Matriarchs shine at DNC’s Native American Caucus

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Last week’s Democratic National Convention included two full days dedicated to advancing the nation-to-nation relationships with tribal governments, with focused discussion on crucial topics in regards to upholding federal trust responsibilities inherent to Native citizens. A broad range of policy areas, including but not limited to health, safety, economic development, education, voting importance, and strengthening tribal sovereignty were all spotlighted.

Known as the DNC Native American Caucus, tribal members from across the nation were invited to attend this one-of-a-kind, virtual platform that was free to attend. Those who opted to tune in had countless opportunities to be inspired for a better tomorrow via the many progressive-minded messages filled with hope and promise by a new crop of political leaders led by Native matriarchs.

“Opening our two day Native American Caucus was three matriarchs who are among the highest elected officials in the United States,” shared DNC Native American Political Director, Theresa Sheldon (Tulalip). “It is so inspiring and breathtaking when we acknowledge the historic moment we are in. As Native Americans, we are refusing to not be seen. Instead, we are seeing more and more Native people hearing the call and intending to fulfill the need that is representation.”

Congresswoman Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo).

Congresswoman Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), Congresswoman Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk), and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe), each took to the digital podium and rallied viewers to make their voices heard by voting in November’s presidential election for democratic candidate and former Vice-President, Joe Biden. 

“I’m proud that we have the most progressive and forward leading platform for Indian Country ever, especially where the environment is concerned,” explained Representative Haaland, Congressional Native American Caucus co-chair. “Joe Biden has a very strong commitment to fighting climate change, moving our country to renewable energy, and just making sure our voices are heard.

“Tribal leaders must have a say in where we are moving forward, and that’s why I am doing everything I can to get Joe Biden elected. Unlike the present administration, he’d absolutely never appoint a coal lobbyist or gas and oil lobbyist to any of these positions where we know we need someone who cares deeply about our land and Indian Country.”

Haaland and Davids, of New Mexico and Kansas respectively, are the first-ever Native women to serve in Congress, while Flanagan, of Minnesota, is the highest-ranking Native woman elected to executive office in U.S. history. Collectively, these three spectacular leaders have made history as Native women elected to political office. Together they serve their local Native communities on the national stage.

Congresswoman Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk).

According to Indian Country Today’s database, the number of Native candidates has been rising for several years, with a boost in Native female candidates over Native men.

“It’s such a powerful thing having us in the House of Representatives,” said Representative Davids. “It’s not just that we are in the room, which just by our presence there changes the conversation, but because of our professional backgrounds in Indian law, our experience within Native communities and our reservations, we have a unique ability to educate our colleagues and influence Congressional decision making.

“That’s why I’m so excited to see the record-breaking number of Native folks running for office across the country. We are in an amazing age where Native people are stepping up to participate in local, state or federal legislatures,” continued Davids. “The other thing we have to do is elect folks who are going to be strong partners for our Native communities; candidates and elected officials who will listen to the Native community and actually engage with us. We’ve got that with Joe Biden, which is why so many of us are doing everything we can to get him elected to the White House.”

Within Native communities, we know accurate representation and being given a space to voice our concerns is of the utmost importance. After surviving cultural genocide, westward colonization, and brutal assimilation policies, it took centuries for Native Amerians to finally gain U.S. citizenship in 1924. Even then, the right to vote by tribal citizens wasn’t universally granted until 1962.

Malicious roadblocks remain to this day to suppress the Native vote. Restrictive voting laws throughout the United States often carry a discriminatory effect, either by intent or consequence, for our communities. Some of the major challenges to the ballot box faced by tribal nations include: failure to provide sufficient voting places, lack of proper election resource allocation, restrictive voting laws and removal of federal protections.

Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe).

These hurdles have real effects as statistics from the National Congress of American Indians show that almost two out of five eligible Native citizens are not registered to vote. Compounding the matter is the turnout rate of Native registered voters is between 5 to 14 percentage points lower than turnout rates of other racial and ethnic groups.

Transforming attitudes formed by generations of cultural and political exclusion is something that will be a long evolving process and must be addressed by tribes, state and federal officials. Nonetheless, it is important to realize the most powerful form of transformation comes from within. 

“Knowing that I work in an institution that was not created by us or for us, but in many ways was created to eliminate us, you can feel the difference that results from having Native people work within these systems,” explained Lt. Governor Flanagan. “It results in true government-to-government relationships, tribal consultation [being more frequent], and passage of policy to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

“I’m hopeful for the work that we’ve been able to accomplish in partnership with the tribes over the last year and a half,” she added. “But we know we have tremendous amounts of work to do and having a partner in the White House would make a big difference. We have an opportunity to ensure we elect someone who sees us, who hears us, and who values us in Joe Biden. Our voices will be heard and we will make an impact in the weeks leading up to the election.”

The power of true cultural representation and civic engagement by Native citizens of all ages was on full display during the DNC’s two-day Native American Caucus. Topics discussed by Native advocates, activists, and political leaders all echoed the same sentiment, Indian Country will be silenced no longer. The next generation of leaders are taking up the mantle and in full pursuit of fulfilling the dreams of their ancestors.

“Representatives Haaland and Davids, with Lt. Governor Flanagan, all shared the need for more Native Americans to run for public office, while also detailing the importance of getting our youth, 18-26 years old, to be engaged and cast their vote,” reflected Theresa Sheldon. “Overall, the most effective Get-Out-The-Native-Vote message is one that speaks to your local Tribe. We know the U.S. President impacts Tribes and our citizens, but we must make sure our tribal voters understand their vote is their voice. Come Election Day, we need our people to scream loudly that enough is enough!”

Building upon the past, visioning into the future

Cedar mask: Alexander McCarty (Makah). Friendship Mask. 2016. Red cedar wood, cedar bark.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

In the ancestral language of this land, Lushootseed, the phrase sgʷi gʷi ?altxʷ  means House of Welcome. More than just a name, the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at Evergreen State College in Olympia being officially dubbed sgʷi gʷi ?altxʷ  gives credence to a reciprocal relationship that is both open hearted and open minded.

Created in 1995 as a public service center, the Longhouse’s mission is to promote Indigenous arts and cultures through education, cultural preservation, creative expression, and economic development.

Native culture painting: Chholing Taha (Cree/Iroquois). We Are One Bond. Acrylic on plywood.

In the beginning, the cultural center’s focus was on six local Puget Sound tribes and their ever-evolving artists. Today, the Longhouse collaborates with highly talented Indigenous artists throughout the Pacific Northwest region, across the nation, and distant lands spanning the globe. Through residency programs with master artists, culture bearers are inspired to develop their abilities while expanding their imaginative capacities in pursuit of creating entirely new boundaries for what defines ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ designs.

“Art allows us to sing without a song, to give our true spirit into something we create out of something nature has given us,” explained Master artist Bruce Subiyay Miller (Skokomish). “Our people create with the natural elements of wood, plant fibers or native plants. Through these acts of creation, our culture continues to live today.”

U.S. in distress painting: Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath/Modoc). Young Nation. 2015. Oil paint, spray paint, wax crayon on canvas.
“Young Nation is a painting using direct visual symbology to create dialogue about the attempted erasure of Indigenous cultures through forced assimilation by violent European colonization in the Americas. American mythologies of ‘manifest destiny’, ‘frontier expansionism’ along with the use of Christianity’s land claims via the Doctrine of Discovery were utilized to enact agendas such as: Indian Boarding Schools, Termination acts, Relocation acts, Reservations, land theft and biological warfare.
This systemic and environmental racism is still happening across Indian Country today. Young Nation asks the questions: is forces colonization worth the attempted erasure and destruction of Indigenous culture, art and paradigm?
There is sadness and pain in recognizing the losses, but there is also an empowerment in acknowledging the injustice. When the dominant culture is unaware of the ugly horrors in our shared histories, such as the Indian boarding schools whose motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” then I feel creating paintings that bring light to these cultural secrets are of the utmost importance.”

 To celebrate the House of Welcome’s 25 years of groundbreaking work we examine an art exhibition that truly captures the essence of what it means to facilitate cross cultural exchange.  Building Upon the Past, Visioning Into the Future showcases cultural concepts and next level skillfulness from over 70 Indigenous artists with whom the Longhouse has built relationship, from the early days, right up to the present. 

Curated by Longhouse staff members Erin Genia (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) and Linly Logan (Seneca), this one-of-a-kind exhibition features beautiful artistry from tribal members that call this land home. Local tribal representation include Squaxin Island, Skokomish, Puyallup and many other Coast Salish tribes. Tribes from across the nation are also represented, from Alaska to the Great Plains, and across the Pacific Rim, including Native Hawaiians and Maori artists from New Zealand.

Cedar fedora: Patti Puhn (Squaxin Island). Cedar Bard Fedora. 2016. Red and yellow cedar bard, sinew, pheasant feathers.
“Though I have incorporated commercial dyes and contemporary materials into my work, my husband Dave and I still enjoy gathering and preparing the traditional cedar bark, bear grass, cattail and sweet grass I use in my weaving. I have found a passion in expressing my creativity through my weaving and marvel at the creations of our ancestors fashioned without the use of modern day tools and processes. The more I study their work, the more I marvel as I continue to strive to produce my own renditions of their work.”

“This exhibition reflects the [twenty-five years] of building relationships with artists locally, regionally, nationally and internationally,” stated exhibition co-curator Erin Genia. “Native artists are using so many different methods for expressing themselves and we really wanted to display as many of those methods as possible. The result is we have close to ninety beautiful pieces of art, treasures really, that make up this exhibition.” 

Strawberry flower: Kelly Church (Ottawa/Chippewa). Summer Strawberry Blossoms. 2014. Black ash, sweetgrass, Rit dye, black ash bark, black ash splints. 

The subjects and techniques exhibited by the Longhouse artists draw from a diverse range of stylistic traditions, which arise from cultural teachings, ancestral lineages, and each artist’s unique experience as Indigenous peoples. Works on display include paintings, drums, carvings, beadwork, photography, baskets, and jewelry. 

Glass vessels created using basket designs demonstrate the way traditional design can beautifully translate into new media. Other sculptural forms created in clay, bronze and wood, alongside two-dimensional prints, paintings and drawing spotlight the mastery of mediums that Longhouse artists are fluent in.

“As a curator of this exhibition it’s such an awe-inspiring experience to hear from the artists themselves as to the perspective and inspiration behind their artwork,” added fellow co-curator Linly Logan. “We have artists who are very traditional and roots oriented; artists who use the natural resources around them to showcase their creativeness. 

Fabergé Egg: Kelly Church (Ottawa/Chippewa). The End and the Beginning, Fiberge Egg #9. 2016. Black ash, Rit dye, sweetgrass, copper, velvet, sinew, vial with Emerald Ash Borer, black ash seed.

“As Native and Indigenous people we’ve always used the resources around us,” he continued. “In a contemporary lifestyle in nature, we’ve continued to use the resources around us which now include materials other than natural materials. We’ve come full circle in our intent to build upon the past and vision into the future creatively and intellectually as Indigenous people.”

The House of Welcome graciously allowed Tulalip News staff a private tour of the exhibition so that we could share a glimpse of the amazingly creative and exceptional Native art with our local community. These artists are luminaries of their cultures, lighting the pathway back into the far reaches of history, and leading the way into the future with their creative vision.

A New Tune: Snohomish County Music Project makes key changes to better reach community

Music Therapists of the Snohomish County Music Project help young adults heal through the medicine of music at a “yoU Rock” jam session pre-COVID19.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“I think music is important because I feel like it can have a message and it can help people through a hard time. I feel like music lifts people up,” expressed Tulalip tribal member, Tyler Fryberg.

Music is a universal language. Spoken through drum patterns and chord progressions, music helps communicate how you feel – happy, sad, angsty, dance-y, nostalgic or smitten. And whether you are the songwriter or a carpool karaoke master, music helps you emit that emotion that you might otherwise bottle-up or bury. Many people often tie emotions to music, so when they hear a song on the radio or on their shuffle, they are momentarily taken away to a certain era in their lifetime.

For Indigenous people, music played a significant role in our ancestor’s spirituality and culture. Offering songs to the Creator, the earth and the water is a common practice that is held prior to gatherings across Native America. Songs that tell stories and offer blessings are sung in traditional languages and passed on through the generations. Some songs are so sacred and powerful that they are only performed during ceremony. And that connection Natives feel when hearing those drums and singing those songs with your fellow tribal members is indescribable.

When speaking of emotional and mental health, music can help alleviate extreme feelings and give you the courage and confidence to get some serious healing work done. More and more people are coming to realize what Native people have known for generations; music is medicine.  

The Snohomish County Music Project (SCMP) is continuing to have a meaningful impact on the Tulalip community in the wake of a worldwide pandemic. With services offered at the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy (TELA) and Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary (QCT), as well as several other schools throughout the Marysville School District (MSD), the music project assisted close to 500 tribal students either enrolled Tulalip or with another sovereign nation.

“We’re a music therapy organization and we’re here to support individual and collective well-being,” explained SCMP Music Therapist, Vee Fansler. “We have an anti-oppressive approach and a trauma informed approach, so everything we do is coming with an awareness of the bigger context that shape our internal health.”

Added Colby Cumine, Music Therapist, “We are a non-profit and we provide music therapy services to the greater Snohomish county area. We have a lot of different programs and people we work with ranging from infants to adults; adults with dementia, adults and kids with disabilities, kids with trauma, veterans and in-patient psych hospitals.”

Natives withstood years of violence as the U.S. Government attempted to erase our culture and identity. The forced assimilation era, and the unspeakable acts that happened at the boarding schools, were traumatic experiences that involuntarily trickled down through the generations. And without a complete understanding of how generational trauma affects one’s well-being, many people’s mental state went untreated for a number of years and certain cycles continued or in some situations, escalated. 

SCMP has taken an approach to help people heal and work through traumatic life events by using music therapy. For the past several years, Vee’s voice has become widely recognizable amongst the youth as they built a strong bond together through the common language of music. Colby is another positive influence on the Tulalip youth as he also hosts music therapy sessions, both individual and group, with TELA and MSD elementary students and the weekly ‘yoU ROCK’ rock band rehearsals, which have become quite the social happening amongst young adults living with special needs.

The music project was in perfect rhythm, reaching a large volume of people and providing them with the necessary tools, resources and outlets to heal after life altering events. But then the team reached a caesura, a short abrupt break in the music, when the coronavirus struck and the SCMP was forced to switch tempos.

“There are so many needs that are present in our communities, we needed to make ourselves available to support people’s mental health, in the context of the pandemic, and not put people at more risk,” expressed Vee. “We did a lot of outreach to children and families because we usually contact people through schools, especially at Tulalip, most of our work happens in the schools.”

Opting to continue providing services to their clients during the pandemic, the music project decided to go completely digital and since the beginning of the pandemic, their clients have grown their knowledge about music by working on arrangements that they are familiar with and that appeal to them. The music they work on, both individually and as a group, crosses barriers and multiple genres ranging from classic Disney sing-a-longs to old school hip hop and even country-western. 

“We created a series of YouTube videos. Some of the therapists recorded songs to send out to people in the community who are stuck at home for the first time and maybe in need of things to do or activities,” said Colby. “I started a weekly livestream on Facebook, we have a YouTube playlist that families can use at home to interact with their kids, and we will be having these weekly livestream jam sessions. And in addition to that, reaching out to everyone I typically see in a small group setting or in a one-on-one capacity, for me that was mostly kids in the behavioral program, and seeing if they would be able to do telehealth.”

Vee explained that initially the SCMP attempted to transfer all of their services to an online format, but quickly learned that Zoom and teleconference music sessions come with a whole new set of challenges, such as timing.

“We can’t do live music very well with another person over the computer,” Vee stated. “That [timing] lag has been a struggle, and doing music with very young children has been a struggle. Prior to the pandemic we had a lot of individuals we saw at early learning that involved a lot of moving through space together and playing instruments together, and that is so different on a computer screen. The programs that have really translated the best have been with older children, ages 10 and up, who have a lot of experience with technology and interest in planning out sessions and practices for themselves.”

One key emphasis the music therapists are focusing on during this time period is how to navigate through these COVID-19 times safely, and how to process those emotions in a healthy, productive manner. 

    “There were a lot of folks who were grateful and happy we were able to continue to meet over Zoom,” Colby said. “They were overjoyed to interact with their peers again. Initially there was confusion in terms of what things were going to look like, because we still didn’t know if school would be coming back anytime soon. So in those therapy sessions, the focus was working through those feelings of confusion and sudden change in routines and schedules. And also working through those anxieties and uncertainties of the school year ending, and people expressing sadness of not being able to say goodbye to their friends who were graduating or moving on to a new school.”

When MSD canceled in-person lectures for the safety of their students and faculty, they in-turn provided their students with Chromebooks in order for them to continue their education online, which included music therapy sessions.

“The Chromebooks gave us access to kids and families,” said Vee. “For us to know the families had the necessary tools and technology for telehealth sessions, we were able to do instrument loans during the pandemic.”

“I am learning the ukulele with Colby,” happily reported Tyler. “I am learning how to play ‘You Got a Friend in Me’, and I have learned how to play happy birthday songs. I may not practice every day but I do practice between thirty minutes to one hour when I do practice.”

The music project has also continued with the rock band project, holding weekly rehearsals in which bandmates can catch up, converse and create. 

“The rock band has grown in size since the pandemic,” Vee said. “That’s our group with young adults with developmental disabilities. The goal of that group has always been giving people the opportunity to connect with their peers. Especially since we know that disabled children tend to be separated from their peers a lot. And when they get out of the school system, all of those social supports that were built sort of just fall away. I think that’s a group where their top priority was just wanting to see each other, and they didn’t care as much if the musical product was perfect in terms of the timing. They mainly just wanted to chat, share their songs, listen to things together, and laugh. That has translated really well into telehealth.”

During a time when many are self-isolating, the unknown that tomorrow may bring weighs heavy on a lot of minds. Many are experiencing loneliness and that’s why it’s important programs like the SCMP are available to those seeking assistance with their mental health.

“It feels great to have Colby and the music project because I still get to do music class on Zoom during this time,” Tyler expressed. “I still feel like it is the same no matter how we have to do the music. It is rewarding and you get to have fun and be around people and learn music. Rock band sessions really help with social skills and being confident with yourself. I had a hard time feeling confident but with Colby’s help, it made me feel better in myself.”

The Snohomish County Music Project is currently accepting new clients. If you or your children are interested in learning a new skill, while equipping yourself with the emotional tools to navigate the coronavirus and end trauma cycles, please reach out to the music project at (425) 258-1605 or visit their website, Facebook or YouTube pages for more information. 

“I enjoy working with these kids and their families,” said Colby. “I enjoy their personalities and who they are. I appreciate being able to work and interact with them. This is a very difficult, confusing and challenging time but we will be able to work through it together. I’m happy there is a strong community and that we’re able to be a part of it with the Tribe.” 

Vee added, “The main thing I hope the people know is we are here for anyone in the Tulalip community who has any difficulties that are coming up in terms of mental health, in feeling connected with their children or needing resources in continuing to care for children, in dealing with the trauma that comes with the pandemic and other traumas that have layered on top of that. I’m really thankful that we’ve been able to stay connected with this community and to keep having the relationships with the kids that we really care about.”

Hibulb Cultural Center reopens after months of hiatus

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Nine years ago, a grand opening was held in a newly constructed building located on the Tulalip reservation. Nearly 23,000 square feet, the building would serve as a gateway, where visitors could get a glimpse into the lifeways, as well as learn the true history, of the original caretakers of this region. During those nine years, thousands of people walked into the doors of a museum, perhaps on a field trip with a local school, or a romantic getaway while staying at the Tulalip Resort Casino, or maybe just to kill time. Whatever the case, many people walked out with a new perspective and at least a little more knowledge than provided in local history classrooms. 

The idea was to provide the Tulalip experience to non-tribal members while also showcasing, preserving and reclaiming various keepsakes such as tools, art, jewelry, baskets, drums, photos, and carvings, to name a few, that were passed on through individual families throughout the generations. And by sharing their story, and hosting countless culturally focused events and community driven classes, the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve (HCC) has become a favorite spot to frequent amongst locals who visit often, whether to tour the exhibits with the family or attend a lecture or art lesson instructed by a Tulalip tribal member or Indigenous peoples from other tribes. And due to the popularity within the greater Snohomish county region, including the Marysville, Arlington, Everett and Stanwood communities, the museum is highly recommended to out-of-towners seeking a one-of-a-kind visual, interactive and sometimes eye-opening experience.

Aside from Mondays, the only day of the week the HCC is closed, the museum opened their doors every day, inviting the public to explore and learn more about the sduhubš way of life, whether about treaty rights, forced assimilation, or ancestral teachings and traditions. That is, until the coronavirus hit causing the HCC to close for an extended period of time for the safety of the museum staff and visitors alike. 

Now, with new safety measures and precautions in place, the Hibulb re-opened their doors to the public on August 4, 2020, after several months of closure and merely days before the museum’s ninth birthday. 

“It feels exciting,” exclaimed Mytyl Hernandez, HCC Marketing and Public Relations. “We were closed for a really long time and it’s refreshing to be back with all of our co-workers and to see everybody again. We opened back up and are operating on normal business hours, but we are not doing any tours or events just yet.”

The key exhibits are still fully accessible, save for a few hands-on interactive stations. During a walk through, return visitors can still view some of their favorite displays and new guests will continue to get an understanding of the Tulalip people and their journey since pre-colonial times to present day. Signage is posted throughout the museum, offering a friendly reminder that masks are required, as well as indicate displays that are temporarily unavailable or restricted to a certain amount of people at a time.  

“It’s essential and required to wear a mask,” Mytyl explained. “We have markers to encourage and keep people social distancing. We’ve got hand sanitizing stations. Our cashiers are wearing gloves and we’ll also have Plexiglas shields for them. We’re using only one entrance and exit, so we can keep track of how many people are in the building. Certain exhibits are limited to a certain amount of people, whether it’s three of four, and the gift shop is limited to six people. We’re doing our best to keep our team and our guests safe and healthy. We’ve got a lot of hands on deck and we’re doing lots of cleaning in the exhibits in between guests. Just about every hour we’re wiping things to down to keep sanitary.”

Before the COVID pandemic occurred, the HCC was granted access to display the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot by the National Archives as a part of their History of Tulalip Literacy exhibit, in which many Tulalip writers and storytellers were featured. The museum closed only weeks after the Literacy exhibit was launched, and the historic treaty that defined the inherit rights of not only the Tulalip people, but several surrounding tribes as well, received less attention than originally anticipated due to the pandemic. 

“We do still have the treaty on display,” Mytyl happily reported. “The National Archives will be deciding how much longer we can keep it on display. So, we have it for now, and as soon as we find out how long we can keep it, we will definitely get that news out into our community.”

The HCC is back to their regular scheduled hours of 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, please contact (360) 716-2600, or visit the Hibulb Cultural Center’s Facebook page.

“We’re really excited to be back,” expressed Mytyl. “We had a good response from our community and guests, and they are super excited for us to be open. It feels great to give people something else to do, and we believe that we can do it safely.” 

Distance learning at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

The Marysville School District (MSD) recently announced their plans to begin the school year online. With the coronavirus pandemic still looming overhead, many businesses, institutions and organizations are finding themselves at a crossroads, having to decide whether or not to return to ‘business-as-usual’ and the way of life we grew accustomed to pre-COVID-19, or hang tight for a few more months to see if the nation’s current state improves. 

On the education side of the coin, a strong debate could be made on behalf of the students who thrive in group settings and benefit from in-person interactions between both their teachers and peers. Another point could be made for Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary (QCT) students specifically who also learn about Tulalip culture, in addition to their basic educational foundation, as many songs, stories and teachings are interweaved into the lesson plans and activities at the elementary school. 

“With the news that the Marysville School District is going to be doing a remote learning start, we want to prioritize student safety, community safety, staff safety, family safety above all else,” said QCT Principal, Sarah-Marie Boerner. “We recognize it’s a difficult decision and that it is going to create challenges for everyone. What we’re looking at, at this point, is identifying what are our priorities and what are the things we can learn from our spring experience and do better; refine, polish, adjust, change, so that we are better meeting the needs of our student population and our families. That isn’t to say we don’t have an incredibly dedicated staff that put in their all last spring, but a huge part of being an educator and being a part of a learning institution is recognizing that we also have to learn and grow.”

The virus outbreak occurred before the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year began. When Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order and people went into lockdown mode, MSD handed out over 1,000 Chromebooks to their student body in order to finish out their school year amidst a world-wide pandemic. The students held on to their Chromebooks during the summer months, and with school starting in a few short weeks, they are already prepared for what the district is dubbing ‘Continuous Learning 2.0’.

Continuous Learning 2.0, Principal Boerner mentioned, will be a more detailed approach to distance learning, or the online learning experience that occurred at the end of last school year, with a strong emphasis on garnering more engagement from the students and their family. 

“These times right now are very difficult for our families,” said QCT Assistant Principal Yolanda Gallegos-Winnier. “Businesses are closing; people are getting laid-off from work – people are figuring out what’s next for their family. Unintentionally school can be put to the wayside, so how do we think outside of the box and develop opportunities for learning?”

She continued, “A lot of our kids come from traditional fishing families. My husband is enrolled Yakama and we fish on the Columbia. As a teacher, my mind started thinking about how can we model this for staff; how do we learn more about Indigenous ways and teachings. I started taking photos of my daughter fishing, I was inspired by Natosha Gobin’s videos. I’m going to narrate as my daughter pulls fish up and uses the net, and while she is cleaning and cutting we’ll talk about math and how many fish she caught for the day. If we can get to a point where we can disseminate that information to the Tribal parents, maybe we can do something together similar to the online powwows where we incorporate those teachings into our lesson plans and involve the community. Perhaps we have a kid who is crabbing narrate the process– that is essentially writing an essay about what it means to crab for his people and bring food to the table. Kids out here are so smart, they know about the seasons and the specific crabs, they know about fish; blueback from a sturgeon to a steelhead. We have to connect those things quickly so we can have more engagement.” 

A lot of conversation, debate and intention went into planning for the upcoming school year, both at the individual school level and at the district level. Several sub-committees were created, as well as task forces who sent out numerous surveys via e-mail and phone calls, trying to get a better idea of how to best serve their students and community during such trying times. Continuous Learning 2.0 is actually just the first phase in a three-step plan that will ultimately help kids transition back into the classroom by the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. The first phase is strictly online, while phase two is a hybrid model that will require participation both in the classroom and online. In phase three, lessons will be ‘100% in-person instruction’.

Bearing all of that in mind, there are many checkpoints that must be made along the way back to the classroom to ensure both staff and student guardians are on the same page. Which brings us to the five key areas that QCT plans on prioritizing during the first quarter of the year and will likely extend into the long-term planning for the elementary.  

“Priority one is thinking about our model for distance learning,” Principal Sarah-Marie explained. “We’re thinking about how we can have clear consistent guidelines to make the schedule easily accessible and easier for families to navigate. We’re also thinking about the essential standards that we need to identify for student learning, so our kids are still getting those core foundational pieces that are going to serve them well all the way through, in both this distance model, the hybrid model and going back to a traditional schoolhouse at some point.

“Priority three is about the engagement of students and families. One of our biggest areas of growth and possibility is better engaging our students on the online format. Because honestly, many of us haven’t done this before. We have professional learning resources we’re engaging in with our staff.

“We’re also thinking about equitable access and our kids who are furthest from educational justice. Not only identifying who those students might be, but also thinking about tailoring some additional support for those families. And the final priority is recognizing we need to step up our communication. We aren’t going to have as many opportunities through person-to-person contact, so recognizing that we need to be planning how we’re going to communicate consistently, regularly and provide two-way communication with families.”

 Aiming to keep the lifeways of the Tulalip people a central focal point of their teachings, QCT plans on sticking with some of the traditions put in place many years ago to continue highlighting the Tribe’s culture such as Lushootseed lessons, and continuing to start each day with a traditional Tulalip song, famously known by the students as ‘the morning song’. The school is also making an extra effort to ensure that at least one Indigenous staff member sits on the various committees, guaranteeing that the Native voice is heard, valued and considered during decision-making processes.  

“We’re moving forward with a thoughtful three to five-year plan,” said Assistant Principal Gallegos-Winnier. “Our vision and dream for the school is following the Tribe’s voice and the Tulalip people’s expectations for their children. Lushootseed is absolutely a part of that. We as Indigenous people have always had traditional ways of knowing, learning and teaching. School walls don’t define education for our people or our children. Our schooling and education have always been developed in our families, in our community and with the knowledge and teachings of our elders and ancestors.”

“Although school is online, we will continue to fish, hunt, sing, and support each other within our families and overall community as a people,” she continued. “There is writing in our hunting experiences. There are speech and math opportunities in our knowledge and skill set of our young fishermen and women who have been fishing and crabbing with their families.”

QCT is reaching out to you, the Tulalip parents, family, students and community, for any feedback on how to better engage the students at the start of the school year to ensure they are receiving the knowledge of the Tulalip people and implementing it when necessary into their daily teachings. 

“I miss the kids; the staff misses the kids,” Yolanda expressed. “There’s a lot of grief in not being able to have those one-on-one class relationships. Just walking through the hallways, it’s so quiet and empty, wondering when will we be safe to open up and have the kids back. Right now, my hope is that as a community we can come together and figure out how to be able to make a successful online educational program for our students here at Quil Ceda Tulalip. In closing, the question is, how do we tie all of that into online learning and make the connection between school and home for your student. We need your help in this process, we can’t do this without you. Please call or email us for ideas, suggestions and feedback.”   

For more information, please contact Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary at (360) 965-3100.

Welcome your census takers, Indian Country needs to be counted

Submitted by Lindsey Watkins, Marketing Manager, Tulalip Tribes

Beginning August 10, if you have not completed your census survey, a census enumerator will visit your home to ensure that you and your family are counted. Census enumerators are your neighbors–people from your community, hired by the Census Bureau, to go door-to-door and collect census information from residents that have not completed their 2020 Census. Census enumerators can be identified by ID cards displayed openly, their official Census bag, and are likely members of your community, so welcome them when they arrive—the whole process should not take more than 10 minutes. The census taker or field representative will present an ID badge that includes their name, their photograph, a Department of Commerce watermark, and the expiration date. They will have an official bag and Census Bureau-issued electronic device, such as a laptop or smartphone, bearing the Census Bureau logo. Census takers and field representatives will conduct their work between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm.

  If a census enumerator comes to your door, they will interview you so they can count all the residents of each household. They will ask you approximately ten questions on their electronic form and fill in your answers. Even if you just forgot to complete your form, the census taker still must ask you the questions and complete the form with your answers. They cannot let you fill out their form for them. They will be wearing a face mask and staying outside your door following CDC guidelines and not ask to come into your home.

  They will not ask for your social security number, and your information is confidential and can’t be shared with anyone outside of the Census Bureau, including law enforcement.  If no one is home at the time of the visit, the census enumerator will leave helpful follow-up information to make sure your household is counted.

  Remember, this is your chance to make sure Indian Country is accurately counted. Funding for schools, roads, health clinics, and other facilities depends on it. An accurate count may trigger reapportionment, ensuring we are properly represented in Congress. An accurate count gets Tulalip a fair share of grants and other funding; it makes sure your share does not go to neighboring cities or towns. For everyone who is not counted, the Tulalip community could lose approximately $3,000 per person, per year, for the next ten years!  

  Currently, the Tulalip Census self-response percentage rate is about 10% lower than the rate for Washington State. If you have not already done so, you can avoid having a Census Taker come to your household by responding now online at 2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020, or by mail if you complete and return a Census questionnaire that was mailed to your home.

Indians are everywhere

Northwest Coast Barbie doll, 2000. From 1992 to 2000, Native American Barbie modeled various looks, from “modern powwow” to “Eskimo,” that kept her tribal affiliation a mystery. The Northwest Coast Barbie was the first tribally specific doll. The Tlingit-influenced Barbie, complete with a chilkat robe, has long dark hair and tan skin, but she hasn’t lost her Barbie essence.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

It’s so strange that nearly all that can be named or sold has at some point been named or sold with an Indian word or image. If this seems normal, that’s because it has become normal. It started before the United States was colonized and continues today.

American Indian images are everywhere. From consumer products to Hollywood big screens to local high school, collegiate, and professional athletics mascots. American Indian names are everywhere too, from state (e.g. Alaska, Dakotas, Oklahoma), city (e.g. Seattle, Tacoma, Snohomish) and street names to the Tomahawk missile. And familiar historical events such as Pocahontas’s life, the Trail of Tears, and the Battle of Little Bighorn remain popular reference points in everyday conversation.

Americans, a major exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, highlights the ways in which American Indians have been part of the nation’s identity since time immemorial. It delves into the power of story, surrounds visitors with images, and invites them to begin a conversation about why this phenomenon exists.

Brave Eagle lunchbox and thermos, 1950s. Brave Eagle was one of the first television shows to feature an American Indian as the lead and hero. The half-hour episodes focused on the settlement of the West from the Native American perspective. The premiered in 1955 and ended in 1956.

The images accompanying this article are worth a closer look. What if they are not trivial? What if they are instead symbols of great power? What if the stories they tell reveal a buried history and a country forever fascinated, conflicted, and shaped by its relationship with American Indians? Pervasive, powerful, at times demeaning, the images, names, and stories reveal how we have been embedded in unexpected ways in the history, pop culture, and identity of the United States.

Indian Chief motorcycle, 1948. A classic, the Indian is considered the most stylish of mass-produced motorcycles. In 1897, American-made bicycles named Indian were sold overseas. The name stuck when the company sold its first motorcycles in 1902. It became a true brand, with a feathered headdress as the logo and the Indian Red as the signature color. In the 1930s, models could be customized with colors such as Mohawk Green, Seminole Cream, Navajo Blue, and Apache Gray.
This model’s fender ornament is an Indian figure with headdress, and the word Indian is written in stylish script on the tank. The company’s first advertising executive said, “No more popular or wealth-producing name could have been chosen.”
Though the Indian Motorcycle Company has changed hands many times, its name and distinctive logo have endured.

As American Indians, we are estimated to comprise just 1% of the entire U.S. population. Yet everywhere you go in the United States, you can see images of us. Why?

How is that Indians can be so present and so absent in American life? One reason is that the land of the free and home of the brave is still trying to come to grips with centuries of wildly mixed feelings about us. Are we the merciless Indian savages described in the Declaration of Independence or are we the noble Indians who strive to be stewards of the Earth? Domestic dependents granted special privileges by the U.S. government or sovereign nations free to govern ourselves?  The answer to both questions is somewhere between nether and both. 

Savage Arms bullet box, 1950. Things aren’t always what they seem. Savage Arms, whose guns are widely used in police department, is named after its founder, Arthur Savage.

We have been seen as both authentic and threatening, almost mythological yet deeply appealing. In present day America, citizens of all cultural backgrounds can surround themselves with dream catchers, have Pendleton accessories, and describe a football game as a trail of tears because they know that Indians are in the country’s DNA. They know we have shaped this nation from the beginning and have convinced themselves that the best way to honor us is by filling the void left by cultural genocide with cultural appropriation. 

Chicago Blackhawks infant onesie, 2016. How do you decide what sports team to cheer for? Well, in many cases you don’t. Your parents decide for you. They clothe you in adorable onesies and bibs form the hometown team. The onesies give way to T-shirts, hats, and family outings to games. Before you know it, you can’t remember a time when you weren’t a fan.
Similarly, you don’t choose the name. Team owners do. In 1926, Frederic McLaughlin decided to name his new hockey team after Chief Blackhawk, who sided with the British in the War of 1812. Why name a team after a leader who fought against the Americans? One reason is the American tradition of linking military might and fighting skill to American Indians.

The objects, images, and stories shown here are not just what they seem to be at the surface level. They are insistent reminders of larger truths and an empathic refusal to forget our shared history. 

Wild West tribal Lego set, 1997. The Tribal Chief figure, most recently knowns as the Lego Movie character Chief from the Old West, is part of the 1997 Lego System. The chief’s accessories include a headdress, a steed, a spear, an oval-patterned shield, a green bush, and a black snake. 

Diabetes Care and Prevention implements mail-out program

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

When the Tulalip Tribes issued their Stay Home, Stay Safe mandate and the governmental entity placed many of its programs on hold and staff on furlough, due to the coronavirus, the Diabetes Care and Prevention program was among the few that momentarily halted all services. 

“One of the things you hear on the news is about the people who are at high-risk of contracting the virus, and they always mention diabetes,” said Veronica ‘Roni’ Leahy, Diabetes Care and Prevention Program Coordinator. “I started thinking about what was happening with our patients, what they must be going through, how they are feeling. They must be worried and scared.”

Although there has been a general decrease in the total number of Indigenous people diagnosed with the disease over recent years, Native communities still have an alarmingly high amount of people who are diabetics and pre-diabetics in comparison to any other race nationally. 

Diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2, is a complex disease that unfortunately, due to deviating from our traditional diets and the lack of access to healthy foods, has affected many of our loved ones and altered the way they live. Managing diabetes is not exactly a walk in the park, considering the amount of medication and insulin one must take in order to just eat a meal. If you are a diabetic and miscalculate the amount of insulin you need to take, or eat too much or too little, you can potentially be in life-threating danger if your blood sugar spikes or drops dramatically.

With the health of her patients in mind, Roni pleaded with management at the Tulalip Health Clinic, asking for clearance to come back and figure out a way to reach those patients living with diabetes. Receiving the okay to return, Roni immediately got to work by calling and checking-in on those diabetics who receive care through the program. Able to reach 121 out of 225 patients, Roni asked them a series of questions to get an understanding of how they were doing and what services they required amid the COVID outbreak. 

Like many Tribal programs and departments, the Diabetes Care and Prevention program was gearing up for an exciting 2020, aiming to reach more of the community who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes by planning classes, field trips and a number of fun projects including a fitness expo, complete with exercise workshops and activities, in partnership with Youth Services. With those plans no longer in-play, Roni had to readjust her approach to reach those who needed the program’s resources and services. 

“Every month we send the patients a mailer to their homes; something that can provide them with information about COVID,” she explained. “The first one we sent had a thermometer, information on COVID-19 and safety guidelines. This way they know wearing masks are important; we sent them one set and in the next mail-out they’ll get another set of masks.”

In addition to reliable information, Roni is also making sure her patients have the necessary equipment to monitor their health, including blood pressure monitors, thermometers, spirometers and fingertip oximeters, in order to accurately report to their doctors during scheduled telehealth appointments. The program has also been working with other departments within the tribal health clinic that provides services to their diabetic clients. For example, optometry provided Roni with eye health information handouts and eye drops, while the in-house physical therapist offered resistance bands and exercises, so the diabetics can stay active safely from the comforts of their homes.

The mail-out program is a monthly initiative to help those living with diabetes navigate through these corona-times safely. The Diabetes Program also assembles themed-care packages that are sent to their clients quarterly. Last quarter, those diabetics who live on the reservation received a cold care package, filled with immune boosting essentials, at their doorstep. The care packages are hand-delivered by the Diabetes Program Admin Assistant, Brooke Morrison. And for those diabetics who do not live on the reservation, they are able to scoop one up at any time from the health clinic. The next care package will be a naturopathic kit. 

During Roni’s telephone assessment, she asks the patient if an emergency situation occurred, do they feel comfortable calling the clinic or the medics, whether it was a diabetic or corona related issue. Many of those patients voiced concern. 

“I want them to know that if they have worries or anxieties about calling the office for care because they’re afraid of getting sick, they can call us. A lot of people don’t want to call because they are afraid they’ll have to go to the hospital, and if they go to the hospital their family can’t be with them. That’s part of the conversation I have with them and let them know that you can talk to our nurses, to our clinic and they can help you. Maybe you don’t have to go to the hospital, but you do need to call somebody.”

When reaching out to her patients, Roni quickly learned that a phone call goes a long way. In fact, she recalled numerous phone conversations that resulted in tears. Many of her clients expressed fear about the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, as well as loneliness caused by isolation. Roni shared that one gentleman told her that she was actually the first person to call and check on him since the pandemic began.

“We’re keeping really busy with diabetes education that keeps people active and on track with social distancing and keeping things sanitized. Our biggest concern is their safety and we want them to know that we’re here for them,” Roni expressed. “When it comes to diabetic care, sometimes it can be a lonely walk and filled with a lot of uncertainty. We want them to understand that they’re not alone. The mail-out program is a great way to keep interacting with our patients. One of the things people enjoy about our classes is that connection of being together as a group, so we still need to keep those relationships alive and growing and we do that by making sure they have everything they need at home.” 

For more information, please contact the Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention Program at (360) 716-5641.

Building Upon the Past, Visioning Into the Future: Celebrating sgʷi gʷi ?altxʷ 25th anniversary

Bird painting: Yatika Starr Fields (Osage/Cherokee/Creek). Diving Birds of Green Lake. 2016. Oil on canvas.
“As a new resident to the Seattle area I was searching for new ideas and inspirations for a painting. My work usually conveys movement and colors of various subject matter joining together to create a dynamic force. I knew I wanted to find something that is of Washington and the Seattle area. Using nature oriented objects and forms in most of my works I wanted to apply the same for what this new piece would be. I went running one afternoon around Green Lake in Seattle and was watching the diving birds that disappear and reappear while in search for food. Diving under the surface and into the depths of the water. I imagined the landscape below the surface with shadowy silhouettes of the diving birds, crossing over one another layered by the lakes aquatic plants. After imagining this scene and seeing these birds once again on Lake Union I decided I would paint this image out as my first paining living here in Seattle. Using oil paints, my preferred medium in the studio, this painting conveys a feeling of light coming through the surface as the water moves above, the birds joined in movement as they swim underneath the surface in search for food. Abstracted plants and forms convey a swift dance taking place below unseen by the passerby above.”

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Real NDN painting: Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath/Modoc). HÉYÓKA. 2014. Oil paint, wax crayon on canvas.
“This image emerged through processing the authenticity of what contemporary American Indian looks like and how it is perceived by Native and non-Native viewers. The painting HÉYÓKA tackles Indigenous identity through invoking multiple variables such as skin color, hair length (a visual quotation from the Boarding School eras), gender roles, authentic regalia, and speaking tribal languages. As the artist, I am taking a look at how post-assimilation policies have affected our collective Indigenous identities, primarily through understanding how pan-Indian tropes have played an important role in rebuilding Native Pride in the recent past. However, to continue on a true path of decolonization and re-Indigenization we need to begin the dire acts of reclaiming our specific Tribal cultures and memories (names of tribes in the headdress).
This portrait utilizes a conceptual irony by quoting the ‘Hollywood Injun’ through the text reel NDN, evoking a hybrid character, perhaps half-Tonto / half-Lone Ranger. However, the smirk on the characters scarred face, reveals a tension that is both of humor and confidence. Perhaps asking the viewer to take a look at their own preconceived content that is brought to this image. Are the blue circles in the headdress feathers, or corporate suits? Is this stereotype or contemporary Indigenous warrior? Can authentic forms of visual decolonization and indigenization occur through painting? HÉYÓKA is trickster, the sacred opposite whose empowerment comes by reflecting taboos within the culture. Through putting the mirror back onto the viewer (a negation of ‘eyes’ in the figure) this HÉYÓKA is now the one asking the questions.”

In the ancestral language of this land, Lushootseed, the phrase sgʷi gʷi ?altxʷ  means House of Welcome. More than just a name, the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at Evergreen State College in Olympia being officially dubbed sgʷi gʷi ?altxʷ  gives credence to a reciprocal relationship that is both open hearted and open minded.

Created in 1995 as a public service center, the Longhouse’s mission is to promote Indigenous arts and cultures through education, cultural preservation, creative expression, and economic development.

In the beginning, the cultural center’s focus was on six local Puget Sound tribes and their ever-evolving artists. Today, the Longhouse collaborates with highly talented Indigenous artists throughout the Pacific Northwest region, across the nation, and distant lands spanning the globe. Through residency programs with master artists, culture bearers are inspired to develop their abilities while expanding their imaginative capacities in pursuit of creating entirely new boundaries for what defines ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ designs.

“Art allows us to sing without a song, to give our true spirit into something we create out of something nature has given us,” explained Master artist Bruce Subiyay Miller (Skokomish). “Our people create with the natural elements of wood, plant fibers or native plants. Through these acts of creation, our culture continues to live today. That is important at a time when many of us have lost our languages, our customs, and many of the things we look upon as comprising a complete culture.

“We still have our artwork!” he added. “Through that, all the ancestors that lived on this Earth from the beginning of time in our tribal lineages, still exist as long as we have the art. That is what art means to me.”

To celebrate the House of Welcome’s 25 years of groundbreaking work we examine an art exhibition that truly captures the essence of what it means to facilitate cross cultural exchange.  Building Upon the Past, Visioning Into the Future showcases cultural concepts and next level skillfulness from over 70 Indigenous artists with whom the Longhouse has built relationship, from the early days, right up to the present. Many of the featured artists have received a grant, taught a workshop, exhibited work, been an artist-in-residence, or otherwise participated in Longhouse programming. 

Curated by Longhouse staff members Erin Genia (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) and Linly Logan (Seneca), this one-of-a-kind exhibition features beautiful artistry from tribal members that call this land home. Local tribal representation include Squaxin Island, Skokomish, Puyallup and many other Coast Salish tribes. Tribes from across the nation are also represented, from Alaska to the Great Plains, and across the Pacific Rim, including Native Hawaiians and Maori artists from New Zealand.

Glass weavings 
Ho-Wan-Ut Old Peter (Skokomish). Glass Basket. 2015. 
Halisa Higheagle (Chehalis). Glass Basket. 2015. 
Wa x WupKaya Jack-lyn Smith (Skokomish). Salmon Gill Design Glass Basket. 2015. Glass.
*Made during a workshop with hot shop lead artist, Dan Friday (Lummi), as a partnership between the Museum of Glass and the Longhouse.

“This exhibition reflects the [twenty-five years] of building relationships with artists locally, regionally, nationally and internationally,” stated exhibition co-curator Erin Genia. “Each of the artists you see here in the show has in some way worked with the Longhouse through one of our programs. Native artists are using so many different methods for expressing themselves and we really wanted to display as many of those methods as possible. The result is we have close to ninety beautiful pieces of art, treasures really, that make up this exhibition.” 

Hat: Vickie Era Pankretz (Alutiiq/Sugpiag). AWIRNAQ – Alutiiq Hunting Hat. 2015. Spruce root, sea otter fur, dentalium shells, antique Russian trade beads, glass beads, imitation sea lion whiskers and suet, cloth straps.

The subjects and techniques exhibited by the Longhouse artists draw from a diverse range of stylistic traditions, which arise from cultural teachings, ancestral lineages, and each artist’s unique experience as Indigenous peoples. Works on display include paintings, drums, carvings, beadwork, photography, baskets, and jewelry. 

Glass vessels created using basket designs demonstrate the way traditional design can beautifully translate into new media. Other sculptural forms created in clay, bronze and wood, alongside two-dimensional prints, paintings and drawing spotlight the mastery of mediums that Longhouse artists are fluent in.

“As a curator of this exhibition it’s such an awe-inspiring experience to hear from the artists themselves as to the perspective and inspiration behind their artwork,” added fellow co-curator Linly Logan. “We have artists who are very traditional and roots oriented; artists who use the natural resources around them to showcase their creativeness. 

Wooden spindle: Andrea Wilbur-Sigo (Squaxin Island). New Beginnings. 2015. Maple.

“As Native and Indigenous people we’ve always used the resources around us,” he continued. “In a contemporary lifestyle in nature, we’ve continued to use the resources around us which now include materials other than natural materials. We’ve come full circle in our intent to build upon the past and vision into the future creatively and intellectually as Indigenous people.”

The House of Welcome graciously allowed Tulalip News staff a private tour of the exhibition so that we could share a glimpse of the amazingly creative and exceptional Native art with our local community. These artists are luminaries of their cultures, lighting the pathway back into the far reaches of history, and leading the way into the future with their creative vision.

Salish Sea Reflections: 2020 Canoe Journey cancelled, culture continues at Tulalip

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“The first time I got out on the canoe and went outside of Tulalip Bay, I felt a deep connection not only with the water, but with the canoe,” expressed Tulalip tribal member and Canoe Puller, Monie Ordonia. “I felt my ancestor’s gratitude for me being on the water, the silence of serenity is palpable.  It was like an interconnection meditation for me. Every time my paddle digs into the water, it’s like a prayer for my people, the community, and for the water with all that live in it.”

The people of the Northwest have been enjoying beautiful sunrays during the late weeks of July. Although safely partaking in outdoor adventures may be a bit more challenging with the threat of contracting the coronavirus, many people are still finding ways to safely soak up some sun such as family bike rides, scenic car trips, or lounging out on the patio. It’s safe to say the sunshine has brightened up spirits across local Native tribes during a dark time period. And although it’s understandable that we all must make necessary adjustments to protect ourselves and our people, many can’t help but miss the yearly summertime journey across the Salish Sea.

“It was one of those things that was hard to believe,” expressed Tulalip Canoe Family Skipper, Andrew Gobin. “We were getting our canoes ready, we set the practice schedule and we were all planned for journey. We we’re ready to go and all this happened.”

If it were not for the coronavirus, many Natives would be in a cedar dugout canoe this very moment, coasting through the Salish waters and pulling in unison with their canoe family, perhaps offering a traditional song to the sea while enroute to Nanaimo B.C., visiting with different tribes and creating lifelong friendships along the way. 

During a colonial celebration, Washington State’s 100th centennial in 1989, Quinault tribal member Emmett Oliver organized an historic moment-in-time, famously known as the ‘Paddle to Seattle’, by calling upon a number of fellow Northwest Treaty Tribes and First Nations bands to participate in a traditional canoe pull into Elliot Bay.

 The Paddle to Seattle sparked a cultural revitalization. Once experiencing the medicine offered by the sacred waters, as well as feeling the power of unity amongst coastal Nations, tribal leaders planned the first Tribal Canoe Journey in 1993 with the paddle to Bella Bella. And each summer since, Canoe Journey has been hosted at different villages, helping tribal members reconnect with both their people and ancestral lifeways, while also providing its participants with a lifetime’s worth of memories and healing.

“The first time I did Canoe Journey, there were only ten pullers with our Skipper,” Monie reflected. “No relief pullers, and we didn’t use our support boat to tow us at any time.  It was just us pulling to Swinomish. It was a long 10+ hour pull. We were making our final turn to pull up the river to land on Swinomish grounds, we started singing a tribal song and an energy of renewal just came over all of us. We were pulling strong and hard. As soon as we got near the bridge that takes you onto Swinomish land, I became very emotional. 

“I couldn’t sing anymore and my eyes were full of tears,” she continued. “My sister Muffy had been the only one of my family who ever done canoe pulling, and she had just passed away in December of 2015.  She was the one who inspired me to pull canoe. My grandmother Dora Hilliare Wyakes is buried in Swinomish, so to see that we were pulling up to the bridge that leads to the cemetery where my grandmother was laid to rest, it made me feel like I was honoring both my grandmother and my sister Muffy.”

From ’93 until present day there have only been two instances when the Tribal Canoe Journey celebration did not occur, a hiatus in 2015 after no Tribal Nation volunteered for hosting duties, though several tribes did hold small gatherings that year, allowing the canoes the opportunity to still travel the waters. The second instance is this year.

“Before our Tribe even closed, Nanaimo already canceled journey,” explained Andrew. “I thought, like a lot of people, that COVID was just going to be a lot of hype and that it would pass. I was a strong proponent of keeping plans in place and coming up with secondary plans in case journey started up again.”

For Tulalip, Canoe Journey season begins long before their canoes leave the Tulalip Bay shores and extend far past the last song at protocol. In fact, many tribal members dedicate their time months in advance, preparing for journey by harvesting traditional plants and making salves, oils, balms and herbal blends to gift to other tribes during the near month-long experience. The canoe journey participants also take time to practice their traditional songs and dances so when it’s Tulalip’s turn at protocol, their voices are strong and each dance precise, providing medicine while proudly representing the sduhubš way of life. 

With the absence of this year’s event, many Tulalip canoe family members continued with the work that goes into preparing for journey by harvesting traditional plants and foods within their households and gifting those medicines to local elders as opposed to neighboring tribes. Tulalip singers, dancers and pullers are also staying connected via social media, sharing songs, updates and stories online. Andrew extended his many thanks to the crew who have taken it upon themselves to give back to the community such as Thomas Williams and Dean Pablo. 

“I see a lot of people from the canoe family gathering, using this time to harvest, taking advantage of slowing down and taking part in those traditional practices,” Andrew said. “Some of the people on Canoe Journey are turning back to fishing as way to feed their family and their community. People are smoking fish and giving it to our elders. And some of the younger ones are using social media to stay connected this year. The gifts of our people are coming back into the community during this time. When we prepare for Canoe Journey we gather those things and we give them out when we travel. Since we can’t travel, people are taking it on themselves to put it back in their own community.” 

Another tradition of the canoe family is a ceremony that takes place at the beginning of Spring where they formally wake the family canoes, Big Brother and Big Sister, by cleansing and singing songs in their honor, as the canoes are living spirits that come from sacred cedar. The canoes are then taken out on the water twice-a-week until Canoe Journey in order to build up the endurance of the canoes and its pullers. 

“I really enjoy practice,” Monie stated. “Getting out on the water as well as the comradery that goes with it. When you practice with mostly the same people every week, they truly become your canoe family.  You pull together and sing songs. You encourage each other, so when journey actually begins there is a sense of teamwork, because not one person can pull the canoe by themselves. There is  something about sharing your energy on the water in the sacred canoe.”

Though the annual summertime paddle offers healing in many ways, whether it’s pulling on the water, camping and visiting with people from other tribes, or proudly representing your Nation during protocol, many will agree that coming together as a people and forging bonds based on Indigenous culture is one, if not thee, most important aspects of Tribal Canoe Journeys.

“My favorite part of the journey is that togetherness,” said Andrew. “When we leave Tulalip and travel, we all help each other. We don’t leave anybody behind. If someone needs help, everyone is helping. Everyone is looking out for each other and it really reminds us of the best part of our community and what it means to come together. 

“The time on the water, every day is a different adventure.  It could be the same crew, same canoe, same paddle, but there’s different jokes and things that happen. Last year, one of the canoes jumped a wave, now those people who were on that canoe all joke about that, they have that unique story they get to reflect on. It’s all about building that community trust and accountability. When we camp and hold circle, everyone is equal, everyone is accountable, everyone has the same responsibilities. Big Shot (Cyrus James) would say, to uphold one another, to care for one another.”

Recently, Nanaimo officially passed the torch to the Tla’amin Nation who plans on hosting the 2021 Canoe Journey festivities in their homeland of Powell River B.C. For more updates, be sure to follow the ‘Tribal Canoe Journeys’ and the ‘Tulalip Canoes’ Facebook pages.