to work together and continue to find ways to be healthier because we don’t have to carry those emotional scars any longer. I am so thankful for everyone being here and love you all for the good work that we’ll continue to do together.”

Those eloquent, heartfelt words were shared by Tulalip’s own Theresa Sheldon as she welcomed hundreds of community members as they assembled at the grass covered lot across from Hibulb Cultural Center on Wednesday, May 5. Friends and relatives from both near and far respectfully dawned an assortment of red clothing, red regalia, and red handmade signs in a united effort to recognize the national crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).

Sobering Statistics

  • Indigenous women are murdered and go missing at a rate higher than any other ethnic group.
  • Indigenous women are murdered at a rate 10x higher than all other ethnicities.
  • Murder is the 3rd leading cause of death for Indigenous women.
  • More than 4 out of 5 Indigenous women (84.3%) will experience violence in their lifetime.
  • More than half of Indigenous women experience sexual violence (56.1%).
  • More than half of Indigenous women have been physically abused by their intimate partners (55.5%).
  • Nearly half of all Indigenous women have been stalked in their lifetime (48.8%).
  • Indigenous women are 1.7 times more likely than white American women to experience violence. 
  • Indigenous women are 2x more likely to be raped than white American women. 
  • Murder rate of Indigenous women is 3x higher than white American women. 

*source: National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

To understand the complex and ongoing MMIW crisis one must first admit the current systemic response to violence against Native women is immensely inadequate. Then one must realize the rate at which Tribes are losing their life-giving women is devastating to not just the tribal communities, but to the entire nation as a whole. Insufficient resources on the state level and lack of clarity on jurisdictional responsibilities on the federal level combine to severely hinder efforts to locate those who are missing. Furthermore, the current legal framework for persecuting crimes committed on tribal citizens by non-tribals is exceedingly complicated and creates many barriers for victims and Tribes working to protect their membership. 

Despite a federal trust obligation to protect Native American communities, violence against Indigenous women in the United States continues at epidemic proportions. It greatly exceeds that of any other demographic of women across the country. While many issues need to be addressed to confront this human rights issue, it is clear that limitations placed on tribal government jurisdiction by the federal government are a key contributing factor, with non-Native perpetrators falling through the cracks in the system time and time again.

“A huge thank you to each and every one of you joining us in the circle here today. We know that we come with our prayers and that’s the strongest medicine we have. The thoughts we have in our mind create reality,” shared Deborah Parker, who serves on the National Indigenous Women’s Resource board and is renowned for her critical role in the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). “When I was a young girl I witnessed violence in our community, and I said a prayer then that when I get older I’d like to be a person to help change the laws to protect our people. 

“If we speak forward with our voice and with our truth and with all of our strength, then we can move mountains. And truly there are others who believe in our words and will stand beside us,” she continued. “These are our lands. We’ve been taught we are caretakers of these lands. That’s a big responsibility for us as Indigenous people. Each and every person in this circle, from youth to elder, can fulfill this responsibility and bring about change that benefits us all. We need our women to be safe. We need our young people to be safe. We need our future generations to be safe. By standing together and working together we will make this prayer a reality.”

By learning from the experiences of surviving family members, the MMIW movement can work to achieve the changes needed to safeguard the lives of Indigenous women and strengthen the authority of Native nations to protect their citizens. Exemplifying this notion was Tulalip tribal members Udora Andrade, Veronica Jimicum, Lynette Jimicum and Denise Hatch-Anderson who together brought forward prayers and a reminder of the ongoing search for Mary E. Johnson. Mary is a Tulalip woman who has been missing since December 1, 2020.

Following a series of speakers from all levels of Tulalip leadership and enrichment programs, Deb Parker led a large contingent of singers and drummers in sharing the Women’s Warrior Song, which was gifted from her First Nations family in British Columbia. The cohesive red wave continued to share in culture, song, and a united purpose to raise MMIW awareness well into the twilight hours.

“Our hands go up to each and every one of you who attended and helped make this moment possible,” said event coordinator Josh Fryberg. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all in need. It will take each and every one of us to continue to be the difference, not just for us but for our future generations. By living in a good way that honors our Ancestors we will continue to bring unity, to raise awareness, and strengthen our culture, together.”