“We’ve been in Tulalip and the Marysville area for almost 50 years now,” said Robb McCalmon, Roy Robinson Subaru General Manager. “We have a very good relationship with the Tribe and it’s important for us to give back to our community. They’re the reason why we’re here and why we get to stay here.”
A giant check amounting in $16,200 was presented to the Tulalip Foundation on a warm summer afternoon in late June. Each winter, Subaru dealerships around the country take part in a holiday seasonal event known as Share the Love. A donation is made each time a vehicle is sold during the two-month promotion. The buyer selects where they would like the donation to go, either the National Park Foundation, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Meals on Wheels, the Make-A-Wish Foundation or a local hometown charity handpicked by the respective dealership. To date, the Share the Love event has raised over $200 million for the four foundations and made donations to over 1,440 hometown charities, including the Tulalip Foundation.
“This is our third year being the hometown charity for Roy Robinson,” exclaimed Tulalip Foundation Executive Director, Nicole Sieminski. “They were nice enough to choose us and they could’ve chose anyone.”
The donation is dispersed in $5,000 increments through grants to help fund local programs and community events. Nicole explained that after Roy Robinson’s first donation in 2018, the Share the Love event contributed to the Tulalip Tribe’s Natural Resources summertime youth Mountain and Fish camps, the suicide prevention Warrior Walk held at Tulalip, The Tulalip Restoration Program’s Planting project, and Leah’s Dream Foundation’s Christmas program. And thanks to the 2019 Share the Love donation, two grants were awarded, one to the beda?chelh Sponsor-A-Child Christmas event and the other to the Healing to Wellness Court’s incentive program.
Rochelle Lubbers, the Tulalip Foundation’s Secretary, expressed excitement during the check presentation, stating that this year’s donation will result in at least three $5,000 ‘mini-grants’. The Tulalip Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the wellbeing of the Tulalip reservation and the surrounding communities. Since 2007, the Foundation has worked with numerous programs to create a brighter future for the Tribe, founded on three important values: education, justice and culture.
Over the years, the Tulalip Foundation has awarded several grants to a number of programs based on those three values including the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy and the Tulalip TERO Vocational Training Center for education; the Tulalip Office of Civil Legal Aid (TOCLA), the Healing to Wellness Court and the Criminal Conflict Counsel program for justice; and the Hibulb Cultural Center for culture. The Foundation also hosts a number of their own fundraising events throughout each year such as the Hibulb Cultural Center Salmon Bake and the Tulalip Foundation Giving Tuesday event.
Although the funds from this year’s generous donation by the Roy Robinson dealership have yet to be decided, the Tulalip Foundation is excited just thinking about the possibilities the Share the Love event will help support in the near future.
Patti Gobin, the Tulalip Foundation Vice-Chairwoman expressed, “This is such a great thing because the Tulalip Tribes only has so much within their budget to spread throughout the Tribe to meet the community’s needs. This helps in areas that mean a lot to our community members, some of them are grassroots and trying to get things started. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for those programs and the Tulalip Foundation is honored to be the vehicle.”
For more information, please contact the Tulalip Foundation at (360) 716-5400.
In early May, tribal council officially broke ground on what was dubbed ‘emergency transitional living units. In the process they began a long requested service that will benefit Tulalip’s membership. It’s been two months since that ground breaking and the first of several planned sites intended to prevent homelessness is nearing completion.
Located across the street from Tulalip Bay fire department, the inaugural site consists of five units that will be fully furnished when complete. Essential amenities include a bath tub with shower, kitchenette and washer and dryer. The living space is compact (240 square feet) and meant for emergency purposes and short term living only.
“These transition units will be a blessing for our community,” stated Chief Operating Officer Wendy Fryberg. “We recognize that our people sometimes have transition requirements, and homelessness should not be a concern for our members who have find themselves in such challenging circumstances.
“We anticipate as soon as these units are complete we will find a location to build more,” she added. “These units are designed to assist tribal members to live independently on a short-term basis while they create relationships with various programs. Those programs will become their stepping stone, providing resources needed for long-term solutions in the prevention of homelessness.”
In addition to providing a sense of stability for families who will use the transitional units as a stepping stone to independent living, each unit will provide crucial comforts like water and sewer utilities, electricity, and the ability to have cable or a Wi-Fi connection.
Rent will be $300 per month to cover the water, sewer and Public Utility District (PUD) costs. There will be more information coming out about the policy, eligibility, and application process for Tulalip membership interested in temporarily residing in one of these transitional units.
By contrast, the Tulalip Tribes homeless shelter utilizes shared utilities, including a shared kitchen area. Many of the region’s tiny home villages that have become more and more common also lack running water and cooking facilities.
“This is our first project of this type. Yes, we have the homeless shelter, but these units have their own bathroom and kitchenette,” explained Vice-Chairman Glen Gobin. “These transitional units will provide a foundation for tribal members to build upon and carry on in a good way. We pray this will be a success for individuals and families who find themselves in such circumstances. This project is intended to assist and help them build a good positive foundation and move forward in that good way.”
Tulalip’s committed construction team has been diligently putting in the necessary work for what is sure to be a game changer in our community. During the recent record-breaking heat wave, construction superintendent Bob Lapham was on-site for each unit’s roof completion. According to Bob the builder, his crew is well coordinated and excited to be working on such a meaningful project. For such a compact size, the units have a large bathroom setup and living quarters with all the necessities, plus they’ll be nice took at both inside and out, he said.
C.O.O. Wendy Fryberg wants the community to know these initial transitional units are on schedule and expected to be complete by July 31st. The procedures and application process will be announced soon. Stay tuned.
Seems like only yesterday both federal and state governments were raging the war on drugs. Now in a stunning turn of events, marijuana, the long hyped ‘gateway drug’, is being strategically used in a war against COVID.
Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board announced earlier this month it would allow state-licensed cannabis retailers to provide one joint to adult consumers who receive COVID-19 vaccination at an in-store clinic. The weed-friendly program is the latest vaccination incentive in Washington, where an impressive 73.1% of all adults are already vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
When word reached Tulalip’s own Jennifer Ashman, manager of the Tribe’s cannabis store Remedy, she immediately contacted Tulalip Pharmacy staff to coordinate a Joints for Jabs event. It didn’t take long to work out the details and send out promotional materials to Remedy’s dedicated fan base.
“We were fortunate that Tulalip declared our retail shop and employees as essential early on in the pandemic,” explained Jennifer, cannabis enthusiast and Remedy manager. “This is a poetic opportunity for us to not only give back, but to incentivize efforts to create a more vaccinated community. Plus, it’s truly a historic occasion being able to give out free cannabis. Who doesn’t love that idea?!”
On Tuesday, June 22, a red medical tent was setup outside Remedy where diligent Pharmacy staff awaited with both scheduled appointments and casual walk-ins who were eager for the sense of relief that typically accompanies the vaccine.
“I’ve been wanting to get vaccinated, but it never worked out with my hectic work schedule,” shared 24-year-old Bayley King after participating in Joints for Jabs. “When I found out about this event I was excited because it was on my day off and the process of making an appointment was so simple. Getting my shot means returning back to normal and regaining my freedom.”
With roughly 200,000 small businesses forced to shut their doors forever as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s quite the unanticipated accomplishment that retail cannabis shops like Remedy continue to thrive. Industry-wide cannabis sales continue to soar as a result of society doing its best to cope with the uncertain times brought on by COVID and the residual aftereffects of isolation, social distancing, and incessant mask wearing.
Remedy has benefited from an influx of new customers as it’s stellar reputation for customer service and product knowledge has spread via word of mouth advertising. While some cannabis enthusiasts look to relieve every day ailments associated with aches and pains, others desire to elevate their mental state in an effort to calm their nerves, diminish anxiety and lower tensions brought on by the new normal.
“It’s a real stressful time right now and being able to just relax is a real luxury,” said Remedy regular and Marysville resident Michelle Moe after receiving her single dose vaccination. “Cannabis helps with pain and anxiety and depression, it’s an all-in-one therapeutic really.
“I’ve put off getting vaccinated for a long time now because I was really nervous about it. Ideas like if there’s been enough research or has it really been proven to be safe made me hesitant,” she added. “But at this point so many of my friends and family are vaccinated and doing just fine. Figured that was good enough for me to make this decision now and add the additional protection for myself and those I’m around socially by getting vaccinated. I’m definitely feeling a new sense of freedom already. Just in time for 4th of July celebrations.”
Participation in Remedy’s Jabs for Joints event reached the double digits. Although not allowed to spark up their free pre-rolled joint while getting vaccinated, one participant was witnessed lighting up that complimentary melon-flavored Stinger in his car. Imagine this community oriented citizen thinking to himself, “Merica! Boosting the vaccination rate one puff at a time.”
Dreams came true, legacies were continued, and history was rewritten on June 11 as thirty-one graduating seniors received their well-deserved diplomas at Tulalip Heritage’s high school commencement. Thirteen years of dedicated K-12 schooling came to fruition in an astonishing way for Heritage’s class of 2021 – the most graduates ever in a single academic year.
This particular group of graduates overcame a global pandemic, untold personal hardships, and a litany of other difficulties that came with a senior year unlike any other. Their determination to accumulate the twenty-four academic credits necessary to complete high school was bolstered in large part to by their steadfast support system at home and in the classroom.
“These thirty-one graduates earned their way here through hard work, commitment and perseverance,” explained Principal Kelli Miller. “This was not the senior year we planned and certainly not the one we hoped for. Maybe they needed additional support, extra do-overs, a gentle push or a nagging phone call, but nevertheless they did what was necessary to reach their graduation goal and they deserve a huge congratulations for that. They didn’t get here because of Covid, they got here in spite of Covid. I couldn’t be more proud of this graduating class.
“Thank you to the family, friends and countless community members who have walked this journey with our graduating seniors,” she continued. “I congratulate each of you because I know these students wouldn’t be here today without the time and energy you all invested in them. Most importantly, thank you for trusting us with your children. It’s truly the highest honor and greatest gift that you can give us educators is the trust to educate and guide your children.”
The thirty-one seniors rewrote the history books not just for managing to prioritize their schoolwork during a pandemic, but also for being the largest Tulalip Heritage High School graduating class ever. One after another the students, adorned with ceremonial garb like intricately woven Cedar caps and beaded medallions, proudly strutted across Francy J. Sheldon gymnasium for the last time to accept their coveted diploma. In doing so, they were fulfilling the legacy of the gym’s namesake.
Sheldon, who passed away in 2002, was a revered leader best known for his life’s mission to create opportunities for Native youth to excel in school and sports. According to his family, he wanted Tulalip children to always strive to be better and be given agency to fully embrace their culture. Even though he was not physically present to witness the historical Heritage commencement, there’s no doubt he was there in spirit.
“Francy dreamed of having a school on the reservation where our children could get a quality education and learn their culture,” said his wife of forty-three years, Anita ‘Keeta’ Sheldon. “He’d be so proud of these graduates for completing their high school education in Tulalip, and in the process bettering themselves, their families and our society. Seeing the kids wearing their Cedar caps, he’d have loved that.”
The end of high school usually means the end of free public education and free food. It’s the end of sleeping in all summer and, for some, the end of living at home. Receiving a diploma signifies the beginning of adulthood. It’s the beginning of true independence. It’s the beginning of finding a career, finding a place to live and perhaps pursuing additional education. The future is now full of possibility and wonder for Heritage’s latest graduates.
“This is the day we’ve all been waiting for since our first day of Kindergarten,” shared class representative and student speaker Krislyn Parks. “We, the graduating class of 2021, want to give a special thanks to all the teachers that have helped us every step the way, even when we were too stubborn or hardheaded to accept it. You all never gave up on us and words can’t explain how much we appreciate you because of that. Heritage is our home away from home. The teachers, office staff, lunch ladies, coaches and custodial workers took care of us in our best and worst moments. You all guided us, educated us, and showed us how to work together despite our differences, just like a loving family.
“Being a Heritage Hawk has changed my life forever,” she added. “Everyone at Heritage is my family and all my fellow classmates hold a special place in my heart. Now, as I stand here thinking about the past four years, I’m already viewing my high school experience differently. I may not remember all the class periods and homework assignments nor the answers to every test, but I know we will always remember the amazing memories and friendships that we’ve made. We can always draw strength from knowing Heritage will always be our home. Whatever we do and wherever we go, we will always be Heritage Hawks!”
A roaring applause erupted when Krislyn instructed her classmates to move their tassels from right to left, indicating graduation. Upon exiting their home away from home, a stunning rainbow greeted them. The future is bright in Tulalip.
If you are an expectant mother, first time parent or part of a blossoming family with children under the age of three, Tulalip Family Haven wants to hear from you.
Throughout the years, the department has assisted Tulalip tribal members, the community, and members of other tribal nations by developing programs that cater to local youth, parents, and families.
Through these programs, such as teen outreach, life skills, and a number of family-based programs, Family Haven provides their clients with educational tools and resources while building a space where the people they service can support and relate to one another, offer tips from personal experience, or simply lend a listening-ear to others in-need.
No matter the program, Family Haven has made it their priority to ensure that their families, from birth to parenthood, are on-track and in the best position to meet their personal short and long-term goals. By providing all the necessary tools and support, Family Haven designed each of their programs to empower tribal youth and families.
Keeping true to that successful formula, the department is introducing a new course to Tulalip. And they are doing it in a unique and fun way to engage people right off the bat and build a connection with local parents to better serve their needs.
“We’re officially launching Family Spirit,” said Sasha Smith, Family and Youth Support Coordinator for Family Haven. “We are accepting clients and want to get the word out. It has been really successful in other tribal communities and it’s evidenced-based, which is pretty hard to come by. It’s one of the very few.”
Tulalip News has the inside scoop on what the new program is and the specifics of everything that it entails. However, we will refrain from releasing this information just yet, at least until after June 25, when the winners of the Family Spirit promotional raffle are announced.
Sasha shared, “For one-week people can call-in, ask questions and get familiar with the program and in turn they will be entered into the drawing. We bought fun raffle prizes for those that call-in and we’ll close it on June 25, and deliver the prizes that week. We would like to gain that relationship, get to know you and listen to your needs and wants as parents.”
Prizes include an InstaPot pressure cooker, a Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 car seat, and a summertime gift bundle that contains sidewalk chalk, bubble wands and a full-sized Radio Flyer wagon.
“The biggest thing is having that personal connection and creating an opportunity to really talk,” Sasha stated. “Because what happens when people call-in and ask about the program, I get to understand a little bit more about them. We want to raise awareness to the community about [Family Spirit] and make sure that we are sharing those resources with them. If you or someone you know is pregnant, if you have little ones under the age of three, or if you just want to learn more about parenting, call us on up!”
To learn more about Family Spirit and to be entered into the giveaway, please contact Family Haven at (360) 716-4402.
For quite possibly the first time ever, the red, white and black colors of the Tulalip Tribes are flying overhead at Marysville Pilchuck High School. Tulalip’s iconic orca was raised up on June 7 by tribal member and student representative Desmond Valencia during a celebratory gathering of M.P. students and staff, as well as a coalition of Native representatives with drum-in-hand.
“The moment was surreal and there’s really no words to describe it,” said Desmond after he raised the flag to a traditional drum beat. “I was super nervous, but stepped out of my comfort zone to seize the opportunity to represent my people and my family. It’s a huge honor to be the first person to raise the flag and it felt good to see it flying as I walked to class today. It was definitely a good day to be Native.”
It’s no secret that Marysville and Tulalip have a history rife with conflict and misunderstanding, especially when it comes to the subject of education. However, raising the Tulalip flag is a symbol of hope for the future. It’s an action that intends to create a better partnership between the two communities.
“ This is a step in the right direction,” declared cultural specialist Chelsea Craig as the gathering’s first speaker. “Marysville and Tulalip, we are one community. We stand on the traditional lands of the Snohomish people right now, and by raising this flag we are healing the story of education for our community.”
Principal Christine Bell made it a mission of hers to make this day happen. Seeing this united effort through from start to finish, in collaboration with Native advocate Doug Salinas and Native liaison Matt Remle, allows a more diverse student body to feel accepted and proudly celebrate their culture.
“It’s very important to me as a principal that all of our students see themselves in their school and for as long as I’ve been here we’ve worked hard to make it that way,” shared Principal Bell. “My thanks go out to the Tulalip Tribes for allowing this to happen. We share a desire to have our students feel accepted for who they are. School culture is what you celebrate and choose to reinforce. If we’re not celebrating our Tulalip students, then we are doing this wrong.”
For all Principal Bell has done to uplift Tulalip students and culture during her M.P. tenure she was blanketed in true Native fashion.
“What a blessing to be honored and blanketed in that way. It means the world to me to be able to make this flag raising happen. This is a day I won’t ever forget,” she said. She also announced that in addition to the flag at the entrance of the school, there will be two more used for display during school events.
Among the crowd of event observers was a beaming Tulalip tribal member, 18-year-old Martelle Richwine.
“As a former Tomahawk, it warms my heart to see Marysville Pilchuck open their eyes to our Native community,” said the class of 2021 graduate. “When I was a student I felt that I wouldn’t be accepted as a Native American, but to know that M.P. now cares means the world because current and incoming Native students can feel comfortable in their own skin.”
“After this defining moment, I believe that the Marysville/Tulalip partnership can only go up from here,” added Desmond, a fellow graduating senior who plans on attending WSU in the fall. “One of my goals is to get more involved in tribal events and do my part in bettering our community. After I finish college, I would definitely love to come back and continue to see the relationship thrive.”
By adding the Tulalip flag to the same pole that holds the United States and Washington State flags, Marysville Pilchuck recognizes Tulalip’s sovereignty as an Indigenous nation and acknowledges that the best way forward is in partnership, one step at a time.
Last year, for the first time in over four decades, the Tulalip Tribes made the difficult decision to cancel the Salmon Ceremony to help limit the spread of COVID-19 at the height of the worldwide pandemic. During the yearly event, not only does the Tribe pay respect to the entire salmon species but they also provide the tribal fishermen with a blessing for a plentiful and safe season out on the water, while also sharing good traditional medicine along the way.
After nearly two calendar years, smoke billowed once again from the longhouse overlooking Tulalip Bay on the morning of June 5, as Tulalips gathered in traditional regalia to immerse themselves into their culture, practice the teachings of their ancestors and most importantly recognize, honor and celebrate yubəč, the king salmon.
To really get an understanding of the significance of this ceremony and what it means to the Tulalip people, one must first delve into the Tribe’s history and learn of their stories passed through the generations. As you may know, salmon are integral to the Tulalip culture, diet, and tribal lifeways. Pre-contact, and prior to the current decline of the salmon population, this delicious source of nourishment swam through the Salish Sea, through local rivers and lakes, in abundance. The Tulalips have a traditional story that explains why the salmon returned each year in such great quantities. Back in 1993, Bernie ‘KyKy’ Gobin provided a fantastic retelling of the story Salmon Man, as told by Harriette Shelton-Dover, for the Marysville School District and it goes as follows:
This is one version of the Salmon Man. You might have heard about the Tulalip Salmon Festival. The Salmon Festival was something that was practiced for hundreds of years by the Snohomish people, the sduhubš people. They are also called ‘the salmon people’. And the story’s extremely important because it links to the present day.
And the story goes that there is a tribe of Salmon People that live under the sea. And each year, they send out scouts to visit their homeland. And the way that the Snohomish people recognize that it’s time for the salmon scouts to be returning to their area is when, in the spring, a butterfly comes out. And the first person to see that butterfly will run, as fast as they can, to tell our chiefs or headmen or, now, they are called the chairman. One of the other ways they recognize that the salmon scouts are returning is when the wild spirea tree blooms. The people call it the ironwood tree, and that’s what they use for fish sticks and a lot of other important things, like halibut hooks. It’s a very hard wood. So, when they see either one of these, a tribal member will tell the chairman, and he immediately sends out word to the people and calls them together in the longhouse for a huge feast and celebration to give honor to the visitors that are coming.
The salmon scout will arrive out in the middle of Tulalip Bay there. And the people send out a canoe to meet him. And they put the salmon scout inside the canoe, where a cradle is filled with fern leaves and other soft leaves for a bed for him to come in on and keep him fresh. And he’ll come in by canoe to the cliff right below our longhouse, and, there, the whole tribe will be there on the water to greet him. And they’ll walk him in with songs of honor and just greet him in a special way. Then, he’ll be carried on that cradle up into the longhouse, where he’ll be taken around the fires three times and special songs will be sung in his honor. And they will show him the proper respect he needs as the high chief visitor from the Salmon people. And they will go through some different ceremonies there. Then, they will go up into what is now the tribal center, and prepare the feast. Before the feast, everyone will share in a tiny piece of the salmon and drink a glass of water with it, a little water.
That’s what is done. And then, everyone sits down and feasts and enjoys the salmon and visits with friends and neighbors.
At the end of feast, they get up. Maybe a speech will be made, and, hopefully, it won’t be too long. Then, a song is sung and they bring the remains that are left of the salmon back into the longhouse and thank him for coming and again honor him for the chief that he is and take him back down to the canoe, follow him back down there. And they take him back out and lay his remains back where they picked him up, out in the middle of Tulalip Bay. And, if they have treated that chief properly and showed him the proper respect, and treated him like the king he is, he’ll go back to the Salmon People that live under the sea and he’ll tell them that, “Hey, they greatly honored me. They treated me like I should have been treated. They gave me all the recognition I needed.” And he’ll recommend that the Salmon People return back in abundance.
And the reason to tell this story is because it concerns the environment. And to show that the Snohomish people practiced this for hundreds of years. They gave thanks for many things. One of the things was to honor this great chief from the Salmon People and try to protect his environment and have a place for him to come home to. It’s hard to imagine nowadays this visitor going back and telling them, “Hey, things are all right.” Because he has to tell them, “I’ve been up there, and I entered around Admiralty Head, and I started getting a headache.” And he says, “As I traveled further in I become confused and had a hard time finding Tulalip Bay this time.” And he says, “Worse than that. When I went up the Stillaguamish River my home was gone. Where I was born and raised, it’s not there.”
So, you know, it tells us something, that’s been told a long time: to conserve and keep things and honor all things because they’re alive. The trees are alive. Everything we eat was alive at some time. And we should give thanks and respect these things as living spirits and show them respect appropriately. And if we don’t, we’re going to lose everything as we know it today. The salmon are about gone. The forest is all but gone, and other resources are gone because of greed and mistreatment. We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to restore any of these things. So, this is an important story, the Salmon People story.*
As Bernie mentioned, the Salmon Ceremony was actually practiced for hundreds of years pre-colonialism. During the assimilation era, all Indigenous traditions, ceremonies and even the use of traditional languages were outlawed by the US Government across the country. For several generations, there was no Salmon Ceremony celebration at Tulalip. That is, until 1976 when a group of elders, led by Harriette Shelton-Dover, brought the tradition back.
Said Tulalip Vice-Chairman Glen Gobin, “after the treaty signing and after the boarding school era, much of our teachings were taken away. We were not able to speak our languages. We were not able to live with our families. Much of what we had as a culture was disappearing quickly. Some of the elders remembered certain aspects and would share those memories of how things used to be. The elders in 1976, Harriette in particular, said we need to revive Salmon Ceremony, we need to bring it back. She gathered up different elders and they pieced together what each of them knew about the Salmon Ceremony from either things they personally witnessed or things they heard their grandparents talk about.”
He continued, “Harriette always said that so much was taken from us and what we do today may not be exactly the same way it was done two hundred years ago. But as long as we do it with good intentions and with a pure heart, our elders will receive it in that manner. So, we hang on to those bits and pieces that we have and we’re thankful for them.”
Ever since the revival, with the exception of 2020, the Tribe has turned out in large numbers, adorning cedar woven hats and headbands, traditional shawls, and beaded jewelry to welcome the guest of honor, the representative hailing from the underwater village. They sing passionately in the language of the ancestors, they keep time with elk and deer hide hand drums. They dance and feast in honor of the salmon people. And they keep the traditions and teachings of their own people alive and strong.
* Bates, Ann and Karen Bayne. 1993. Tulalip History and Culture: Supplemental Class Materials. Marysville: The Tulalip Tribes, Marysville School District, Catholic Community Services of Snohomish County. https://www.tulaliplearningjourney.org
By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News; photos by Matika Wilbur
It’s been nearly a decade since Tulalip tribal member and celebrated visual storyteller Matika Wilbur made the bold decision to sell nearly everything she owned to begin an unprecedented journey of collecting the boundless beauty of Native American culture. Her journey is known as Project 562, a multi-year national photography project dedicated to photographing over 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States.
To unveil the true essence of contemporary Native issues and the magnitude of tradition, Matika travelled hundreds of thousands of miles, many in her RV dubbed ‘the Big Girl’, but also by horseback, train, plane, boat and on foot across all 48 continental states, Hawaii, deep into the Canadian tundra and into Alaska. The depths of her travels reflect her steadfast commitment to visit, engage, and photograph at least 562 federally recognized tribes, while also revealing her passion to inspire and educate.
“While teaching at Tulalip Heritage High School and attempting to create a photography curriculum with a narrative that our children deserve, I found an outdated narrative. It’s an incomplete story that perpetuates an American historical amnesia. It’s a story that’s romantic and dire…it’s the story of extinction,” she recalled of the circumstances that led to her life changing journey.
Matika points out the extinction theme often associated with Native America is easily perceived by doing a quick Google Images search. If you search for ‘African American’, ‘Hispanic American’ or ‘Asian American’, then you’ll find images of present day citizens who represent each culture. You’ll see proud, smiling faces and depictions of happy families. But if you search for ‘Native American’ the results are very different. You’ll see mostly black and white photos of centuries old, stoic Natives who are “leathered and feathered”.
“All of these images and misconceptions contribute to the collective consciousness of the American people, but more importantly it affects us in the ways that we imagine ourselves, in the ways we dream of possibility,” she explained.
And so began her multi-year mission to photograph and collect stories of contemporary Indigenous citizens from the hundreds of sovereign nations that make up Native America. As her photography portfolio continued to expand, so too did her realm of possibility.
Today, the now 37-year-old Matika has come to realize that Indigenous identity far surpasses federal acknowledgement. There are state-recognized tribes, urban and rural Native communities, and other spaces for Indigenous identity that don’t fall under the U.S. government’s recognition. Astonishingly, she estimates she has photographed close to 1,000 different tribal communities.
In a respectful way, Matika has been welcomed into one tribal community after another because they not only support her project whole-heartedly, but also because they desire to see things change. From media coverage to Google Images search results to what’s written in history books, Native Americans deserve an accurate portrayal of their vibrant, color-filled imagery and oral histories that have been passed down for generations.
Conversations about tribal sovereignty, self-determination, holistic wellness, historical trauma, decolonization of the mind, and revitalization of culture accompany the vast collection of photographs, videos, and audio recordings Matika has diligently collected. This creative, consciousness-shifting work will be widely distributed through national curricula, artistic publications, exhibitions, and online portals.
Melding powerful storytelling with video, photography and song, Matika expanded on her experiences photographing Native American women across the hundreds of sovereign nations she has visited for nearly a decade during her special guest appearance at the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham. Her captivating June 3rd presentation was at a social distanced max capacity. Upon concluding the audience showed their respect for the evening’s eye-opening and heartwarming cultural exchange with a loud standing ovation.
“So far I’ve had the opportunity to share my journey with audiences at museums, universities, conferences, and galleries across the United States,” stated Matika. “I strive to share stories and photographs of contemporary Indigenous people as the positive role models I know them to be.
“The most amazing part of the journey has been the generosity, kindness, and knowledge that Native people have offered me. I have met activists, educators, culture-bearers, artists, and students. The topics of their stories vary – from tribal sovereignty and self-determination, to recovery from historical trauma and revitalization of culture. They have transformed and inspired me, and I want to do my part to share their stories.”
Here are just a few of those riveting stories accompanied by stunning photos that were shared during Matika’s Mount Baker Theatre presentation – Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women.
Ducati’s, Harley’s and Suzuki’s revved to life on the morning of May 30. They zoomed out of the parking lot of the Tulalip Justice Center, getting set in formation behind a cohort of Tulalip Police Department (TPD) Fish and Wildlife pickup trucks, leading a giant trailer which featured the photos of 338 police officers who died in the line of duty over the past year. A warm, loving bright smile, that many Tulalip community members knew so well, and will continue to fondly reminisce of, can be spotted on the trailer, on the passenger side near the front.
A community still hurting, many Tulalip tribal members and citizens were amongst the procession of about 100 motorcycles, ATVs, police vehicles, cars, trucks and vans, rallying behind the family of Fallen TPD Officer, Charlie Cortez. It’s been over a-half-a-year since the tragic accident occurred on local waters, which claimed Charlie’s life at the young age of 29. As Charlie’s remains still have yet to be recovered, organizations and multiple police departments have reached out to his family, offering support and ensuring his legacy lives on for years to come. In the past few months, Charlie’s name has been read aloud during roll call at virtual memorial tributes and etched into marble memorial walls. Charlie recently received a posthumous award, a medal of honor for his sacrifice to his people and community.
With everyone in position the motorcade was off. Sirens wailing and headlights flashing, the vehicular ensemble traveled the length of the reservation from the court house to the marina, receiving support from commuters along the way who honked, waved and pulled to the side of the road during the honoring parade.
The moving tribute to Officer Cortez is a project that spans across the Nation called End of Watch – A Ride to Remember, arranged by a non-profit known as Beyond the Call of Duty. The organization has one sole mission; to honor the legacy of all the fallen police officers throughout the country. Tulalip was just the second stop on an 84-day, 22,500-mile journey around the U.S.
“This is our second year, we have six motorcycles and we plan on keeping it going,” said Beyond the Call of Duty Founder, Jagrut ‘J.C.’ Shah. “It was something I was thinking about for a number of years, and it’s something that should be done as far as letting the Nation know versus just the state or local city. I wanted all the departments to know that we’re all together in the same boat. I wanted the survivors to know that they aren’t alone. That’s really been our mission since last year and we’re seeing it today. We we’re able to bring a survivor from 2019 to talk to the Cortez’s. He lost his son; it is difficult, but they speak the same language because we can’t express that hurt, that loss.”
Upon arriving at the marina, a number of local leaders spoke about the Tulalip hero, about how he gave his life defending his Tribe’s treaty rights as both a Fish & Wildlife officer as well as a tribal hunter and fisherman.
“Charlie was a peacemaker, he was a loving, wonderful young man who came to work to do his duty always with a smile,” recalled TPD Chief of Police, Chris Sutter. “Charlie laid down his life for his tribe, protected treaty rights that were negotiated 150 years ago to preserve a way of life and a culture. He was out doing his duty as a fish and wildlife officer for the Tulalip Police Department and was taken in the line of duty. Charlie Joe Cortez will always be a hero in our community. Always remembered and never forgotten. We love you, we love the family.”
Said Tulalip Vice-Chairman Glen Gobin, “Charlie became a part of each and every one of you in his walk. When Charlie lost his life that day in the line of active duty, he gave it all doing what he signed up to do, with the greatest honor and respect that he had for what he believed in when he put that badge on, what he stood for – to stand up and serve his community, his people. Charlie’s birthday was yesterday, he would’ve been 30 years old today. Forever 29 in our hearts, forever 29 in our memories. In whatever way you walked in his life, whatever you shared in his life, you carry that with you.”
Charlie’s parents, Paula and Alan Cortez also spoke, thanking those in attendance for their continued support.
“Seeing you guys all ride in and watching the Beyond the Call of Duty memorial come in was an amazing feeling that is helping us heal,” expressed Paula while fighting back tears. “We still have yet to have our son’s service. We’ve been active as parents to let the media know that we will not give up. We have had people volunteer. Our police department, while they’re working on other fishery related matters out on the water they are keeping their eyes open. We have had people contact us who raced with him while he was in motocross and they are wanting to help, they are divers and have sonar equipment and they want to be here for us. I want to thank all the agencies that came that night on November 17, 2020, my hands go up to you, you were out there that night, the next night and beyond. I want to extend the deepest gratitude for the honor that you are giving to not only my son, but to my family, his children, our community members and the police department he served.”
Alan then took a moment to gift a hand drum to J.C., which he made from elk hide that both he and Charlie harvested together. The ceremony ended with a song and blessing from a group of Tulalip singers, many of whom rode along in the convoy; some on their ATVs and in their everyday vehicles, some a part of the Tulalip motorcycle club, the Sacred Riders, who escorted the procession throughout Tulalip.
A belated BBQ birthday celebration was planned to coincide with the End of Watch ceremony, as May 29th would’ve been Charlie’s 30th trip around the sun. While TPD officers worked the grill, the people wrote personal and heartfelt messages to Charlie on a large End of Watch banner, and took photos next to his picture on the memorial wall.
The Cortez family is determined to bring Charlie home and they believe that his return can bring some much-needed peace, healing and a closure to the Tribe, the law enforcement community and most importantly Charlie’s loved ones.
Thank you for keeping Charlie’s family and the Tulalip Police Department in your prayers. As always, please send any potential evidence, information or your own informal searches to us by texting 360-926-5059, or emailing email@example.com, or leaving a voicemail at (909) 294-6356.
To keep up with the traveling memorial wall as it journeys across America, please visit the Beyond the Call of Duty Facebook page for nightly video recaps and photos of each of their stops.
A large crowd of community members welcomed the Red Road to D.C. story pole journey during its Tulalip visit on May 17th. Designed with Indigenous precision by Lummi Nation’s House of Tears carvers, the 400-year-old western red cedar lay front and center while embodying an unwavering message to protect the sacred.
“We are all coming together, like figures in a story pole, to produce an end vision – the protection of Native American sacred sites,” explained head carver and Lummi activist, Jewell ‘Praying Wolf’ James. “Native America has endured hundreds of years of oppression, yet our spiritual practices and beliefs have not been exterminated. We are still connected to Mother Earth spiritually, and our sacred sites are extremely essential to our native belief systems.
“Working on story poles opens up a path to the spirit,” he continued. “It is my hope that this pole will transmit that spirit to Washington D.C. and allow the Biden Administration to follow through on their treaty obligations. Many of us believe that the United States owes it to us to listen. They entered into a sacred relationship with us, some people call it a treaty. But they use their voices to promise. To us, when you use your voice, it takes the sacred wind and the Great Spirit gives you the energy to talk. Your verbal commitment is one of spiritual significance to Native Americans. We hope by bringing this story pole to Washington, D.C., we’ll also awaken the sacred commitment the United States has to Native American Nations.”
It took over two months and fourteen pairs of hands working in synch to transform the nearly two ton, old-growth cedar log into a symbol of our collective ancestral responsibility to protect sacred lands, waters, and wildlife for generations to come. At twenty-four feet, eight inches tall and three feet wide, it tells a story of connectedness and asks for accountability by the humans who call this planet home. Skillfully etched in the pole are a moon, a diving eagle, two Chinook salmon, a sea bear, a sea wolf, a grandmother with her grand-daughter, and a number of spiritually strengthening elements chiseled throughout.
Featured on the pole are seven tears to represent the seven generations of trauma passed on from colonialism. Also included is an image of a child in jail in reference to the U.S. – Mexico border issues and the bloodline relationship of immigrants seeking entry to the country whose lands they once occupied. No to be overlooked are the numerous blood red hands from top to bottom that symbolize the silenced voices of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“Many grandmothers are raising their granddaughter as their daughter because the mother is missing in action,” said Jewell. “Either she got abused by a husband and ran and disappeared for her own safety or she got caught up into drugs, or she’s missing and murdered. It’s a nationwide crisis. We like to dream that we have a perfect relationship, but the fact is the United States, the State of Washington, all our tribes, the counties and cities, everybody has to enact laws to tell the men: ‘Quit beating the women! Leave the women alone. Stop it or we’ll imprison you.’ It’s sad that we have to have the law tell us it’s wrong. It’s a reflection of our attitude, and the way we treat the female in the family is how we treat the Earth. The scars are permanent.”
Mother Earth is covered with scars. Her air is polluted by the burning of fossil fuels, oceans filled with industrial waste, forests replaced by concrete jungles, and arctic shelf continuing to melt away because of global warming. What’s happening is a result of a perspective that sees everything as a resource to be exploited. Its killing Mother Earth and threatening life across the planet. Life, whether it be aquatic, avian or land based is suffering. Mother Earth’s creatures are dying of sickness because her life giving air and water are being poisoned.
“We look at our children and our heart aches because how do we stop the devastation of what’s happening to our mother? What are we going to leave our children when we’re dust? What kind of lifestyle are we leaving them to inherent?” pondered Lummi master carver Douglas James to the intently listening crowd. “We’re reaching out and asking for all to come together with one heart and one mind because it’s for the children and their future children that we need to be accountable. We must stand up for them now, like our ancestors once stood up for us. Or else our children can look forward to only being able to breathe fresh air through an oxygen tank and drink clear water from a plastic bottle.”
The House of Tears carvers hope to bring a moment of self-reflection across the United States and an acknowledgement of past and present injustices inflicted on Native peoples and lands without consent, as they plan to journey 16,000 miles to share the messages within their story pole. Their cross-country trip is only just beginning as they intend to visit all federally recognized tribes in Washington State before going down the Pacific coast.
They will make stops at several locations that are considered sacred to local tribes and Indigenous peoples, and are current or potential targets for dams, mining, drilling, or oil pipelines. At each stop, they will display their story pole especially created to honor these sacred sites. They will meet with local tribes and residents to underscore the message that tribes must give their consent before major infrastructure projects are approved.
“This is a spiritual gift being shared with the people, all the tribes throughout the U.S.,” said Tulalip elder Inez Bill. “I’d like to thank the carvers for including us and acknowledge our Tulalip elders who came here today to represent our people in this historical occasion. This pole serves as an example of what we can do when we unite our hearts and minds in thanks for the blessings we’ve been given. It is a blessing to be stewards of this land. The natural environment is where our spirituality and traditions come from. Our ancestors thought about their future generations and fought to have their usual and accustomed areas accounted for in the treaties. We need to honor and respect our ancestors by taking care of these areas. The way of life of our people depends on the teachings and values that were laid out for us. It is our responsibility to carry them forward.”
Red Road to D.C. journey stops will include sacred sites such as Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; Chaco Canyon, Navajo Reservation in New Mexico; and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Planned visits also include locations where Native-led oil pipeline protests made national headlines, like the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota before finally arriving in Washington, DC on July 28, where the pole will be delivered to the Biden-Harris Administration. Concluding the Red Road to D.C. journey, the story pole will be enshrined as a featured monument in the Smithsonian National Museum.
The story pole journey is a project that makes visible the struggle for life. It brings awareness to the connectedness of all Mother Earth’s people and our shared history. It ties together communities who are living on the front line of the environmental emergency. It makes the commonality of their suffering visible and strengthens the bonds of solidarity between them.
As the pole travels it draws lines of connection honoring, uniting and empowering communities working to protect sacred sites. It carries the spirit of the lands it visits, and the hopes and prayers of communities along the way. As the pole travels from place to place and comes into contact with more and more people, it grows more powerful. People who touch it give it power, and it in turn gives power to them.
“This gathering was so special because we honored a story pole that will be traveling to D.C. to be presented to the White House. I’m thankful we were able to share our welcoming song and bless the pole in our own traditional way, with youth and elders as witnesses,” reflected Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “This pole recognizes our relationships we’ve created with the federal government and the many broken promises we’re trying to have corrected, to make things better for our people.
“As tribes, we have been fighting much of the same fights since treaty times, and we’ve shown over and over again that when we come together we are strong,” she added. “Being able to have our people touch the pole and put their prayers into it, knowing that tribal members from all across Indian Country will do the same, is extremely powerful. It lets us know that we are in this fight together. We are fighting for our environment. We are fighting for our treaty rights. We are fighting for our future generations.”
To follow the pole’s journey and see a list of tour stops visit www.redroadtodc.org Events will be live-streamed via the group’s public Facebook page – Our Shared Responsibility: A Totem Pole Journey.