Huckleberry Harvest: swədaʔx̌ali an expression of Tulalip sovereignty

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

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

For thousands of years, huckleberry has served as an important food, medicine, and trade good to the Coast Salish peoples. Mountain huckleberry is most abundant in the middle to upper mountain elevations, and favors open conditions following disturbances like fire or logging. Prior to European colonization, Native peoples managed the land by using fire and other means to create or maintain huckleberry habitat and gathering areas.

In 2016, the Tulalip Tribes began working cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service to sustain huckleberries at a 1,280-acre parcel of land, 4,700 feet above elevation in the upper Skykomish River watershed. This particular location is one of several co-stewardship areas throughout the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest where Tulalip collaborates with the Forest Service to preserve and maintain important cultural resources. 

Named swədaʔx̌ali, Lushootseed for ‘Place of Mountain Huckleberries’, this end of summer destination gives Tulalip tribal members an opportunity to walk in the shadows of their ancestors and harvest the highly prized mountain huckleberry. The gate to swədaʔx̌ali  was officially opened on August 25 and will remain open through the end of September. 

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing that sovereignty is every tribal member who journeys to this ancestral harvesting area and practices their cultural traditions that continue to be passed on from one generation to the next. Tulalip mother-daughter duo, Malory Simpson and Tiyanna Bueno, have made the two-hour trek to harvest huckleberry twice so far, and plan on going once more before the gate is closed for the season.

Tulalip youth Tiyanna Bueno and Tiegan Shopbell enjoy the sweet taste of huckleberry.

“I love being outdoors and harvesting. It is spiritually healing,” reflected Malory after collecting her berry bounty alongside her 9-year-old daughter. “It feels good knowing that my children are learning about our harvesting traditions with me. I want them to not only have a good understanding of how to harvest, but how to properly process what they’ve harvested, too.

“It’s important for our children to soak up teachings about how to harvest, process, and be self-sustaining in a good way,” the mother of three continued. “My plan for our harvest is to make some jam. We’ll be enjoying huckleberry pancakes and waffles as well. We’ll also be gifting some of our harvest for spiritual work.”

For the Tulalip Tribes, the mountain huckleberry is intimately tied with traditional lifeways and culture. Historically providing an end of summer harvest opportunity, the journey to swədaʔx̌ali  strengthens a deep connection to the land as well.  Nearly 5,000 feet up, in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, berry pickers are completely immersed in the grand splendor that is the Pacific Northwest. Epic views of luscious, green-filled forestry, towering mountains, and clear waterways are purely mesmerizing.

Dean Pablo delights in his berry bounty.

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

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

Huckleberry Health Benefits:

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

Yes, there are Native American republicans. Navajo VP speaks on their behalf during Republican National Convention

Navajo Nation vice-president, Myron Lizer, gave the opening remarks on day two of Republican National Convention.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Following night two of the Republican National Convention, many across Coast Salish territory were vexed, truly vexed, when they witnessed vice-president of Navajo Nation, Myron Lizer, address a largely conservative audience and endorse President Donald Trump for the 2020 election.

“Many of our ancestral leaders sought to govern and lead a nation within a nation,” Lizer said. “They sought to lead their people into the promises of a better way of life for their children’s children. It is also where they have not been as successful as the rest of America. 

“Our first nation’s people – the host people of the land – we are still here. Our creator placed us here and he knew that for such a time as this we would have the opportunity for an appeal to heaven. You see our people have never been invited into the America Dream. We for years fought past battles with congressmen and senators that were part of a broken system that ignored us. That is until President Trump took office.

“President Trump delivered the largest funding package ever to Indian Country. The $8 billion dollars in CARES Act funding was a great start in alleviated the devastating effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected on our tribes because of health disparities that previous administration failed to improve,” he continued. “I’m excited to endorse President Trump’s reelection.”

During Lizer’s eye-opening, two-and-a-half minute speech he praised the President for a number of policies instituted in the last few months that benefit Native American communities. Among them are the $8 billion dollars in CARES Act funding, $273 million to improve public safety and support victims of crimes on Native lands, and, most recently, the creation of a task force to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis. Dubbed ‘Operation Lady Justice’, this task force intends to dedicate more crucial monies and man power to the MMIW movement by establishing an interagency task force charged with developing an aggressive, government-wide strategy to address the crisis.

Surrounded by Native leaders, President Trump signs an executive order establishing ‘Operation Lady Justice’ to address MMIW crisis. (Official White House photo)

“Our Native American people experience violence at a higher rate than any other nationality in the country,” explained Lizer when President Trump signed the executive order creating ‘Operation Lady Justice’. “The lack of reporting and investigation of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples needs to be taken seriously. The executive order gives hope to our tribal nations that justice is being sought and that there is a path for healing of our families, victims, and survivors.”

Without a doubt, self-identifying liberal, progressive, or Democrat tribal citizens may very well disagree with Lizer’s political allegiance and endorsement of President Trump for re-election. They may even go as far to call the recent legislative policies aimed at benefitting Native communities nothing more than political hogwash and moves only intended to garner political support. Even if that’s true, shouldn’t the mere spotlight on tribal issues and voices be considered a win? Regardless of which political party wrote or passed a particular policy, shouldn’t every resource gained by Indian Country be viewed as a step forward? 

When legislative policies are deemed good or bad, right or wrong, favorable or unfavorable simply based on whether they were created by team blue (Democrats) or team red (Republicans) then it only succeeds in dismissing the actions of half the voting electorate. In doing so, the voices of Native conservatives go unheard by Native progressives and vice-versa.

In 1929, after becoming Vice President, Native Republican Charles Curtis receives a peace pipe from Chief Red Tomahawk. (Library of Congress photo)

Quick piece of history trivia: Did you know a Native American has served as the Vice President of the United States? If you’re in disbelief, don’t be. It’s a super cool part of history that is often neglected or forgotten altogether because Charles Curtis (Kaw), the 31st VP who served from 1929-1933 under President Herbert Hoover, was a Republican.

Currently, there are only four Native Americans members in Congress. Representatives Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) and Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) both made history in 2018 when they won their seats and became the first Native women to reach the House of Representatives. They both are Democrats. They joined their fellow Native politicians Representative Tom Cole (Chickasaw) and Representative Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee), both Republicans, to bring the Native voice to each major political party. 

“If you look at our people nationally, there is no party who universally supports us,” explained O.J. Semans (Rosebud Sioux), executive director of the Native voter engagement organization Four Directions. “It really is dependent on region and the particulars of local state governments. I can guarantee you that you can have Democrats within your area and if the local Native interests are different from theirs, then you won’t have their support.

“I think we should support Native candidates running for both parties. There needs to be Native republicans and Native democrats in order to work together in advancing Native issues,” he added. “It’s never going to be about a particular party issue, it’s always going to be about our peoples’ issues. As Native Americans, let us not look at a party above our own issues, above our treaties and above our sovereignty.”

Today, Native voters represent an influential and unique population of voters in the United States. The Native vote influences outcomes of presidential and congressional elections, as well as state and local elections. While Native issues are complex and vary by region, tribe, and culture, most tribal citizens agree supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination is the foundation to any successful Native platform, regardless of political affiliation.

Tulalip Tribal Court introduces Tulalip Community Give Back program

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

With the late August weather reaching the mid-70’s on a Friday afternoon, cars zoomed across the recently widened bridge that spans across Quil Ceda Creek, windows down and music blaring. On the side of the bridge, nearest to 27th street, a group of volunteers were hard at work. With yellow vests and extendable trash grabbers, the crew spent four hours cleaning an area that is often frequented by the homeless and addicted populace. Once their blue bucket was filled to the top with rubbish, they transferred the trash to a large dumpster and began working on a new area. 

The members of the working crew are the very first participants of a new program called Tulalip Community Give Back, organized by the Tulalip Probation Office. And despite the physical work and warm weather, the participants wore smiles and shared stories and jokes while they worked.

“We’re picking up around the bridge on both sides, just cleaning up and picking up all the garbage and debris,” said volunteer, Yessenia Vega-Simpson. “This is the first day of the program and so far it’s a pretty cool program. There’s two groups, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so you can pick and choose your time. I’m doing the full eight hours so I can hurry up and get my community service done. “

Like many new or redesigned programs, Tulalip Give Back was created in response to the novel coronavirus disease when clients of the Tulalip Justice Center could not fulfill their community service hours. 

“Our only structure pre-COVID was community service, essays, court observation, and unfortunately warrants or jail time,” said Tulalip Probation Officer, Angel Sotomayor. “Post-COVID (outbreak), of course we don’t want to put anyone behind bars if we can prevent it, but community service work is limited within the communities we used to send them to. So we wanted to try something different, a method of community service that is Tulalip specific and includes community involvement and interaction with other departments within the Tribe.”

Previously, Justice Center clients would normally volunteer their time at community service programs located in nearby cities such as Marysville and Everett. However, once the Stay Home, Stay Safe mandate went into effect, the need for community service workers decreased significantly to the point that Tulalip members were falling out of compliance due to limited work available. 

Angel stated, “We are working with those clients who need that extra structure, who have been out of compliance, who volunteer to opt-in and give back to the community in this aspect instead of warrants, jail time, or writing an essay. The Tulalip Community Give Back program will be two days a week, but at the start of it we’re only going to do it one day a week for eight hours. There are two crews, 7:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and a 12:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. on Fridays. This way, those who have children obligations during the first part of the day, can come to the second session or vice versa.”

  A common theme throughout the design of the Give Back program is rebuilding and strengthening that connection between the clients and the community. Angel and the Justice Center hope that by collaborating with other departments, their clients will become more familiarized with the people in a professional manner and acquire new skills that they could add to their resumes when job hunting. Angel hopes that as word about the Give Back program spreads, more departments will reach out when in need of any general assistance that can be entrusted to their clients. 

Out the gate, the program is receiving a huge boost from the Tulalip Public Works department that assigned a 12-passenger van to the program to transport the clients to each worksite every week. Public Works is also providing the Probation Office with work locations as well as any necessary tools or services required to get the job done. 

“We teamed up with Sam Davis and his staff and they agreed to provide us with all the tools we need – safety vests, glasses, first aid and training so they know how to properly deal with broken glass, and hazardous things they might find when cleaning up,” said Angel. “Hopefully down the road, as the program continues to develop, they’ll be able to add these tasks as an acquired skill; leaf blowing, power washing, mowing lawns, scanning documents or shredding documents. That’s our long term goal, to be able to give them the tools to build themselves up, to be a member of the community and not feel that they are different than anyone else. Yes, they are still on probation, but they are still a member of this community.”

It seems that with each day that passes, the program continues to grow. Already, the Tulalip Give Back program is slated to clean up the housing developments built on the reservation including Mission Highlands, Battle Creek, and Silver Village. 

“I believe this is very important work that is being done,” Sam Davis, Public Works Director of Operations stated. “Giving these community members the opportunity to give back in a good way [is] awesome to see. Also the impact these cleanups have in terms of community health, public safety, and environmentally are huge.” 

On the first day of the program, the morning of August 28, the Tulalip Tribal Court’s Chief Judge, Michelle Demmert, offered some inspiring words to the morning crew after they received their required COVID screenings. She applauded them for volunteering their time, while also expressing a desire to incorporate more Tulalip culture into the program. And with the possibility of more funding in the near future, the Give Back program is doing some tentative planning with ideas of weaving classes and other traditional teachings in mind. 

Angel also stated that the program is in talks with the Tulalip Fish Hatchery to put their volunteers to work and learn more about the salmon, its life cycle and significance to the Salish people. By adding a cultural aspect to the program, the clients get the chance to revisit the traditions and teaching of their people in addition to picking up trash and caring for the land. 

“We think that this is going to help build that relationship with the community, where they can interact and gain skills to give back to Tulalip, because most of our clients are Tulalip tribal members,” expressed Angel. “This gives them the opportunity to show that they’re volunteering to do this, they want to be a part of this community, they still want to get through these conditions, pay back those fines, stay out of jail and hopefully find their path.”

Staying true to the theme of strengthening relationships, Angel, and volunteers from the Justice Department, plan on being on site during each community service gathering, lending a hand as well as any guidance needed throughout the day. By rolling up their sleeves and working side-by-side, the court hopes to build trust, understanding, and meaningful, long-lasting relationships with their clients.

Nine participants showed up in total for the first day of the Tulalip Community Give Back program, many of whom spent the entire eight hours in the field, filling up an extra-large dumpster with garbage that was recovered from both sides of the Quil Ceda Creek bridge. In addition to all the trash collected, the participants flagged over 50 used needles that were scattered about, which Angel safely handled and disposed of. 

“We no longer have to rely on Marysville or surrounding communities, we can focus on what Tulalip needs,” Angel said. “It was motivating watching these clients work so hard today. It has given me the drive to continue to do what I am doing. Times have been difficult for everyone during this pandemic, across the entire Tribe we have had to develop new methods to better assist those which we serve. I commend everyone for their efforts during these trying times. Today really reminded me of how important it is to develop alternate methods of engagement with our clients. If anyone has a moment stop by and take a look at the area beside the bridge, adjacent to the QCC Casino, you will notice it looks night and day different. These clients did an outstanding job. I am excited to continue to work towards the growth and further development of this program.”

Eight hours closer to completing her community service hours, Yessenia reflected, “I thought it was just community service, but today I learned that this time could also be used as an opportunity to learn new skills to help people get a job. We’re not just picking up garbage; we’re going to be all over, at the fisheries, helping with housing, shredding papers somewhere. It feels pretty good giving back and helping clean up and take care of our rez.”

For more information, please contact the Tulalip Tribal Court Probation Office at (360) 716-4773.

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: 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.

TPD: Solidarity with community

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

May 25, 2020 the world was shocked, outraged and heartbroken. The murder of George Floyd was captured on camera and circulated the internet for all to see. A black man unjustly and untimely taken from his loved ones at the hands of four law officials, exposing many to a reality that is unfortunately all too familiar within black communities across the country. 

The call for justice was immediate. In the middle of a pandemic the Nation’s obvious divide split even deeper and a lot of people’s ethics and morals were voluntarily put on display, for better or for worse. Whether it was marching at Black Lives Matter rallies or spewing emotions over keyboards, the world began to see exactly where people, companies and businesses stood on heavy topics such as police brutality and systemic racism. 

Since accepting the position of Chief of Police for the Tulalip Police Department (TPD) back in 2018, Chris Sutter has designed a community-driven police force, prioritizing the safety of the tribal community at large. At a time when local police departments are under the watchful lens of their towns and cities, Chief Sutter’s main objective of creating a strong bond between officer and citizen has never faltered and his motives never changed. 

  “I feel it’s very important, especially in our tribal community, to build relationships and get to know the community members,” expressed Chief Sutter. “A big part of that is building trust and working with the community to help solve problems. I try to model that behavior by taking up opportunities to go to local Tulalip community events. I also work closely with the Tulalip Citizen-Police Advisory Board, which is comprised of Tulalip citizens who are elected to provide important oversight and recommendations to the Chief of Police.

“One of the areas that we build trust is through accountability. I’ve implemented a system that says all complaints will be received, reviewed and investigated. And every complaint is logged and tracked. Shortly after I arrived here, we implemented a citizen feedback form on our website. Citizens can complete the form, they can call on the phone or come in person, we’ll accept all feedback. These are internal systems that we’ve put in place to hold ourselves accountable to the community, and to also help the officers in our department improve and establish trust and credibility.”

Following the George Floyd killing, millions nationwide took to the streets calling for the arrest and prosecution of the officer who committed the murder by strangulation, as well as the officers who stood by and watched as a man who pleaded ‘I can’t breathe’, had his last breath stolen. Although most events were organized to be peaceful marches, many were taken over by radicals with intentions of raising tension. And some, under the guise of ‘protecting their towns’, openly toted assault weapons and waved the confederate flag. 

During the early days of protests, riots ensued in many cities and businesses were targeted and looted, by whom was hard to say although both political parties seemingly agreed to blame the damages on extremist groups whose views more aligned with the opposite party, depending on who you asked. 

After a chaotic week in Seattle, the alleged radical groups began organizing lootings via Twitter and high on the list was the Seattle Premium Outlets which is located in the city of Quil Ceda Village on the Tulalip Reservation. 

Alongside the Sacred Riders and Tulalip land protectors, Chief Sutter and crew defended the sduhubš home base by quickly shutting down the entire city, which included large corporations that were still in operation during COVID-19 like Walmart, Cabela’s, and Home Depot, as well as a handful of small businesses. All roads and overpasses leading into the city were also swiftly closed and TPD officers were stationed at blockades throughout the reservation to prevent any destruction or theft from the outlet mall. For nearly five entire days, the TPD stood side-by-side with their community, protecting the land and its people with minimal arrests and damages occurring.

Days following the looting threats, TPD participated in a rally against racism organized by the Marysville YMCA. Chief Sutter and multiple police officers marched along with Tulalip tribal members and the local populace through the Marysville streets, from Jennings Park to the Ebey Slough Waterfront. 

“The Marysville YMCA [director] asked us to participate with the Tulalip Tribes in a peaceful rally and march in support of anti-racism, and in support of Black Lives Matter. I was honored to speak at the beginning of the rally and march with the Black Student Union, community members and Tulalip tribal members. I want the community to know I stand united against racism. I stand united against police misconduct and abuse.

“When the George Floyd murder occurred in police custody – death at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers, I was, as the rest of the world, shocked, saddened and disgusted by watching a human being’s life taken on video at the hands of police. I find that reprehensible and inexcusable and totally unacceptable in any context. There’s no excuse for that type of behavior. I fully support both the firing and the criminal prosecution of those officers. My goal is to never have that happen here at Tulalip.”

Many people who come from a community where police misconduct is practiced regularly, often reference a glaring disconnect between their police department and the people they are hired to protect and serve. Whereas at Tulalip, Tribal PD attend a myriad of events throughout the year, whether it be sporting, cultural, or scholastic, the officers take the time to build personal relationships with the people of Tulalip. 

In addition to taking a stance against racism, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and protecting Tulalip territory, TPD has helped out immensely since Tribal government shutdown during the outbreak of COVID-19. Over the past few months, the department has assisted at a number of Tribal member grocery and food distributions, as well as lending a hand to the Tulalip Senior Center to assemble and deliver care packages to local elders, which included masks and gloves.

Another aspect to Chief Sutter’s stronger together plan was the development of the Professional Standards Unit in which he intentionally placed a qualified Tribal member, Angela Davis, whose duties are to thoroughly vet potential recruits, investigate and manage both citizen and internal complaints, as well as help update and revise TPD’s policies and procedures. 

“I think it’s really good that we have a Chief who is willing to stand alongside the people and allow them the space to express their freedom and be heard in a peaceful way,” Angela reflected. “Especially for us as Indigenous people, and everything that happened to us, it just makes sense that we would support another minority group that things are happening to that shouldn’t. I think it helped bring the African American and Native American communities closer together. I think the Chief is going in the right direction, there’s some changes taking place to be more organized and more accountable. We’re getting bigger and a culture change is much needed.”

Angela and the Chief both explained that in the wake of the George Floyd murder, they are currently revising the TPD’s use of force policy, specifically prohibiting neck choke holds like the tactic used to execute George Floyd. Additionally, Chief Sutter is amping up trainings on de-escalation, stating he doesn’t want his officers to get involved physically unless its reasonably objective as well as necessary for the safety of the individual, the officers and the public. 

“I brought in an expert, a master instructor in the use-of-force, to consult with me on that policy revision,” said Chief Sutter. “I am also looking nationwide at the best practices on de-escalation and use-of-force. I want every reasonable opportunity to de-escalate a critical situation to minimize the amount of force an officer has to use to bring that situation under control. 

“We will integrate communication and de-escalation tactics into every call we go to. I want our officers to be communicators, problem solvers and peacekeepers,” he continued. “I subscribe to the guardian philosophy, the guardian versus warrior mentality. Our officers are not at war with our community. We are here to protect our community and to safeguard them, it’s a mental mind shift. And when force is necessary, ensuring that we’re using only the appropriate level of force. Something that I’ve implemented is a critical incident review process form. Every time force is used in this police department, it will be reviewed through the chain of command.”

To round out the mission of unity between the Tribe and the police, Chief Sutter’s latest task is getting more Tulalip representation on the squad. He will be making a focused effort to bring more Tribal members onto the force during the next round of recruitment.

With a few adjustments and revisions, the police department is heading in the right direction, working to ensure the tribal society that they can depend on local law officials through both the good and difficult times as we venture into a future of uncertainty and unknown. Even when a good chunk of American municipalities are currently at odds with their local police, and many of those departments will likely be defunded (funds redirected to other qualified professionals), TPD and Tulalip stand in unity. 

To show the police department that the Tribe returns the love and support, approximately twenty tribal members recently surprised Chief Sutter and squad with a ceremonial blessing, providing the medicine of song and sage. 

“My highest goal is that everyone in this community is treated respectfully,” the Chief said. “I was personally touched to see Tulalip members come one evening and offer their prayers and blessings, singing on behalf of our police department. In addition, one tribal member made personalized hand sanitizers for every member of the department, we enjoy very strong support from our Tribal members. I believe there’s a lot of work to do though, and we have plenty of opportunities for improvement in how we build relationships and how we provide exceptional service. I just want our community know how grateful I am to have this honor to serve the Tulalip people.”

Teachers and kids join in teaching Lushootseed online

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News; photos by Natosha Gobin

“Doing this work has always meant a lot to me,” expressed Tulalip Lushootseed Language Warrior, Maria Martin. “I got to learn when I was at Montessori at a young age. Growing up, I committed myself to learning everything I could with the language; summer camp, anytime they had an event I could attend, I’d always check out the website. I took it on myself to be a part of it. And being able to share that now, it’s awesome because I have direct relatives that put in work to save the language. And it’s an honor to inherit that.”

The traditional language of the sduhubš is strong in modern day Tulalip and COVID-19 can’t do a thing about it. When Tribal government shut down daily operations to help flatten the curve and decrease the spread of the novel coronavirus, many people were glued to their smart phones, searching for updates about the disease, learning how to adequately protect themselves, and adapt to a more slow-paced, Zoom-led world.

During the very first week of the Tribal government closure, when the number of deaths by COVID-19 were spiking, good news was hard to come by. An evening scroll through the timeline was often accompanied by despair and a general fear for the health of you and yours. And then one day a slew of videos began to pop up and take over people’s newsfeeds.  

“With everybody being forced to stay home, we still wanted to connect with our community so we had to get creative,” said Natosha Gobin, Language Instructor. “I knew that a lot of people were on social media, so we decided to throw some language out there. At such a time of unknown, here’s something positive, let’s take the opportunity to learn a couple words or hear a story together, connect with your kids, connect as a family. Most of the videos were geared to be just a couple minutes long. If a parent is scrolling through Facebook and their child is right next to them, then it’s as easy as ‘boom, let’s listen to this or let’s look at this real quick’. We really viewed it as a not only a way for us to stay connected with the community, but to reinforce that relationship with a parent and child learning together.”

Over the course of the school year, the Lushootseed language warriors develop a strong connection with their students as they are in the classrooms weekly, some teachers daily. When schools began to close, naturally the instructors began to miss their students, as well as preparing lesson plans and growing the minds of future Tulalip. When Lushootseed Program Manager, Michele Balagot, instructed her team to produce online language videos, they wasted no time. Videos of language warriors singing traditional Tulalip songs, sharing popular Salish stories and providing lessons in counting, colors, animals and shapes flooded the social media timelines of Tulalip families and citizens.

“That was new to us, we started with one person doing a video and then we built off of that,” explained Michele. “A week later we decided we needed to do some interaction, so the kids could practice and identify a shape or a color in the language. And then we started doing traditional stories, so the kids could still hear Lushootseed while they’re at home and be able to speak it, be interactive with it.”

A majority of the Lushootseed speakers work with younger children, thanks to a partnership with the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy (TELA). The idea is that kids are more susceptible to pick up the language during the early childhood development stages. Out of a shared interest of providing Tulalip children with a strong cultural foundation and understanding, TELA developed the language immersion curriculum in which Lushootseed Warriors frequent the classrooms of the Early Head start and Montessori and pass on the language through fun activities, songs, and interactive stories.

“They [videos] were originally for TELA, but we posted the videos on Facebook and soon found out that the TELA kids weren’t the only ones watching,” Michele said. “We knew that kids of all ages were watching it because we kept getting all kinds of replies saying, ‘thank you my child sat down and watched it and was speaking the language along with the video.”

Maria, who mainly works with Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary, has made a handful of videos for her students during the pandemic that inspired not only the parents who are at home learning with the kids, but also many of the QCT teachers. 

“We went over greetings, feelings and their letter pronunciations, I tried sticking to the basics that the kids would know,” she stated. “I’m not sure how many of my students were able to watch it but I did see that it was being posted to the [QCT] Facebook page. I’ve been able to catch some of the parents in passing, and even some of the staff members, who have watched the videos and they really appreciate them and greet me in Lushootseed, so having that feedback is heartwarming for sure.” 

Getting creative during the coronavirus outbreak,  Natosha put a little extra pizzazz into her videos by incorporating other Indigenous lifeways into her lessons. For example, when participating in cultural activities as a family, such as harvesting berries, cedar or seafood, Natosha reached for her phone, hit record and watched the magic unfold.

“It’s natural for me to take my kids out with me and pass that knowledge onto them,” said Natosha. “We’ve harvested berries and harvested cedar, we also went out and harvested fireweed. A big part of what I’m teaching about is harvesting and making medicines. Involving my own kids was an important part for me because kids respond well to other kids learning. My daughter, Lizzy, she’s the one that I put on the spot the most. That’s because she’s the closest in age to those kids at TELA. She’s six years old, so it’s easy for me to say, ‘hey Lizzy, let’s record this, or let’s go for a walk and I’m going to ask you these questions.”   

One visit to the Tulalip Lushootseed Facebook page and you’ll see a charismatic Tulalip youth effortlessly leading and narrating videos in the official language of her ancestors. Lizzy, her siblings, as well as the children of language warrior Michelle Myles, have unofficially become the new faces of the verb-based language and many tune-in weekly to catch their adventures with Lushootseed.

“She’s really taken on the role of teaching without fully understanding it. I’ve taken Lizzy out fishing and she did an entire fishing video. That video was probably the one that got the most attention, over 2,000 views. The viewers got to hear everything through her voice and it was repetitive so that you can easily learn from it. We want to take her out to dig clams and have her retell her great, great, great grandma Lizzy’s clam digging story, that’s one of the most popular stories that Lizzy Krise told. Lizzy Mae is actually named after Lizzy Krise. Grandma Lizzy is the one that we base a lot of our language after, we utilize everything that she passed on to us. She’s one of the people that we model a lot after, along with Martha Lamont. Lizzy will retell her grandma’s story through her own experience of clam digging for the first time. So, really just connecting it to what kids will respond to, what the kids will find interesting.”

In addition to the lessons for tribal youth and the students at TELA and QCT, the Language Warriors also teach a college-credit course for those looking to enhance their Lushootseed skills.

“We normally have community college classes this time of year, but with COVID we can’t do those,” expressed Michele. “So Natosha Gobin, Michelle Myles and I started an online Intro to Lushootseed class through Zoom. We had sixty-four participants and it was a seven-week course. We had Tribal members, other Natives, students from previous years, teachers, a good mix of everybody.” 

We are currently living in an era where the Lushootseed language revitalization revolution is in full effect. And just like in previous eras, such as forced assimilation, the Tulalips are taking it upon themselves to ensure the language and the culture prevails long past the present threat of the global COVID pandemic. 

“We hope that our community can look at these videos that we create and the online learning opportunity as a means for them to learn at their own pace during these difficult times,” said Natosha. “I think that’s probably the biggest thing, we want to reach our community by whatever means necessary. We’ll provide the tools, we just really want to encourage our community to utilize them.”

“At first, I thought nobody’s going to watch this, because people are at home and COVID is happening,” admits Michele. “But then everybody started sending in messages asking if we can do certain lessons or stories because a lot of parents are doing the homeschool thing. We have people telling us that when they go out, their child is naming the colors and shapes they see, and they are singing our songs. It’s important for the kids to learn their language. If you don’t keep hearing it and keep speaking it, then you forget it. By having these videos available, it keeps it fresh in the kid’s mind.”

For more information, please visit the Tulalip Lushootseed Facebook page or contact (360) 716-4499.

The Apple Guy: A one-man mission to bring fresh fruit to communities of color

Hugo Sanchez-Garcia, The Apple Guy.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“Can I get one bag of apples, two bags of cherries, and if you still have them, some apricots too?” inquired a local man of the Maryville-Tulalip area. 

Simply nodding yes, Hugo Sanchez-Garcia began to scoop plump, ripe cherries into paper bags while making friendly conversation with the customer as he fulfilled his request. 

“Will $60 work?” the man asked.

“Yes, absolutely. Thank you,” Hugo graciously replied as he handed him his order.

Only two short orders behind this gentleman, a lady ordered nearly double his order, three bags of apples, four bags of cherries and two punnets of apricots. 

“I have a big family,” the woman said while offering a smile that was ever-so-slightly visible underneath her mask. “This will all be gone by tomorrow.” 

This time, however, when the currency-produce exchange occurred, the lady stated she only had $12.

“That’s perfect,” Hugo said sincerely and kindly. “Thank you.”

Nobody was prepared for the curveball that the year 2020 had in store for us. The presence of COVID-19 has caused many people to reevaluate their lives in terms of health concerns and also their line of work, as businesses are beginning to lay off employees nationally, and in some cases permanently close altogether. 

Hugo found himself in a predicament that many Americans are currently facing; continue searching for employment in his most recent line of work, or start anew. Hugo chose to pivot. 

“After COVID hit, it was kind of hard for me to find a job doing what I was doing before,” Hugo explained. “And my dad has been kind of nagging me for a while to bring fresh produce here because there’s a lot of fruit in Chelan, which is where we grew up. So I thought, let’s give this a shot and see how it goes.”

Filling up his pickup truck with freshly picked fruit from orchards at Chelan, Hugo becomes his alter-ego, better known as the Apple Guy, when making weekly deliveries all through Western Washington. Originally, the Apple Guy was taking online orders and making home deliveries. That is until he got in contact with Tulalip tribal member, Natosha Gobin, who helped him establish a base at the parking lot of the Tulalip Market. 

“He has different stops up and down I-5,” Natosha said. “He sets up shop and sells bags of apples on a sliding scale – $5, $10, free. If you show up and you say you don’t have the means to buy apples, but you would love a bag, he’ll give you a bag of apples. He’s also done some pretty big donations to our community. He’s donated apples to me knowing that I know a lot of people in Tulalip, so we put those apples on the doorsteps of some of the elders and the seniors.”

With Natosha’s assistance and rave reviews all over Facebook, word about the Apple Guy’s produce delivery service has the town buzzing.

“My wife, she’s always on Facebook so she tells me when he’s around and what he’s got,” said Tribal member Kurtis Enick. “He posts every week, which is a great for my family. When I go home with this, I know that they’re going to be so happy with me, because my daughter is just now starting to get her teeth and she loves eating apples. My wife likes the apricots and the cherries, and my son is a vegetarian and only eats fresh produce.

“It feels really good knowing everything is local, everything is coming from Chelan or somewhere in Washington,” Kurtis continued. “It feels really good to taste that fresh-off-the tree fruit, that good stuff. And it’s a whole lot better than going to the store and looking through all the fruit that they say is fresh but it’s not really that fresh, nowhere near as fresh as this.”

Although it is important for Hugo to profit off of these deliveries to cover costs as well as living expenses, money is not his main objective. In fact, currency is sort of a miniscule aspect to this project compared to the reason he decided to ‘give it a shot’.

“I do operate on a sliding scale,” he said. “There are two guiding principles that I set when I first started out. One of them being that access to food is a human right. The second one is that we’re all occupants on Tribal lands, so it’s important that we move as guests, it’s our responsibility. 

“I think it’s also important to recognize that fresh food isn’t as easily accessible on certain reservations. I think a lot of people, and especially a lot of communities of color, don’t have access to a lot of fresh fruits. So, what is the point of bringing it all the way out here if folks couldn’t afford it? I think ultimately every individual knows what they can and can’t afford. So, I trust their judgment to pay what they can.”

Hugo is currently selling a variety of apples including Honeycrisp, Fuji, Gala, and Granny Smith. His selection of cherries right now are Rainier, Bing, Sweetheart and Lapin. Hugo also has apricots and will have peaches in the near future. 

Be sure to follow The Apple Guy on Facebook for his complete list of produce for sale as well as his weekly scheduled stops. 

Annual Cedar harvest proves tradition perseveres despite challenging times

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Since time immemorial, Native peoples have lived in an interdependent relationship with the green forests and blue waterways of the Pacific Northwest. Treating the natural environment as a shared resource revolving around the needs of community make it impossible not to have a deep respect for cultural traditions and Mother Nature’s many gifts. 

These teachings have survived genocide, colonialism, forced assimilation and untold traumatic experiences. Even now, amongst a global pandemic, many tribal members look to their cultural foundations for hope and strength. Armed with ancestral knowledge, they know regardless of the adversary, tradition will always persevere.

“I love being in the forest because it’s my second home,” said Tulalip tribal member and virtuoso weaver, Jamie Sheldon. “As Tulalip, nature is our number one priority. Being in the forest gives me calmness and all the sights and sounds bring a peace of mind like no other.” 

After 20 years of perfecting her basket weaving craft, Jamie still speaks about learning the intricate basket making process from her mom and aunties like it was only yesterday. Similar to a beloved holiday, she and her family look forward to Tulalip’s yearly Cedar harvest coordinated by the tribe’s Forestry Division and Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

“Tulalip Forestry has initiated and continued to nurture an ongoing relationship with Washington’s DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, and private industrial timberland owners for over ten years now,” explained Ross Fenton, Tulalip Forestry. “We collaborate with State, Federal, and private landowners in order to ensure treaty rights as they pertain to gathering.

“Different ownership and property boundaries are also of great importance; we don’t want people accidentally pulling on adjacent properties that could affect successful working partnerships,” he continued. “These particulars are where meticulous communication and collaboration with outside agencies take place, often months in advance before the annual Cedar events are announced to Tulalip membership.”

Although the circumstances may be different in summer 2020, the expectations are the same – those whose lifeblood is woven with Cedar must have their time in the forest to harvest.

After extensive time and resources invested into finding the ideal setting, Ross and his colleagues notified the tribe of this year’s harvesting details weeks ago. The location was a woodland oasis located in Startup, between Kellogg Lake and Wallace Falls. 

A 45-minute drive southeast of the Tulalip Reservation, a caravan of tribal members eagerly made the most of their harvest opportunity on the weekend of June 27th. Amongst the spirits of the trees, the culture-bearers found refuge from fearmongering news cycles and the pervasive clutches of social media.

“It’s beautiful getting out of the house, getting out into the woods, and listening to the forest. Hearing the rain fall, the gentle breeze rustle the tree leaves, and the birds chirping just calms my spirit and makes me be able to continue on,” described Sara Andres. She plans to use her harvested materials for future naming ceremonies and as donations to Hibulb Cultural Center’s weaving Wednesdays. 

The relationship Coast Salish peoples have with Cedar cannot be understated. Their ancestors relied on the magnificent tree as an integral part of life on the Northwest Coast. From birth to death, the powerful cedar provided generously for the needs of the people – materially, ceremonially and medicinally. Those teachings have not been lost.

Master weavers, elders, and youth alike all echo the very same Cedar harvesting technique employed by their ancestors. With a small axe and carving knife, they skillfully remove strips of bark from designated trees. They then shave off a small section of the rough bark, revealing a smooth tan inner layer. After harvest, the Cedar strips are typically laid out to dry for a year before being made into baskets, hats, or ceremonial regalia accessories like capes, skirts, and headbands.

“To witness tribal members performing an ongoing cultural activity that has taken place over millennia is like stepping back in time,” reflected dedicated Natural Resources employee, Ross Fenton. “There is much singing, drumming, teaching, and praying all throughout the woods. This is immensely important, and I feel blessed to be a part of it.” 

Those who replenished their sprits in the luscious green forest and grounded themselves among the 120-160 foot tall, towering Cedar trees were sure to offer many thanks for the gifts they provided. 

“It’s eco-therapy. Being connected to the Earth is so good for our mental and spiritual health,” shared 24-year-old Kali Joseph. She harvested while bonding with her siblings Jay Anderson and Tisha McLean. “As Native people, it’s necessary for us to accept the gifts of the land and say thank you to the trees. Harvesting is an activity that is both culturally responsive and healing, especially during these challenging times.”

The weekend-long reprieve from contemporary life proves cultural teachings and tradition still triumph over all.

More than fireworks, Boom City represents Tulalip culture

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“Boom City is much more than a business or money making venture. It’s part of my culture, my history, and really represents what it means to be Tulalip,” declared Rocky Harrison while peering out from his stand as potential customers walk into Snohomish County’s firework epicenter. “Most advocate for hunting, fishing, or gathering Cedar and berries as what it means to be Tulalip, but to me Boom City is just as strong and just as much a part of our culture.”

For nearly 40 years now, the Tulalip Tribes have turned a vacant lot on their reservation into an excitement-filled marketplace for those looking to satisfy the celebration demands of Independence Day. 

Thousands of customers from all over the Pacific Northwest journey to Boom City every year seeking the perfect purchase consisting of child friendly sparklers and snap poppers and, of course, the thrilling sights and sounds of more advanced explosives, such as artillery shells and 500 gram, multi-shot cakes.

Largely illegal in the State of Washington, the sale of fireworks is permitted on Tulalip lands as a direct result of tribal sovereignty. Embracing that sovereignty is some 80 or so stand owners, each a Tulalip entrepreneur looking to cash-in on 4th of July festivities. Together they form a powerful voice in the community that personifies self-determination and tradition.

“Seeing old friends from school, church, and every job I’ve ever had is the best part to me,” shared Terry Parker, Jr. He’s been selling at Boom City for 39 years now. “We all have our repeat customers and through those relationships we’ve seen kids become adults and eventually parents themselves bringing their kids out here. I’ve witnessed three generations of families grow up via their annual trips to buy fireworks. That’s three generations worth of laughter and priceless stories.”

For Dan Pablo, Jr. and wife Kelsea, they’ve factored prominently in the firework marketplace for years, too. So much so they created custom branded products to go with their towering stand, JR Cadillac, that always captivates the attention of first time patrons.

“We got lucky with a distributor we’ve known for a long time, and he made us some custom rapid-fire cakes with our name on them,” explained Dan. “It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of hours and long days go into being successful, but it’s worth it in order to pay off bills and afford things for our family that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.” 

The financial incentives for those willing to embrace the Boom City life are tried and true. In recent years there’s been a trend by Negative Nancy’s to try and diminish the hard work and sacrifice made by those willing to put their marketability and people skills to the annual test.

From nearby cities instituting zero-tolerance policies on fireworks, to recent dry spells causing worry about fire hazards, to even COVID-19 creating concern for some, yet Boom City persists and prevails. Like culture and tribal sovereignty, it remains stronger than anything attempting to tear it down. 

“For me and multiple stand owners, this was the best opening weekend of Boom City we’ve ever had…and we almost didn’t have it,” reflected Rocky. For the past 13 years he’s co-managed a stand with his brother, Josh Fryberg.

Tensions ran high as Tulalip leadership and the Boom City committee negotiated this year’s regulations. There were strong indications it would be cancelled altogether before finally getting the green light just two weeks ago. 

“All this revenue and income was nearly taken away from us and the many families who depend on Boom City to supply the atmosphere for their 4th of July celebrations,” added Rocky. “The community we have here every single year brings people together in a way few things can. I’m just thankful to be a part of it and look forward to teaching my kids how to continue on this tradition in the future.”