For the sixth consecutive year, the greater-Seattle area and its thousands of Native citizens celebrated Indigenous People’s Day. Replacing the former misbegotten holiday dedicated to a slave trader and lost navigator, the commemorative day to honor the past, present and future of Indigenous knowledge and cultures takes place annually on the second Monday in October.
“People ask, ‘Why Indigenous Peoples Day and why not American Indian Day or Native American Day?’ It’s only appropriate that we honor the legacy of work that’s been done,” explained Matt Remle. His efforts, along with many other Native advocates, were instrumental in getting a proclamation voted on by the Seattle City Council and signed into law by then-mayor Ed Murray in 2013. “It’s not only honoring legacy, but when we say ‘Indigenous peoples,’ it’s referring to more than just the tribes of colonized United States. We’re talking about all Indigenous peoples who’ve been impacted by settler colonialism around the world.”
Since its inception into the Puget Sound, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement has spread to over 120 cities and been embraced by 9 state governments. Even 8 universities and a couple school districts have indoctrinated the holiday to celebrate global Indigenous cultures.
On Monday, October 14, Native people and allies from around the Pacific Northwest gathered at Westlake Park, on ancestral Duwamish land, for a march and rally to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Seattle. The dedicated early morning group proudly wore cultural garb and traditional regalia while traversing from Westlake Park to Seattle City Hall, where a rally of celebratory song and dance was held.
“It’s been a beautiful day to see so many Indigenous people come together and be filled with so much joy,” shared 20-year-old Ayanna Fuentes, a member of Indigenous Sisters Resistance. “Our younger generation is growing up not knowing what Columbus Day is, and that’s an amazing thing.”
In the evening, the festivities continued at Daybreak Star Cultural Center with an honoring celebration for Native nations in the Puget Sound Region and their fellow Indigenous allies. Sponsored by Tulalip Tribes community impact funds, the Daybreak Star gathering included hundreds of urban Natives, dancers from a variety of Indigenous communities, and non-Natives who wanted to share in the memorable event.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) honor song kicked off the evening while Sili Savusa and Feanette Black Bear were blanketed for their longstanding commitments to Indigenous progress. A high-energy hoop dance performed by Ryan Yellowjohn was next, followed by a variety of cultural performances representing Mexico, Chile and the Pacific Islands. For the finale, an overflowing DayBreak Star crowd was treated to several songs offered up by the Tulalip Youth Council.
“I thank the ancestors for giving me this opportunity to be here today with you all and hold the sage,” said Feanette. “There are over 500 Indigenous tribes across this country and we are all here because our ancestors said prayers hundreds of years ago for their future generations. It is up to us to stand up and take care of Mother Earth and our relatives all across Turtle Island.”
A variety of states, cities, counties, community groups, schools, and other institutions observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 14. They all did so with activities that raised awareness of the rich history, culture, and traditions of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day, at its core, aims to celebrate and honor the past, present, and futures of Native peoples throughout the United States and acknowledges the legacy of colonialism, which has devastated Indigenous communities historically and continues to negatively impact them today,” stated Native educator and activist, Matt Remle. “More importantly, however, Indigenous Peoples’ Day moves beyond the narrative of oppression and honors the histories, cultures, contributions, and resilience of contemporary Native peoples.”
By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News. Photos by Matika Wilbur and Micheal Rios.
In 2012, Tulalip tribal member and visual storyteller Matika Wilbur sold everything she owned in her Seattle apartment and invested the proceeds into a vision: to unveil the true essence of contemporary Native issues, the beauty of Native culture, and the magnitude of tradition. Her vision’s name? Project 562.
Reflecting her commitment to visit, engage, and photograph all 562 federally recognized Native American tribes (in 2012), Project 562 reveals a name that serves to both inspire and educate.
“While teaching at [Tulalip] Heritage High School and attempting to create a photography curriculum with a narrative that our children deserve, I found an outdated narrative,” she recalled. “It’s an incomplete story that perpetuates an American historical amnesia. It’s a story that’s romantic, dire and insatiable…it’s the story of extinction.”
Matika points out the extinction theme often associated with Native America is easily perceived by doing a quick Google Images search. If you search for ‘African American’, ‘Hispanic American’ or ‘Asian American’, then you’ll find images of present day citizens who represent each culture. You’ll see proud, smiling faces and depictions of happy families.
But if you search for ‘Native American’ the results are very different. You’ll see mostly black and white photos of centuries old Natives who are “leathered and feathered”. Making matters worse, you’ll also find more images of white people wearing headdresses than of modern day Native families.
“All of these images and misconceptions contribute to the collective consciousness of the American people, but more importantly it affects us in the ways that we imagine ourselves, in the ways we dream of possibility,” explained Matika.
And so began her 7-year journey to photograph and collect stories of contemporary Native citizens from tribes all across the United States. As her photographic portfolio continued to expand, so too did her realm of possibilities.
Project 562 has driven her to travel hundreds of thousands of miles, many in her RV dubbed ‘the Big Girl’, but also by horseback, train, plane, boat and on foot across all 48 continental states, Hawaii, deep into the Canadian tundra and into Alaska. The number of federally recognized tribes has risen to 573, according to the Department of the Interior, since the inception of her vision back in 2012, but that fact is just superficial.
Presently, the now 35-year-old Matika has come to realize that Indigenous identity far surpasses federal acknowledgement. There are state-recognized tribes, urban and rural Native communities, and other spaces for Indigenous identity that don’t fall under the U.S. government’s recognition. Astonishingly, she estimates she has photographs that represent about 900 different tribal communities.
In a respectful way, Matika has been welcomed into hundreds of tribal communities, and she has found that people support the project because they would like to see things change. Conversations about tribal sovereignty, self-determination, wellness, recovery from historical trauma, decolonization of the mind, and revitalization of culture accompany the photographs in captions, videos, and audio recordings.*
“For the past six-years I’ve been sojourning in my big girl. It’s been a whirlwind of a journey, an amazing experience!” beamed the Tulalip photographer who routinely has her brilliant images displayed in museum galleries and college campuses across the nation.
“I started in Washington and worked my way south through Oregon, California, Arizona, and New Mexico,” she detailed. “I went to all the pueblos, so many places in Navajo Nation, then down to the south and into the bayou. I continued on to the Everglades and then all the way up the East coast into Haudenosaunee country where I learned about the Great Law. I then zig-zagged across through the country until finally making it up to Alaska. Now, I am back home.”
She’s returned with an unprecedented repository of imagery and oral histories that accurately portray present-day Native America. Project 562 will ultimately culminate as an awe-inspiring hardcover, series of exhibitions and online resources filled with a dynamic variety of proud Native Americans telling their stories their way. But until that long-awaited day comes, Matika gave adoring fans and devote followers of her project a glimpse into her 7-year journey during the first weekend of October. From October 3 – 5, she held a four-part project preview at Northwest Indian College, Ferndale Library, Nooksack Community Building and the Deming Library.
The Project 562 creator spoke passionately at each venue while sharing stories about overcoming historical inaccuracies, stereotypical representations, and silenced Native American voices in mass media. She shared about meeting one of her real life heroes John Trudell, being at Standing Rock during the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and offered powerful stories detailing Native citizens from around the nation rising up from racism and injustice to create a better world for themselves and future generations.
“If I’m here to bring a message at all, it’s the message that Indian Country is alive and well,” said Matika during her NWIC presentation. “It’s the message of hope and resiliency. It’s the story of Indigenous intelligence.
“There are still Ghost Dances, Sun Dances and long houses filled with songs and traditional medicines. Our story is worth knowing, telling, and inspiring one another with. Because doing modern things while gathering and encouraging the collective consciousness to uplift Indigenous intelligence is the only pathway forward. That is the dream.”
Over 300 hopeful community members united on a Friday evening to bring awareness to Tulalip’s drug epidemic. With a positive outlook and emphasis on prevention, the Get Drugs Off Our Rez walk offered traditional songs, prayer, and stories of encouragement.
In what is sure to be one of the last warmer days of the year, the rain and clouds stayed away on September 27, giving a picturesque backdrop to the gathering as family and friends assembled at Heritage High School’s gymnasium. After many formed a large circle and shared four songs to honor the four directions, the assembly marched their powerful drum beats and strong voices down 27th Ave. NE, or what is colloquially called ‘the Quil.’
“Today’s purpose was to raise awareness for all of our youth, our elders, and all of our community members. To recognize that there really is unity out here and our people are ready to come together and stay together to build a stronger future,” explained prevention walk coordinator Josh Fryberg. “Personally, I’ve lost family members to the drug epidemic and have other family who are addicted.
“My goal is to get them stronger and get them to where they need to be in order to beat their addictions,” continued Josh. “It comes full circle because by helping those that need our support the most, it shows our youth we still practice our traditional teachings and care for one another.”
Local law enforcement, firefighters, and various Tulalip-based programs came together with the outpouring of community support to form one unified demonstration. Tulalip tribal members of all ages participated and showed their support for a shared mission by wearing a black t-shirt that stated with all capital letters: GET DRUGS OFF OUR REZ. As they marched down the Quil many local commuters cheered from their cars, while others stood outside their residence to take in the awe-inspiring scene.
Walking their talk. Voices from the march:
Jobey Williams: “Our ancestors fought for us. They fought for us to have what we have today, and to see so many gather here today to get our people clean means a lot. It shows we’re still willing to fight for one another and get our people together on the right path so we can walk as one. This is just the start, only the beginning, but we are going to get our people back. We are going to help the ones suffering and get them back in the sacred circle.”
Gerald Williams Jr., with his son Gerald Williams III, celebrated graduation from Wellness Court: “Two years ago I was really bad into my addiction. I weighed something like 110 pounds and using so much drugs that they nearly killed me,” shared Gerald. “Next thing you know my son was born and reality set in that I needed to get clean for him. My father was an alcoholic and his addiction killed him when I was young. I didn’t want my son growing up with that same story so I set out to get clean. It was a struggle and wasn’t easy at all. I had to go through treatment two times to get it right, but eventually it stuck and now I can show my son a better way to live. I’m really grateful for Wellness Court and everyone who helped me get here today.”
16-year-old Kaiser Moses, youth council representative: “When it comes to the drug epidemic, I’ve seen a whole lot and heard much more about what it has done to us. Drugs are keeping us to the sins and vices of the Earth. We need to separate ourselves from that because our ancestors wanted us to be pure and to keep our teachings alive. Our teachings aren’t heroin needles or alcohol. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, vaping…all of that is like a snake. You never want to pick up the snake because it will bite you and coil around you, preventing you from being on the good path and walking the sacred road.”
Tulalip Bay Firefighters Peter VanLunsen and Dane Zirwas: “It really empowers us and gives us great pride to serve the community. We often have to respond to not favorable situations, but being here today with the community is a tremendous opportunity.”
Benjamin Deen walked alongside his mother as they both celebrated being clean and sober: “This is so big for our community. This walk is for the future of our children and young ones. I’m carrying my N.A. chips because they remind me that this process is one day at a time. So far I’ve earned my 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, 6-month, 9-month, 1-year and 18-month chips.”
Donald ‘Penoke’ Hatch, Tulalip elder: “When we say drug epidemic we are referring to the heroin, opioid-based pain pills, and cocaine that is sold to our people. It’s poison. The whole community has to help out to solve this problem. If you see things in the neighborhoods, next door, or in your own house, then you have to be willing to talk about it and call the police. I worked hard with one of my children and still lost him, so I know how difficult it can be. Drugs and being addicts isn’t the traditional lifestyle of us as Native Americans. And in order to rid our reservation of those things we have to be willing to speak up and tell on those up to no good. If we’re not willing to do that, then we will continue to have drugs on our reservation. It takes the whole community being on the same page to end this epidemic.”
The Tulalip Boys and Girls Club has served as a model for those working to improve the lives of young people in the surrounding communities since 1997. ‘The Club’, as it’s affectionately been dubbed by the hundreds of children who attend daily, is a safe place where children can just be kids. While there, children are routinely exposed to healthy food choices, create an abundance of happy memories, and make relationships that last a lifetime.
Thousands of young minds have been significantly impacted via the Club’s encouragement and support over the past twenty-two years. On September 18, that support system received a major upgrade when the doors were opened to a 4000-square-foot expansion known as the Multimedia Teen Center.
“Our organization is proud to be a partner with Tulalip and those roots go back a long way,” explained Bill Tsoukalas, executive director of Snohomish County Boys and Girls Clubs. “From day one, our shared vision has been to keep our kids safe and healthy because we want them to graduate high school and go onto college so they can come back as future leaders.
“We have stayed committed to that vision and this Teen Center takes it to another level,” he continued. “Tulalip continues to lead with this Multimedia Teen Center because it is the best. It’s not only the best in our organization or in Indian Country, but it’s the best in all of Boys and Girls Club country.”
A state-of-the-art tech center designed to accommodate an ever-growing teenager membership, it houses six Xbox One gaming stations complete with 4k TVs, a dedicated high-speed internet server, and a sound system that rivals most music studios. Cyber Café functions as a self-serve healthy snack bar, a SMARTfit multi-station trainer is wall mounted for the perfect training solution for large groups and team building, and a makeshift graffiti wall is available for those artsy types who can create masterpieces with just chalk and their imagination.
There are conventional games as well, like a pool table, large chess setup, foosball table, and tic-tac-toe for those who prefer their games of skill without computer assistance. A dedicated homework area consists of several computer stations equipped with all the necessary programs to meet the coursework demands of today’s teens, while also aiming to shrink the reservation’s homework gap.
According to the Pew Research Center, roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17 and whose annual income falls below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home. At its most extreme, the homework gap can mean that teens have trouble even finishing their homework. For that division of teens who say they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection, the Club’s homework station’s significance cannot be understated.
“This is for our kids,” said board of director Marlin Fryberg. “We have a Teen Center with our Youth Services department and our kids, no matter if they are at that building or this one, the priority is to keep them together and safe so they can have fun. With these computers now available they’ll be able to learn, too.”
At the time of this article, there are a whopping 535 Tulalip citizens between the age of 13 and 19 that need all the support they can get in order to compete in an ever tech-centered world. The Club’s Multimedia Teen Center was designed with every detail keeping them in mind. Five-years of planning and attention to digital trends has paid off big time.
Josh Miranda attended the reservation’s Boys and Girls Club since moving to Tulalip in 2013. He spent nearly all his teenage years being a Club kid and now works as a club assistant. He says of the new teen addition, “The designers really hit it spot on because there is something for everybody with all the different types of gaming. I definitely plan on hanging out here after I clock out.”
The Club is the first of its kind to be built on tribal land in Washington. After twenty-two years of commitment to the community it continues to get better and serve the needs of Tulalips’ youth. Through before and after school programs, it aims to help young people improve their lives by building self-esteem, developing values, and teaching skills during critical periods of growth.
“With my staff we take care of and look out for every single one of the 400 or so kids who come through our doors every day,” beamed Club director Mark Hatch. “We try our best to meet their needs top to bottom. Whether its sports, art, music or now a multimedia center for teens we are always trying to hone the highly intelligent minds of our kids.”
After nearly a two decade hiatus, the Lushootseed language has finally returned to the classroom as an official program taught at Marysville Pilchuck High School for the 2019-2020 school year.
The tireless dedication of longtime Indigenous education employees and Native student supporters Matt Remle and Ricky Belmont, who made it their mission long ago to bring the Coast Salish language to the high school, has brought a swift sense of excitement to the MP campus.
“For years my co-worker Ricky Belmont and I worked to find ways to bring Native language learning opportunities to Marysville Pilchuck. Last year, the stars finally aligned when we reached out to our administration about developing a Lushootseed class on campus and they agreed,” explained Matt Remle, lead Indigenous education liaison. “When it came time to register for classes this year, Ricky and I reached out to our current students and incoming freshman and told them they better sign up after all that hustling.
“Because demand was high we now have the amazing Natosha Gobin teaching two classes on campus,” he continued. “Students are already being [heavily] influenced. Yesterday, I was speaking to a senior about her post high school plans and she said she wanted to be a Lushootseed teacher!”
A Tulalip tribal member, Natosha has spent the last 19-years learning, teaching, and helping to revitalize the traditional language of her ancestors. She has come full circle after graduating as an MP high school student 20 years ago to now reentering the MP halls as a certified teacher and Lushootseed instructor.
“Toby Langen and Tony Hatch taught Lushootseed classes at MP in the early 2000’s, which were the classes that I sat in on along with Eliza Davis when we first started in the language department,” recalled Natosha. “It is exciting to be back on the campus as the lead teacher. I hope that I can keep the students engaged and speaking, giving them tools to use the language daily both in and out of the classroom.
“The work that Michelle Myles has done the past two years at Heritage has sparked the interest for high school youth to start learning and speaking our language,” she continued. “We have high hopes that the youth taking these classes will be able to see themselves as the next group of teachers to keep the work moving forward.”
The Lushootseed course was offered to all interested students from all grade levels and quickly filled up. It comes as no surprise that the majority of her students are Tulalip tribal members who jumped at the opportunity to learn their traditional language and history from an actual Tulalip culture bearer.
“It’s already one of my favorite classes,” shared 10th grader Shylah Zackuse (Tulalip). “After finding out Lushootseed would be offered, I planned my daily schedule perfectly in order to take it. Being taught by a tribal member, there’s a real connection because Natosha is family.”
Currently offered during 2nd and 3rd period only, 34 out of the 52 enrolled students are either Tulalip tribal members or have lived in the Tulalip community their whole lives. The remainder of the students are a mixture of other Native and non-Native students who are eager to learn about the traditional lifeways of their neighboring Tulalip people.
“I don’t know a lot about my Native culture, so taking Lushootseed is a new opportunity to learn about my background,” explained 9th grader Jesse Lamoureaux (Tsimshian from Metlakatla, Alaska). “This class teaches me about my past. What we are learning is thanks to our ancestors from way back who documented their teachings on audio tapes. My favorite phrase so far has to be ηαʔɬ δαδατυ (Lushootseed for ‘good morning’) because we can say it every day.”
The Lushootseed coursework will focus on relevant conversation lessons that can be used throughout the day. These include talking about daily routines, weather, describing feelings and states of mind, as well as many more topics to keep students engaged.
The course will also feature a great many references to Tulalip ancestors and elders who laid the foundation for where the Tribes are today, such as Harriet Shelton Dover, Martha Lamont and Lizzie Krise to name but a few. And best of all the MP students won’t be reading about these iconic individuals from colonial textbooks either, instead they will be hearing their powerful words spoken from a combination of archived video and audio resources.
“Some of my greatest inspirations are the speakers who had the foresight to document and record our language, enabling us to speak and teach it today,” said Natosha. “We want to ensure our community is aware of the ancestors who played key roles in preserving the language. Through passing on their stories, some of our youth are able to recognize their connection to the speakers and deepen their desire to participate.”
With both Lushootseed classes at full capacity and a waiting list with students hoping to transfer in if the opportunity arises, Marysville Pilchuck is already looking to build on the early successes of having more culturally relevant classes available for their diverse student population.
“It’s so wonderful to be able to offer Lushootseed to our students,” explained Principal Christine Bromley. “We have Native students, non-Native students and students with disabilities all taking Lushootseed. From all perspectives of this, it’s a great opportunity to build relationships.
“Partnering with the Tulalip Tribes to bring Lushootseed here to the high school is a critical piece to build upon the relationship between the school district and the Tribes,” she added. “I can’t wait to see us grow Lushootseed into a level 2 and 3 program to get more and more students involved.”
Future plans also include offering a Native art class, such as an introduction to carving taught by a tribal member. The class space is currently available and only requires a willing artist to teach it. Until then, Natosha and her collection of Indigenous wisdom intend to teach and inspire the culturally oriented young minds of Marysville Pilchuck High School.
History was made on August 19 and 20 at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum as eleven presidential candidates took part in a first-of-its-kind political convention focused entirely on concerns of Native Americans.
Originated by the Native American voter engagement organization Four Directions and hosted by Four Directions and Native Organizers Alliance, the Forum was named to honor Frank LaMere of the Winnebego Tribe. LaMere was a well-respected and beloved civic rights leader and member of the American Indian Movement who passed away in June.
“Frank always said, ‘nothing changes unless someone is made to feel uncomfortable.’ Well, the Native people of America have an opportunity here to share our issues and it’ll get uncomfortable for the candidates, but that’s how change is made,” said O.J. Semans executive director of Four Directions. “We are here representing many tribes, but speaking as one Native voice. The topics and history we’ll be discussing here aren’t taught in history books or schools. This is Indian Country 101 for America.”
Four Directions is the nation’s preeminent Native voter engagement organization and plans to launch the most aggressive voter engagement program in history for the 2020 General Election, focused on increasing turnout among approximately one million First Americans of voting age in seven battleground states with a combined 77 electoral votes.
“We can make a difference in 2020 by making our voices heard by voting, especially in key swing or battleground states,” explained CEO Kevin Allis of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). “As of today, there are 5.2 million Native Americans. We are 1.7% of the total U.S. population, but Indian Country is the fastest growing group of people in the nation. We matter. Our issues matter. Our votes matter.”
Iowa was chosen as an ideal location for its immense political influence during presidential elections and is home to 28 federally recognized tribal nations. The two-day event featured multiple panels of tribal leaders, sovereign tribal nation citizens, advocacy group representatives, and Native youth from across the country asking questions of the presidential hopefuls. Each panel was moderated by Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today.
In April and May, Four Directions invited all major candidates from both parties to participate in the groundbreaking Native forum. No Republican representatives opted to participate.
The candidates who descended upon Sioux City to elevate Indigenous issues included 10 Democrats – Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, author Marianne Williamson, retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former Representative John Delaney, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. They were joined by Independent candidate Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation.
The 2020 contenders each fielded questions in a series of thoughtful, hour-long discussions with all-Native panelists about traditionally ignored critical issues facing millions of Native American voters. Each candidate was individually questioned by six to eight panelists. They assembled on a stage lined with tribal and U.S. flags, before a theatre filled with tribal members from around the country.
In a sight to be seen and heard, nearly each tribal panelist introduced themselves and offered greetings in their traditional languages. They then shifted to English to ask about topics of much concern to Native people, many related to historic injustices: the protection of sacred sites threatened by resource extraction, protecting Native children’s right to stay in their families and communities, upholding voting rights, importance of federal-tribal consultation and lack of modern infrastructure on reservations. Other high-priority topics were economic development, healthcare, climate justice, and the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis (MMIW).
Tribal leaders detailed the federal government’s long history with failing to honor the government-to-government relationship guaranteed by treaties and denying tribes the right to meaningful consultation on projects that have an impact on tribal land, resources and sacred sites.
Democratic candidate and internationally acclaimed author Marianne Williamson, who was noted as the first individual to commit to the Forum, responded eloquently about the history of injustice.
“For Native Americans there’s the genocide, then there is the cultural annihilation, then there is the geographical displacement, and because of all of this there is a spiritual displacement,” she said. “On an external level there are deep and systemic injustices to be addressed, from unfairly negotiated and broken treaties to MMIW to lack of healthcare. I want to help this country reconcile with a horrific chapter of our past. If I am President, from the depth of my heart and on behalf of the American people, I will apologize and ask you to join in a new era of American history as partners on this sacred land.”
When Navajo tribal member and second-ever Native American citizen to run for President, Mark Charles, hit the stage the crowd erupted seeing a political hopeful who looked like family. When asked a similar question about tribal consultation Charles answered as only a Native person can.
“One of the challenges we face with tribal consultation is our United States foundations were written with the understanding that Natives are savages,” he asserted. “The issue with tribal sovereignty is it defines and has defined the relationship with tribes as domestic dependents. As Native peoples, it feels like we’re sovereign over our lands like a teenaged child is sovereign over their bedroom.
“When land titles are propped up by a dehumanizing doctrine of discovery then white supremacy becomes a bipartisan value,” continued the Independent candidate. “This is why consultation is not taken seriously because the foundation for land titles in this country is still dependent upon us being domestic dependents and savages. If we want to fix this, then we don’t need Presidents who commit to consult with our Native nations. We need a President who is willing to change the basis of our laws so our land titles are no longer based on our dehumanization.”
A perceived media-created tension with Elizabeth Warren and Native people quickly proved to be inconsequential when she opened her candidate monologue with a heartfelt apology. “I know I have made mistakes. I am sorry for harm I have caused. I have listened and I have learned,” she said, stopping short of specifically mentioning her widely criticized use of a DNA test to prove Cherokee ancestry. The Native panelists and attendees did not make it a point of contention, instead they greeted her with a standing ovation.
Missing and murdered Indigenous women was a topic that most candidates were asked about. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Native women are 10x more likely to be murdered than the national average, 4 in 5 Native women will experience violence in their lifetimes, and homicide is the third leading cause of death for Native girls between 10-24 years of age. Indigenous women and children have become invisible within American’s landscape, something that Warren spoke passionately about.
“Over and over I am struck by Native women who go missing or who are murdered and it never makes a headline. A problem that is not seen is a problem that is not fixed” she said. “I think of the solution in two ways. First, the importance of the federal government getting serious about collecting data and making that data publicly available so the public can know the scope of this problem. Second, it is powerfully important we have the tribal nations adequately resourced and on the front lines so they can provide the safety and security that our women and children need.
“Under the current administration, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been allowed to lapse,” Warren continued. “We got to be pushing back and make sure that VAWA is reauthorized with adequate and expanded protections.”
In a continuing topic of discussion at the Forum, many candidates were asked whether or not they’d support the “Remove the Stain Act” (H.R. 3467) introduced June 25 to officially rescind 20 Medals of Honor given to U.S. soldiers responsible for the brutal 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. That incident led to the deaths of more than 200 Native Americans in South Dakota.
Audience members listened as one after another the democratic presidential candidates insisted they’d fully support the house bill if elected President. However, Independent Mark Charles took this concept of rescinding medals even further and offered a larger perspective that reaches beyond just Wounded Knee.
“If you research Medals of Honor for battles between 1839 and 1898, you will find that the U.S. awarded 425 Medals of Honor for soldiers who participated in the Indian Wars,” Charles explained. “We awarded 425 medals for the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Native peoples. We absolutely have to rescind those 20 medals for Wounded Knee, but there are 425 Medals of Honor that have no place in our union.
“These medals have no place in a nation that claims to value freedom, equality and diversity,” he continued. “These medals are not only a stain, they are blood dripping from the clothes of this nation.”
Charles’ strong declaration about the Medals of Honor given out during the Indian Wars era emphasized concepts that were mentioned by others candidates as well, and that’s the notions of historical and generational traumas. Indian Country understands well the long-lasting effects of America’s colonization and how it directly resulted in many of today’s most pressing concerns. For those looking for solutions and hoping for change through a Presidential regime change, well they got multiple glimpses at candidates who took the time to listen and understand the Native voice.
In the audience, too, prominent officials and Native elders from communities across the country were able to meet, share ideas, and trade notes on issues of concern to their people. One of the most common subjects talked about was the federal government’s need to uphold treaty rights and fulfill its trust responsibilities. However, a shared cynicism about the current Trump Administration’s lack of effort to respect the tribes’ point of view, let alone uphold treaty rights, gave even more credence to why it’s so important for Native citizens to cast their ballots in 2020.
After nearly two full days of listening and learning by both the hundreds of tribal members who filled the Forum’s seats and 10 presidential hopefuls who detailed their platforms and showcased their knowledge of Indian Country, only one candidate remained, Democrat Bernie Sanders. He was the final candidate to hit the Orpheum Theatre stage on August 20.
The Vermont Senator walked out to a huge standing ovation from a Forum crowd that had grown in both size and anticipation, reaching its largest capacity just to hear from the self-described progressive, democratic socialist. His proposed policies to rescind pipeline permits, combat global warming by restricting the seemingly free reign of oil companies, strengthening tribal sovereignty, and ensuring equal access to voting were all well received by a routinely applauding audience.
“I know how important it is to protect the sovereignty and sacred lands of Native Americans. That is why together we must do everything we can to address the existential crisis facing this planet in terms of climate change,” said Bernie Sanders. “Together we are going to take on the fossil fuel industry and tell them that their short term profits are not more important than the future of our planet.
“In my administration it’s not a matter of listening to the Native American people, it’s having you up front teaching us how to work with nature and not against nature,” continued Sanders. “I need you to play a leadership role in terms of sustainably. Native Americans, more than any other people, can teach us about sustainability. Your people did not nearly kill off the buffalo nor have they destroyed countless acres of tress through deforestation because you understand they give us life. We need your wisdom because we need to radically rethink our relationship to nature.”
Voter suppression was a topic each candidate was asked about, since there have been multiple laws enacted under Trump that restrict our democracy by limiting access to voting. This is especially felt on Native American reservations where infrastructure is already lacking and in some areas with a high Native populations one has to travel long distances in order to cast their ballot. Sanders explained how such actions are designed by politicians controlled by wealthy people to suppress voting, particularly by people of color.
“We have a corrupt political system designed to protect the wealthy and the powerful,” he declared. “Voter suppression is happening all over this country. You’ve got a Republican Party that really understands they cannot win elections based on their policies, so they make it harder to vote. They target people of color and young people. The answer to have a President and Attorney General who ensure every eligible voter in this country is able to vote. We are going to take on voter suppression in all its forms.”
With Indian Country’s electoral power growing, the Native American Presidential Forum came at an opportune time and was a huge success. Eleven presidential hopefuls pledged to honor treaties and enact structural change, but most importantly they listened and learned from tribal leaders, elders, and youth who spoke as the Native voice. A history making tribal forum for tribal people that developed a means of communication with, potentially, the next President of the United States.
In early August, over fifty Marysville School District administrators toured their neighboring reservation to receive an enriching glimpse into Tulalip culture and lifeways. Among the group included every principal and assistant principal in the District. The highlight of their day-long venture was a powerful face-to-face sit down with four thriving Tulalip Youth Councilmembers.
Treasurer Marisa Joseph,12th grader at Marysville Pilchuck, social media coordinator Evelyn Vega-Simpson, MP junior, secretary Shylah Zackuse, 10th grader at MP, and chairman Kaiser Moses, Marysville Getchell junior, each shared details of their unique experiences as young culture bearers and excelling students of the public school system.
They sat front and center while speaking their truths in response to a series of questions their school administrators asked them. Between the four inspiring, high-achieving students are multiple honors classes, instruments played, languages spoken, and an overwhelming desire to be seen for their well-earned accolades that break commonly held stereotypes of Native American youth. The following is an edited transcript of that Q&A.
Q: What are three awesome facts about yourself?
Kaiser: “The fact I’m able to live so close to the Tulalip longhouse, be able to actively participate in my culture through traditional gatherings, and I enjoy hosting and traveling to powwows.”
Shylah: “I’m Indigenous. Half my school classes are either A.P. or honors level. I’m really good at multitasking.”
Evelyn: “I’m able to play five instruments, I’m fluent in three languages, and I am an advocate for other kids who do not have a voice.”
Marisa: “I’m Indigenous. I participate in my culture and love my culture. My cumulative G.P.A. is 3.96 and my goal is to go to Harvard and study law so I can represent Native people on the federal level.”
Q: What do you love learning about?
Marisa: “History, especially Native American history. However, in my U.S. History class this past year we only spent a brief part of one week where we watched a video about Native Americans. I think we can improve upon that and definitely spend more time learning an accurate Native history.”
Kaiser: “I love learning about our traditional longhouse history. It’s really easy to go over and talk to a bunch of elders and learn from them, so you all here can incorporate their teachings into the school curriculum.”
Shylah: “I love learning about my culture. This summer I participated in Canoe Journey and have been learning my traditional language, Lushootseed. I’ve learned how to formally introduce myself and look forward to becoming fluent in Lushootseed so I can teach my future children.”
Q: What do you most look forward to this school year?
Evelyn: “Band. I’ve been playing instruments since I can remember. Music is a big part of my life and obviously my culture as well. I’m also taking Running Start classes right now during the summer and look forward to continuing to take college classes during the school year.”
Kaiser: “My mom says when you go to school you’re building a bridge to society. We get teachings from school and teachings from the longhouse. I’m excited to develop that bridge even more so it’s easier to navigate back and forth.”
Q: What is something you wish your teachers knew about you?
Shylah: “I want my history teacher to know the history of my ancestors. When we’re in the classroom they don’t teach about the genocide of Native Americans or the boarding schools our ancestors were forced to attend. My ancestors weren’t allowed to be Native American. They couldn’t speak their language or practice their dances and songs. My history teachers should know this.”
Marisa: “I want my school teachers and peers to be educated about our culture, traditions, and way of life. If they knew what our ancestors went through, then they’d have a better understanding of our daily lives and what we go through as Native people today.”
Evelyn: “The Tulalip Tribes donates a lot of money to the school district. I know that can be a touchy subject, but I’d like to see a public ‘thank you’ from the Marysville School District. The money the Tribes donates helps not just Native students, but all the students.”
Q: What is the importance and role of education in your life?
Evelyn: “Education has always been a top priority in my life. I grew up in Snohomish with a wonderful pair of foster parents. They taught me to embrace music and to love school because they can take me so far in life. I dream of attending Oxford to become a surgeon. I have a high G.P.A. and plan on getting my Associates Degree as a high school student. Those things shock people because I’m Native, but I’m not a stereotype. I am better than any stereotype and will always be better.”
Marisa: “I’ve always taken my education serious and put it first always. I’ve sacrificed a lot of time with my friends in order to study and get good grades. My goal is to attend an Ivy League. I will be successful and not let myself be a statistic.”
Shylah: “I come from stereotypes. The stereotypes I come from are we don’t graduate, we’re drug addicts and alcoholics, and we’re teen moms. Well, I’m none of those. I get good grades, I’m not a drug addict, and I’m not a teen mom. I come from a drug addict dad and a single mom. My mom is going to college now with four kids and a fulltime job to prove to her kids we can go to college, too. Through my education I will go to college and have a successful career.”
“HELP!” cried a woman’s voice coming from the Tulalip Youth Council room. “The building’s collapsing, we have people in here. We need help.”
Springing into action like superheroes, fifteen local teenagers unzipped green backpacks which read Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) across the front. Withdrawing vests, gloves, hard hats and goggles, the youth quickly put on their protective gear before assembling near the entrance of the building. Together, the team elected Youth Council member, Jonathan “JD” Rinker, to take lead.
After JD instructed two people to set up a triage area, he called upon one of his peers to help him conduct a quick visual walkthrough of the building. Upon returning, JD reported the estimated amount of people trapped in the building and their injuries, as well as the amount of damage inside the Youth Council chambers.
“Some of the injuries include a person with a bolt jammed in his leg. People have open wounds and large cuts on their arms and faces, some are trapped underneath tables and desks and their legs are tangled up in chairs.”
The teens paired up into twos and entered the room. Tending to the wounded who needed immediate assistance first, the teams carried, walked and wheeled the injured one-by-one outdoors to safety. Although this was only a drill, the group of young adults took the disaster simulation very seriously, treating the situation as though it was happening in real time and evacuating the building safely, cautiously and in a timely manner.
“My role was to send my team in and get those people help when the building began to collapse after an earthquake,” JD stated. “But first we had to make sure the area was safe for us. As soon as we got everyone out, we helped stop the bleeding on several individuals, we tended to people’s ailments and we placed them in these designated areas categorized by color. Green is minor injuries, yellow’s non-life-threatening injuries, red is life threatening and black is deceased. During the process, I helped arrange who went to which group and assessed what types of injuries they had. And when the first responders arrived, I gave them a full report and the status of each person.”
Teen CERT returned to Tulalip for its second year during the week of August 12-16. Hosted by the Tulalip Office of Emergency Management, the trainings provide local youth with the knowledge of how to be best prepared when disaster strikes, learning safety skills to assist the elders, youth and injured adults of the community while first responders are on the way.
Last year, Tulalip became the first tribe nationwide to offer Teen CERT to a reservation-based community. Teaming up with Youth Services and Critical Ops LLC., Emergency Management brought the preparedness training to the community to ensure safety when natural disasters or extreme weather occurs in the area.
“To my knowledge, we’re the only tribe that is doing tribal Teen CERT on an annual basis,” said Ashlynn Danielson, Tulalip Emergency Preparedness Manager. “We hope to continue receiving our funding to provide this training once a year, every summer. This year everything was interactive-based, everything we did as teams or pairs. And we had more upbeat energy, the kids were participating right out the gate. We had a good mixture of ages. The younger ones could turn to the older students and get direction, to have someone engage initiative. Before they started the disaster simulation, we staged everybody and established our role players. We used earthquake because we recently had an earthquake, and that’s something that is a no notice event that can happen to our area regularly.”
Every late fall and throughout the winter, windstorms are a regular occurrence, causing power outages and property damage throughout Tulalip. This past winter, Washington State experienced a snow storm unlike any other. Some areas saw upwards of a foot of snow, breaking local snowfall records over the month-long blizzard. On the Tulalip reservation specifically, community members hunkered down as many people couldn’t leave their driveways and didn’t want to risk driving in the heavy snow. In many cases, during wind and snow storms, the only road leading out of Tulalip is often blocked by fallen trees and powerlines.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), climate change is the main contributing factor to natural disasters. As the earth’s atmosphere continues to heat up, the world will experience disasters, such as last year’s hurricanes along the east coast and the wildfires on the west coast, more frequently and at a larger magnitude. In 2018, the United States had sixteen extreme disasters, totaling a record $306 billion in damages and 355 fatalities.
“We’re located far away from the hospitals, far from help,” expressed JD. “We need to be able to help our own people in any way we can, until the first responders get here. It was exciting. It’s important for the youth to be involved. In case a disaster or if anything happens, everyone should have an idea of what to do and how to help.”
Throughout the week, the youth were taught how to react and respond in emergency situations, practicing everything from fire safety, medical operation and triage, team organization, utility control, damage assessment, and search and rescue.
“We broke the days up by themes,” said Critical Ops Trainer, Chelsea Treboniak. “The first day we focused on home and personal preparedness. We looked at what a bugout bag is, how to look at your surrounding environment and understand what you might need in case of an emergency. The next day we got a bit more broad in nature and attacked fire at large. We went over what a fire extinguisher is and how to use it, and we practiced skills with the fire department. We talked medical operations, everything from search and rescue to how to leverage and crib to rescue someone who’s stuck. And, also how to treat, triage and set up a causality collection point. Which brought it all to the disaster simulation where they got to put all those skills into practice.”
The teens were visited by a number of guests during the five-day training including the Tulalip Bay Fire Department and members of the Everett Fire Department, as well as local search and rescue dogs.
“The dogs were well-trained and they help people out,” said Teen CERT alum Quintin Yon-Wagner. “They help retrieve different items, find people and they are a great comforting companion especially during disasters or after traumatizing events.”
Quintin returned this year to assist with Teen CERT, offering his insight and encouraging his peers during the hands-on training.
“There are certainly times where I had to use my CERT training in real life scenarios,” he stated. “Just today, a kid hurt himself on the field and I was able to help him out. A lot of kids don’t want to come out and spend their summer learning, but you can use this training in real life and you get certified. I encourage kids to bring their friends next year and treat it as a social event, it’s super fun to learn about things you probably never heard of, or never will, in school. It’s a whole different perspective on how to help and give back to your community. When disaster strikes, we need people to step up because the first responders aren’t necessarily going to be nearby.”
After spending a week at the Youth Council room learning how to be properly prepared for disaster, the teens joined their younger peers who were concluding their time at Lushootseed Language Camp with a performance. In front of a gym full of language warriors and supportive community members, the Teens received their CERT certifications on the morning of August 16. To commemorate the moment and congratulate the teens, the young Lushootseed campers offered a traditional song to the CERT graduates.
“This year was a success,” expressed Ashlynn. “Throughout the week they learned how to work as a team. They now have some tools and skills and are able to help. Every year we are getting more student involvement, interest and participation. I hope their main take away is to share this with their families, that way they’ll be more prepared individually and know that they are a just as important as everyone else and can play a big role in saving people’s lives.”
The Tulalip Office of Emergency Management will continue hosting their regularly scheduled CERT trainings, the next one held this upcoming fall. To stay updated on the latest storm information in the Tulalip area, text the word ‘STORM’ to 30644 for text alerts regarding inclement weather, road closures and more.
By Kalvin Valdillez; Photos courtesy of Kelly Finley, Michael Lotan, Ross Fryberg, and Tawnya Baggerly
“You would think it’s just another camp but when you get up there, you realize it’s so much more. You experience living how our ancestors used to; no phones and no technology at all. It was nice to get away, I had a really fun time,” expressed Tulalip tribal youth, Ross Fryberg Jr.
With an abundance of breathtaking views of the natural world, the mountainous lands near the Skykomish Watershed area was once home to the Snohomish people who lived upon its plentiful resources since the beginning of time. As the original caretakers, the connection they shared with the land was strong. For generations, the Snohomish gathered cedar from the tall trees on the mountain side to weave a number of every day tools such as baskets and hats. They gathered a variety of plants for both medicinal purposes and nourishment, hunted elk, and fished in nearby rivers and streams, and most importantly, they cared for the land, honoring the living spirit of the mountains, waterways and trees.
Although times have changed and we now live in a fast-paced, technology based society, the Tulalips, as descendants of the Snohomish, maintain that relationship to their pre-colonial homelands. They perform spiritual work like harvesting huckleberries and cedar, as well as hunting and fishing just as their people had generations prior.
Five years ago, the Tulalip Natural Resources Department, in partnership with the YMCA, debuted Mountain Camp for the youth of the community, offering a chance to get away from the busy world, unplug and enjoy the great outdoors. Since its inception, Mountain Camp has provided an opportunity for Tulalip youth to get in touch with the Tribes’ origins and gain a new perspective about Mother Earth, learning of the many ways she provides for Northwest tribal people. Mountain Camp was such a success, it inspired Fish Camp, a similar summertime experience that takes place on Lopez Island and teaches youth about marine life and the Salish Sea.
Nine kids, ages 11-13, set out for a five-day adventure to the mountains on the morning of August 5. Meeting at the Tulalip Administration building, they received a weaving lesson from Anita (Keeta) and Jamie Sheldon. The kids assembled a number of baskets, and also bracelets and anklets, before the trip, while Lushootseed Teacher Maria Martin shared traditional stories.
This year, the Natural Resources department added Tulalip youth and Mountain Camp Alum, Seth Montero, to the crew. After showing an incredible amount of interest in natural resources, Seth returned to camp to continue learning from the natural environment and pass his teachings down to his younger peers.
“We’ve been trying to work on a program for kids who have aged out and still want to participate in the program,” said Tulalip Natural Resources Outreach & Education Coordinator, Kelly Finley. “Seth went to YMCA camp earlier this summer and learned how they do things at their camps. He picked up a lot of leadership skills so that he could come to our camp this year and be a leader-in-training, and hopefully one day a future counselor.”
The campers loaded onto the YMCA bus and officially set course to Skykomish, Washington, a two-hour road trip along Highway 2. After reaching their destination, the campers strapped on their backpacks and made a mile-and-a-half hike to Barclay Lake where they set up camp for the first few days. During this time, the kids enjoyed the sunny weather by swimming and fishing at the lake as well as identifying a variety of plants and bugs. To get a little shade from the heat, the campers went out into the woods and played Prometheus, a fun version of the capture the flag game, where the players objective is to steal their opponents’ flag without being seen.
After three nights at the lake, the campers hiked back to the YMCA bus and traveled up the mountain to about 5,000 feet above sea level. The kids set up camp here, at the sacred swədaʔx̌ali grounds, where tribal members gather huckleberries during the late summer months. The campers were joined by Natural Resources Senior Environmental Policy Analyst, Libby Nelson as well as Lushootseed Language Teacher, Michelle Myles. Libby provided a fun interactive lesson about the plants of the swədaʔx̌ali area, while Michelle shared stories in Lushootseed and worked on traditional introductions with the kids. Libby explained that during past camps the weather was clear at night and you could stargaze and see meteor showers. This year, however, the fog rolled in as Michelle shared traditional stories, providing a cool, yet somewhat eerie, setting.
Before calling it a night, the youth gathered enough huckleberries for pancakes the next morning as they were expecting a number of guests from the Tribe, Natural Resources, the Rediscovery Program and the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest department bright and early.
Upon awakening, the kids enjoyed food and company with their many guests before heading to the huckleberry fields to help out with the restoration of the swədaʔx̌ali area.
“The first work was kicked off five years ago by the first Mountain Camp youth,” said Libby. “And we also have Forestry do a lot of work here in September as well. Ross [Fenton] came up from Forestry and led the kids in clearing out some of the area. That’s been our goal, to keep the berries from being shaded out by conifer trees. That keeps the berry patches open, encourages new growth and makes it nicer for Tulalip berry pickers. Since last year, we put up new signs that talk about the elder’s teachings about huckleberries. We had each kid read one of the teachings of the elders and we talked about it a little bit.”
The crew headed back to the campsite where they wove cedar headbands with Tulalip tribal member, Chelsea Craig, and listened to their guests speak about the importance of preserving the resources of the land for future generations.
“The goal is to go up there and talk to the kids about natural resources, talk about why it’s important for Tulalip tribal members specifically to work in the natural resources field, what it means to us spiritually and culturally,” explained Ryan Miller, Tulalip Natural Resources Environmental Liaison. “We try to get them excited about that and get them to have some ownership of it. We tend to bring them up there and teach them as much as we can about the huckleberry restoration and let them know that we pass this on to you, it’s your job to continue to pass this on to the next generation and make sure these resources are here for them as well.
“I forget every year how amazing it is up there,” he continued. “I’m surprised every time I go back, just by the utter beauty of the site. There’s nothing but mountains and clouds around you, you only hear the sounds of nature. These kids have the opportunity to go out there and experience something that is much closer to what our ancestors experienced for thousands of years. It’s almost like you can feel the connection to the earth a lot stronger there.”
The campers spent the remainder of their time playing games and picking berries at the swədaʔx̌ali site. Many of the campers had yet to enjoy the tasty berries grown at high altitude, but according to lead camp counselor Michael Lotan, once their taste buds got a hold of the delicious ancestral snack, they couldn’t get enough.
“A lot of people told the kids they needed to eat the berries to feed their inner Indian,” Michael stated. “So, that’s all they did after that, was roam around looking for ripe berries and eating them. All of them want to go back up and pick more when the berries are ready in a couple of weeks. That’s another good thing this camp does, is show them we have this area that needs to be used otherwise we’ll lose our rights to use it.”
On their last day in the mountains, the youth packed up camp and headed to the river. Ending Mountain Camp with an extreme splash, the kids rafted down the Skykomish River before heading back to Tulalip for a welcome home celebration with their family and new friends.
“I really connected with the land because my ancestors were once there,” expressed first time Mountain Camper, Matthew Hunter. “We picked huckleberries and I even got to bring some home for my mom. The restoration was fun; we cleared some trees out and made a big pile so they can burn them later. It’s important that we grow more berries. This was my first time camping up there and I learned how to weave cedar, harvest huckleberries and connect with the land, campers and counselors. It was totally new experience for me and really fun.”
For more information, please contact the Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources Department at (360) 716-4617.
Imagine having just a single solitary day to impart generations’ worth of Tulalip cultural knowledge, experiences and insight onto a group of seasoned (non-Native) educators. It’s a near impossible task, to say the least. However, the noble pursuit of such a cultural exchange is significant for the glimmer of hope it may offer to deepen understanding of a complex history and thriving culture of a modern day Pacific Northwest tribe. Educators involved would gain tremendously by broadening their perspective on Tulalip related issues, while deliberately resulting in an improved learning environment for their Native students.
On August 8, fifty-three Marysville School District (MSD) administrators, including every principal and assistant principal in the District, convened at a Marysville-Getchell High School meeting space for what would be an enriching journey into ‘Tulalip 101’.
“I thank each and every one of you for this opportunity to share a part of our culture with you. We know the time frame is small, but it is significant,” said Deborah Parker, Indigenous Education Director. “The leaders of MSD have allowed us this time and space to share with you a piece of our culture, a piece of who we are and what we care about traditionally, mentally, emotionally, and physically.”
The Women’s Warriors Song was shared to ground the group with a singular purpose and align the heartbeats for a collective mission…one heart, one mind. What followed as a brief PowerPoint presentation on Tulalip Tribes history, Coast Salish culture, and a lesson on the importance of conducting land acknowledgements in each school.
“By doing land recognition we honor the sacrifices our ancestors made and make a commitment for true healing of the injustice that has been served in the name of education for Indigenous people,” explained Chelsea Craig, Cultural Specialist for Quil Ceda Elementary. “You have to add that second piece and really understand your value and how your equity statement goes with it – thanks for acknowledging that we lost our lands and this is what we’re committed to doing to promote healing.”
Land acknowledgment by itself is a small gesture. It becomes meaningful when coupled with authentic relationship and informed action. But this beginning can be an opening to greater public consciousness of Native sovereignty and cultural rights, a step toward balanced partnerships and understanding. Considering there are an estimated 1,200 Native students attending MSD schools, the importance of conducting land acknowledgements at school functions, like general assemblies or sporting events, can significantly raise mindfulness while promoting healing.
The fifty-three person group of MSD administrators learned two words in the ancestral Tulalip language of Lushootseed prior to a collaborative Tulalip tour – sduhubš (Snohomish) and τ̕igwicid (thank you). With both Deborah and Chelsea assisting in proper pronunciation, the group repeated the words several times in unison to ensure they would be properly used later in the day.
The collective group was split into two and shuttled to the Tulalip Reservation via MSD No.25 school busses. Their first visit was to Hibulb Cultural Center & Natural History Preserve where they enjoyed fresh made nettle lemonade and met with senior curator Tessa Campbell. As they were led on a private tour of Hibulb’s special collections, Tessa explained the special meaning and traditional use of several thought-provoking artifacts.
“We are a certified archeology repository with archives full of collections not currently on display, including some rather large items,” stated Tessa while leading the tour. “We have an ocean going canoe carved by the Edwards brothers (Swinomish) that was used to travel as a family to and from Whidbey Island, Camano Island, and the area now known as the City of Everett. We also have a growing collection of story poles carved by Tulalip tribal member William Shelton. Currently, we have five of his poles with the oldest being a spirit pole carved in 1913.”
Following the guided Hibulb visit, the group’s next stop was the Tulalip Administration Building. They took in the amazing artistry of two story poles that welcome visitors to the Tribe’s central government offices. The Tulalip Youth Council shared a song as everyone took a seat in the largest meeting room.
“Did you know that over 60% of our tribe of nearly 5,000 members is 18 or younger?” asked Patti Gobin, Natural Resources Special Projects Manager. “The importance of the good work going on right now is vital to our young ones because in the most literal sense, they are our future. We’ve been waiting a long time for you to accept, understand, and uplift our people in the area of education. There is a sense of urgency to have our MSD educators know our treaty and to know, that as Coast Salish people, we still live our lifeways out here.”
“As Indian people, we need to have an education to navigate this modern world and build a better future,” added Board of Director Glen Gobin. “Marysville public schools have an obligation to help educate our students. But to do that you need to understand who we are and the social structures we deal with on the reservation. It’s so important we find a way to work together and the only way to do that is to commit to knowing who each other are. There will be struggles, but there will be successes as well. The only way to get through this is to build upon the successes and learn from the struggles, together.”
A powerful exercise in understanding and learning from history was then led by Heritage High School teacher Ms. Ervanna Little Eagle and Quil Ceda Elementary teacher Ms. Gina Bluebird. The lesson was titled Tulalip Boarding School Experience. The goal was to examine how colonized education affected generations of Tulalip people.
Using heartfelt and gut-wrenching testimonials from those who were forced to attend boarding schools in the early 1900s, the group participated in several listening and writing activities.
“I considered what it would be like to lose my identity and it was unimaginable,” shared one MSD administrator.
“The underlying goal was to assimilate the Indians. Boarding school were then a means of committing cultural genocide carried out by the federal government,” stated another.
After taking a few moments to let the full weight of the boarding school era and its historical trauma that affects many of their young Native students today, the group moved quietly from the meeting space, still thoroughly in reflection, and back to the school busses. The assembly of MSD leadership then visited the Don Hatch Youth Center, Tulalip Long House, and Boys & Girls Club. At each stop they chatted with longtime employees and students who were out and about enjoying summer vacation.
Finally, their journey came to its last destination on the reservation when they visited the present day site of the Tulalip Indian Boarding School. The group then formed a prayer circle led by Tulalip tribal member Monie Ordonia on those profane grounds in an effort to bring strength to power.
“For us to stand here is healing for our people because this is a very powerful circle,” said Chelsea. Her grandmother Celum Young attended the boarding school and once recalled being put in an outside jail cell for speaking just one word of her traditional language. “We have an opportunity to change our story in Marysville, not just for Native people. This isn’t just about our Native kids. This is about all of our kids. There are lots of historically underserved children in our district that we need to think differently about. We are growing and hopefully become stronger as leaders to make changes that benefit the entire district.”
There was a shared optimism after a full day designed to help MSD administrators and educators better understand their Tulalip students’ culture and community. Deeply rooted words like ‘healing’, ‘hopeful’, and ‘forgiveness’ were collectively expressed as the group reflected on their opportunities to become agents of change for the betterment of their diverse student population.
“It’s so important that we, as educators, make sure we are doing everything we can to help our Native American students become successful and reach their full potential,” said Eneille Nelson, Principal of Kellogg Marsh Elementary while taking in the Tulalip Bay view. “Being here to see where our students live and come from is very humbling. This space and land is so beautiful, and our students are just as beautiful as their surroundings.”“I didn’t know the history of the tribes and the painful experiences they’ve had with education,” admitted Tara Jeffries, Assistant Principal at Grove Elementary. She moved from Oregon last year to work for MSD. “It was so moving to have the opportunity to experience Tulalip culture in such an authentic way. This experience not only changed our perspective, but it changed our hearts. We now have a deeper understanding and can apply that in a way we couldn’t have before.”
With the 2019-2020 school year starting in a matter of weeks, only time and experience will determine how significant an impact the MSD/Tulalip cultural exchange has on new and returning students. But if all meaningful and lasting change starts on the inside, then a few changed hearts and minds can go a long way.