Indigenous craftsmanship from across the Northwest Coast

Frog Feast Bowl, 1997. 
Blown glass. Preston Singletary (Tlingit).
Singletary worked at Pilchuck Glass School, an international center for glass art education, for thirteen years where he studied with Dale Chihuly. His work is renowned for incorporating Northwest Coast design into the non-traditional medium of glass, synthesizing his Tlingit cultural heritage, modern art, and glass into a unique blend all his own.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Killer Whale, 2003. 
Fused and sand carved glass. Preston Singletary (Tlingit).
Growing up in west coast cities and trained in European glass techniques and practice, Singletary began incorporating Native iconography into his work in 1987, explaining: “I found a source of strength and power in Tlingit designs that brought me back to my family, society, and cultural roots.” In this, his first monumental work, the artist studied the house screen and fused his clan’s Killer Whale crest into sixteen panels. Thus recharging an ancient tradition and bringing the past forward.

Traditional teachings spanning countless generations and highly detailed craftsmanship are imbedded within the foundation of Native American artwork. These fundamental aspects continue today much as they did thousands of years ago, even as today’s Native artists continue to evolve in response to social changes, new markets, and a desire for unique, personal expression. 

The resurgence of canoe carving teaches youth how to strengthen body and spirt by working together, while increasing importance on tribal food sovereignty assists healers combat modern diseases in a traditional way. Like so many aspects of their vibrant culture, Native artists have an important dual role of simultaneously creating works for their family and community celebrations, but also for public consumption via private sales, art galleries and educational displays.

Think of how far Indigenous representation in the greater Seattle area has come in just the last several decades. Thirty years ago, you couldn’t find a map using the term ‘Salish Sea’ for the Puget Sound region. Present day, the term ‘Salish’ is a part of local vernacular and commonly understood as describing tribal culture spanning the Northwest Coast. 

Through the efforts of many, a vision of authentically produced flowing formline to represent its homelands has come to fruition. The characteristic sweeping lines and subtle patterns of Salish art is now recognizable and emblematic of the Northwest Coast, as it was always meant to be.

Canoe Breaker: Southeast Wind’s Brother, 2010. 
Acrylic on canvas. Robert Davidson (Haida).
According to Haida oral traditions, Canoe Breaker is one of ten brothers of Southeast Wind, who is responsible for the turbulent weather on Haida Gwaii. “In the form of a killer whale, the white ovoid actually separates the lower teeth from the upper teeth in the mouth. And the top shape would be the tail and this U-shape could be the pectoral fin and dorsal fin. When we see the killer whale in their world, we being to understand them, so that’s why human attributes are often mixed in with what they look like.”

We bring you now a collection of Indigenous artistry that evokes traditional ties to the land and sea, while showcasing innovation and a look to the future. Today’s artists aren’t afraid to push boundaries nor experiment with non-traditional materials. Instead, they welcome the challenge to display the beauty of Salish culture across all mediums. 

Eagle and Salmon, 2007. 
Deer hide, acrylic paint. Manuel Salazar (Cowichan).
Thunderbird mask and regalia, 2006
Wood, paint, feathers, rabbit fur, cloth. Calvin Hunt (Kwagu’l).
“In our culture, we believe the animals and the birds can take off their cloaks and transform into human beings.” Spectacular, articulated dance masks are the specialty of Indigenous artists who craft the elaborate regalia worn in the dance-dramas depicting mythic events and deeds of ancestors. They transport the viewer to a time when spirits and humans interacted, as represented by this mask, in which the Thunderbird transforms into a human.
Breakfast Series, 2006. 
Five boxes digitally printed on Fome-cor. Sonny Assu (Southern Kwakwaka’wakw). 
Breakfast Series appropriates the form of the familiar cereal box and decorates its surfaces with commentary on highly-charged issues for Indigenous people – such as the environment, treaty rights and land claims. The pop art-inspired graphics on the five boxes in the series contain recognizable imagery, but upon closer inspection we see that Tony the Tiger is composed of formline design elements, the box of Lucky Beads includes a free plot of land in every box, and contains “12 essential lies and deceptions.” The lighthearted presentation, upon further investigation, exposes serious social issues.

Problem Gambling Awareness Community Gathering happening March 6, via Zoom

Tulalip Youth Council offer words of encouragement to a large crowd at a 2019 Problem Gambling community gathering, pre Covid-19.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Come one, come all to a special virtual gathering on the evening of March 6. The Tulalip Tribes Problem Gambling Program is known throughout the community for hosting events that are jam-packed with fun and good times, including the popular Problem Gambling Awareness Community Gathering. Current COVID-19 precautions limit in-person gatherings, but don’t fret because the program is taking their event to Zoom this year, offering you a chance to enjoy a Saturday night live stream with friends, as well as with the recovery community, from the comfort of your home.  The event will feature  a comedy show, traditional song and drum and special words from the Tulalip Youth Council.

“We canceled this event last year, we had it scheduled, everything was planned and contracts were out,” explained Problem Gambling Program Coordinator, Sarah Sense-Wilson. “But at that time, the state was coming down with restrictions and mandated-quarantines, the ban on travel – and our presenter would’ve been coming from New Mexico.”

The tribe has adapted in many ways since the first wave of the virus struck and now apps like Zoom are a necessity that people utilize in their everyday lives. And thanks to Zoom, Problem Gambling has coordinated a get-together where people can relate, find assistance, hear from various perspectives and learn more in general about gambling addiction with one another. 

Sarah said, “This year we basically duplicated everything we had planned for last year, we have the same keynote speaker, the same master of ceremony, Terrance [Sabbas] and the big drum. And our Tulalip Youth Council will be offering an opening song and will also share from a youth perspective how problem gambling impacts their lives, sharing words of encouragement and expressions of their own experiences. I look forward to having our youth representatives involved and participating.”

Normally, the Problem Gambling Community Gathering is hosted at Hibulb Cultural Center where family and friends get a chance to intermingle and share a meal. During the open-mic portion of the event, people shed tears together during special, vulnerable moments. Hugs are exchanged when people display bravery and share their personal stories about their struggle with addiction to gambling and how they cope on an everyday basis while on the road to recovery. Sarah knows that that in-person interaction is an important aspect of the healing journey and hopes to host those types of gatherings again in the near future. 

“I know a lot of people will miss the gathering,” she said. “We’re doing our best to make the COVID accommodations and keep the spirit and people’s morale up during COVID times. It seems to me that we’re entering another phase of doldrum COVID depression, so this event will be an uplifting, good experience. Something people will enjoy and gain knowledge about where to go for help, if they have follow-up questions or concerns, and know that we’re here and we’re a free service. We’re still doing treatment, consultations and services.”

She continued, “A big part of recovery is about fellowship and building on that recovery support system, having a network of people who you can draw on for strength, hope, inspiration and support. Meeting virtually for a lot of people is helpful, but it doesn’t really replace the same feel for when you’re in-person. There’s been a lot more relapse and people gambling. Whether that’s online gambling or gaming or other forms of gambling, there has been an increase since COVID and its been harder for people to really grab ahold of recovery.”

For the past several years, the Problem Gambling program has actively taken part in a countrywide initiative known as Problem Gambling Awareness Month by hosting local events and providing support and resources to those in need. The campaign originally began over fifteen years ago in response to the amount of sports betting surrounding the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament. Since Tulalip’s involvement in the awareness month, recovering gambling addicts who live at Tulalip, or in nearby vicinities, have found a sense of community in others who they can relate to and confide in during their recovery journey.

“The reason why the National Council on Problem Gambling established March as Problem Gambling Awareness month is because historically March Madness sports betting has been the most significant gambling activity of most United States citizens,” said Sarah. “Sports betting is acceptable and prevalent and pervasive for the month of March. So, they chose March as an opportunity to raise awareness – looking at the warning signs, looking at what problem gambling is, what are the consequences, who’s at risk. Our motivation is to continue to provide education, continue to be a visible source for those who really want to address it and take a deeper look at maybe their loved ones, maybe their relatives and maybe themselves.” 

As a people, Native Americans are at the highest risk of developing a gambling habit. According to a 2019 study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol and Related Conditions, 2.3% of the entire Indigenous population are battling gambling addiction, one of the highest percentages in the nation. And as Sarah mentioned, the percentage is expected to grow even higher during the era of COVID-19.

“There’s still a lot of stigma around this particular addiction. Gambling disorder is a disease, it is an addiction,” she expressed. “There’s still huge denial. Throughout Indian Country and mainstream as well, we’re still way far behind in accepting, acknowledging and supporting people to get help. It’s a hidden illness. This disease feeds off of money, it fuels it. We don’t brag about our debt. It’s sort of a shame thing and it’s looked at like you don’t know how to budget or manage life. It becomes a real shameful secret that people attempt to hide. Meanwhile, they’re trying to recover their money by gambling. The more you gamble, the more you lose. It becomes a very vicious, destructive cycle of trying win back what was lost.” 

With recent feedback from three separate recovery-focused Zoom events hosted by Problem Gambling, Sarah is confident the upcoming gathering will provide you and yours with an entertaining, informative and healing experience. 

“Our entertainment is Adrianne Chalepha,” she excitedly stated. “Adrianne is an actress/comedian who was raised in Kiowa/Comanche/Apache territory in Oklahoma. Before COVID she did tours with other female comedians. She opened for former first lady Michelle Obama. Adrianne caught our eye when we were thinking about sticking with the theme of featuring a comedian. As Native people, we love to laugh, we love to enjoy good humor and laugh at ourselves. 

“We also have a person in the gambling recovery community who will be sharing her story, her name is Tessa and she is a Tulalip tribal member. She will be sharing her recovery story that will inspire and motivate and hopefully destigmatize recovery from gambling. Swil Kanim is the master of ceremony. He is a Lummi tribal member and a professional violinist. Our main objective is for people to have a good time, escape, laugh, have fun, all while learning a little bit about problem gambling.”

The two-hour virtual event is happening 6:00 p.m.– 8:00 p.m. on March 6th. If you wish to join in on the fun, the Zoom ID for the community gathering is 313 507 8314. For additional information, please contact the Tulalip Problem Gambling Program at (360) 716-4304 or visit and like the new Tulalip Tribes Problem Gambling Program Facebook page. 

Said Sarah, “We’re here. People can always call us if they have any questions or if they want to learn something specific. We welcome them to the Problem Gambling Awareness Community Gathering, it’s family friendly. We are very hopeful that our people will enjoy the event, have a good time together.”

Community-led cleanup crew removes over 2,000 pounds of litter from Tulalip streets

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“The motivation is to bring our Tribe and community together for unity, while creating necessary awareness for a safe and clean environment,” shared Josh Fryberg as he walked along the embankment of a popular Tulalip road searching for litter. “Keeping our land beautiful benefits our youth, elders and greater community. It is up to each of us, as individuals, to have a safe environment, not only for us here today but for future generations as well. We are the land protectors.”

These words resonated with an estimated forty Tulalip residents who volunteered several hours out of their Sunday afternoon to help beautify a 2-mile stretch of Turk Drive. One of the most commuted roads on the Tulalip Reservation because of its accessibility to the Mission Highlands neighborhood, it’s also become a common spot to dump trash or casually toss out litter from passing vehicles.

Brothers Josh Fryberg and Rocky Harrison reside with their families near the end of Turk Drive and see the littered area on a daily basis. They decided to do something about it by coordinating a community cleanup. Calling on local residents who want to see a pristine Tulalip and any other volunteers who are eco-conscious, the brothers organized their first neighborhood cleanup on February 21.

“It’s time to organize and get the job done,” said Rocky. “I want to see a clean Tulalip. I want to see a brighter future for my children. I come from dirty neighborhoods and even contributed to them in my younger years, but I’m mature enough now to realize the error of my ways and am committed to make positive change for our people.

“It’s time to organize and get the job done,” said Rocky. “I want to see a clean Tulalip. I want to see a brighter future for my children. I come from dirty neighborhoods and even contributed to them in my younger years, but I’m mature enough now to realize the error of my ways and am committed to make positive change for our people.

“This is a good turnout for today’s cleanup, almost forty people taking time out of their weekend, but I hope even more people come together for future cleanups,” he continued. “Together we can raise awareness about the amount of littering that happens on our Rez. Maybe people seeing our efforts as they drive by or on social media will help deter others from littering in the future. We can’t forget the true value of our Tribe isn’t money or businesses, our real wealth is our homeland and the strength of our people.”

A community cleanup brings reservation neighbors together to clean and improve public spaces that have been neglected and misused. Members of the Tulalip Youth Council helped restore the naturally green conditions alongside Turk Drive that had become plagued with trash of all sorts. Working with members of Sacred Riders motorcycle club, youth and adults worked side by side to remove litter by the bag load.

Cleanups show that people who use an area care about its appearance. According to the Department of Justice, crime is less likely to occur when a neighborhood is clean and used frequently by residents and their friends. By reclaiming residential areas, eliminating debris from vacant areas and roadsides, or sprucing up public spaces along the street, Tulalip citizens can make the reservation less attractive to criminals and more attractive to the community, which makes everyone safer. 

Promoting safety in all its forms is a priority for both Tulalip Bay Fire and Tulalip Police departments. United by a shared vision with the very community they protect, six of Tulalip’s first responders joined the volunteer cleanup crew. Several tribal members rejoiced at the fact they could count on Tulalip’s firefighters and police to participate in events that really benefit the community.

“It means a lot being able to participate in today’s cleanup,” said firefighter Ava Schweiger. “We love getting out into the community and support local events that make the area safer for everyone. I really enjoy being out with the community because everyone is so nice and thankful for what we do.”

“Tulalip has always done such a good job of making us feel appreciated, so any chance we have to give back and pay forward that mutual respect we’ll take advantage of, “ added firefighter John Carlson, 5-year veteran of Tulalip Bay. “We take a lot of pride in where we work. Tulalip is a beautiful place and is definitely worth the time to make sure it’s natural surroundings are clean and litter-free.”

Litter is more than just an eyesore on Tulalip’s landscape. Litter is costly to clean up, and it negatively impacts quality of life and economic development. Most of all, it has damaging environment impacts. Considering how the ocean waters border Tulalip, it’s an awful reality that local litter eventually ends up in our waterways and contaminates the ocean. 

“A lot of teachings were carried down by our ancestors that tell us we need to protect the earth Creator gave to us. That’s our responsibility,” reflected 14-year-old Image Enick. “For us to carry on those teachings and take care of Mother Earth means picking up garbage when we see it and not disrespecting the land by littering.”

After several hours working tirelessly on a Sunday afternoon to clean up their community, the forty volunteers had collected just over 2,000 pounds of trash. That’s nearly one metric ton!

“Today we are grateful for unity and being able to work together,” said Josh at the cleanup’s conclusion. “We are looking forward to many more cleanups in the months to come.

Our goal is to have a different cleanup site every two-weeks and work on passing a no littering ordinance, along with having signs put up. It will take all of us to create a bright future for our current and future generations. Together we can make this happen.”

The next community cleanup is planned for Sunday, March 7 at 11:30am. Meeting location will be outside Tulalip Data Services, across the street from Tulalip Bingo. Cleanup site will be 27th Avenue, locally referred to as ‘the Quil’. All environmentally conscious individuals are invited to participate. High visibility vests, garbage bags, latex gloves, hand sanitizer, and garbage picks will be provided.

For more information please contact co-coordinators Josh Fryberg at 206-665-5780 or Rocky Harrison at 360-454-6946.

Heartwork: Donna Chambers rekindles love for Native tradition

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“I bead pretty much every day,” said Tulalip tribal member, Donna Chambers. “I really want good energy to go out to the people through the gifts I make. I don’t make anything sad, mad or upset. I do everything with good spirit in my heart and I just go by what my heart says to do.”

Sometimes life gives you a sneak peek into your future when you find something you absolutely love, care for and are deeply passionate about. For some it’s sewing, drawing, carving, singing, dancing, photography – you name it. You know instantly when your passion finds you. And it matters little if you practice every day from that point on or if you acknowledge that connection and agree to revisit it later on in life. When your soul and your life’s passion align, that bond cannot be broken, not even by the hands of time, especially when your culture has significant ties to your calling. 

This was something Donna knew when she fell in love with her passion at the age of 18. When she picked up a thread and needle to bead her first pair of earrings, she couldn’t tear herself away from her newfound traditional hobby for months on end. She also knew it when she no longer had enough time in her day to continue her practice while raising a young family and working a full-time job. When she set down her beads only one year later, she knew it was temporary and that she would return to her art one day in the future. Over thirty years later, after living a fulfilled life, watching her kids grow up and caring for her parents until they transitioned to their next journey, Donna’s passion found its way back into her life and has brought her endless joy and good vibes, which she in turn cycles back into her artwork and therefore, into the Tulalip community. 

“I originally started when I was young just to get involved with our culture, to try to get in-tune with my heritage,” she said. “I didn’t live here on the reservation during my childhood. I was born and raised in Oregon, so I pretty much lived away from the area until I was about the age of 12 when I moved back here. At the beginning, I did bead a lot and made a few things for myself like my dangly earrings, just learning the basics. I was beading before my kids were born and I put it away because I was busy with the kids and the family all the time. I decided to pick it back up after I lost my mom and dad. I’ve been going for about three years now and I’m now 56.” 

Donna’s kids knew little about her passion and her heart’s desire to bead. In fact, her daughter, Alicia Budd, is the person who reintroduced her back into the world of beading. According to Donna, Alicia attended a beading-circle over a long weekend, returned home and immediately told her mom ‘you should learn how to bead, this would be really good for you’. 

“I like to do things with my hands, I also like to crotchet,” Donna expressed. “I’ve made lap blankets for my family and the kids who’ve come into my life, so that they have blankets when they are reading their books or watching TV. My daughter sat down with me and showed me what she learned. She refreshed my brain because I lost it for so many years. I picked it up that day and never set it back down. Now it’s something I look forward to doing every single day.”

Almost as important as the artform itself is the creator’s personal environment, how they set themselves up in order to get into the proverbial ‘zone’ while maximizing production and minimizing distractions. Some artists require certain foods, vices, lighting and people around in order to generate their best work. Donna claims that all she needs is the love of her family and friends, some good tunes (ranging from classic oldies to Hip Hop and R&B, all the way to heavy metal), and her beads. She goes into each project with good intentions and sans game plan, letting her heart freestyle the design and guide her until the work is complete. Her workstation includes her late father’s comfortable chair, her work materials meticulously arranged all around her and of course, a variety of vibrant beads. 

When asked what type of items she creates today she replied, “Oh just about everything! I still occasionally make my dangly earrings, but most of the things I make now are lanyards. Somebody at the clinic saw the lanyards my daughter and I wear and asked where they could get them, so some of the nurses at our health clinic ended up buying a lot of lanyards from me. I make sure to make a lot of them because lanyards are something that people can always use. The other things I make are keychains, earrings, headbands, medallions, bracelets, barrettes, broaches, bolo ties. I made an entire wallet from scratch once. I also made Seahawk medallions for myself and my grandson, JD Rinker, and I made him a full-length tie that he can wear at Youth Council meetings and gatherings where they have to dress up.”

She continued, “I’ve also beaded center pieces for the headbands that some of our youth wear with their regalia during salmon ceremony. And I’ve made bracelets for the guys, I made three of them, one I gave to Louie [Pablo], it had Eddy’s name on it, he was Louie’s brother who passed away. I gifted him one because it felt like it was the right thing to do at the time, something to remember his brother by.”

Several times Donna expressed that she allows her heart to lead when it comes to her art. And my oh my, Donna has quite the big heart. Not only does she bead cool custom pieces for family or bracelets to honor loved ones, Donna also gifts a lot of her work to our local heroes including police officers, judges, firefighters, and the men and women who bravely serve in the US military.  

“My daughter works at the courthouse so I surprised everybody at her work with a gift,” Donna said. “All the judges got something from me, as well as the clerks and the secretaries. I’ve done work for some of the funerals out here, I made their families keychains and necklaces. I also make a lot of pieces for police officers. I made these little medals, shaped like a police badge, and I beaded around them and put them on a necklace. I’ve given about twenty away so far. I just give them to any police officer that I see and feel like that’s the one. I’ve given some to our Tribal police officers and three to Marysville police officers. I usually carry some of my work in my car, so if I do see a police officer, a fireman, or somebody serving in the army or the military, I can offer it to them as a way to thank them for their service and everything they do. I’ve gifted pieces to [TPD] Officer Jeff Jira and just completed something for our Chief of Police.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Donna was presented with the opportunity to focus more on her beadwork. In addition to beading, she also poured her efforts into a new project, creating masks. She explained that after she saw the need for more masks in the community, and the demand for something a little more aesthetically pleasing than the standard surgical mask, she started sewing immediately, creating clothed masks with Native, floral and paisley designs. Whenever she leaves home and is headed to the local grocer, she is sure to grab a handful of masks, which are often distributed to the store’s employees and shoppers before she even checks-off the first item of her shopping list.  

Donna strongly believes that beading is an essential tradition to the Native American culture, noting that it is an artform that is easily identifiable and synonymous with the Indigenous way of life and teachings. The relationship between Indigenous people and beadwork dates back generations prior to colonial times to when our ancestors crafted beads from bone and stone. Beads were worn as a status symbol of wealth and beaded items were featured on traditional regalia, jewelry and artwork. Due to the introduction of glass, metal, crystal and various beads through trade, the colorway and pattern possibilities for Native beadwork holds no bounds. 

Donna is doing her part to keep the tradition going, teaching the future generations of Tulalip all of her tricks of the trade, ensuring the art of beading extends well past her children’s children. Since returning to the bead game, she has shared her knowledge with many Tribal and community members, including Facebook friends, and many of the kids from her neighborhood. Donna also has some future classes with the Tribe in the works and plans to conduct Facebook Live tutorials in order to help aspiring beaders with the fundamentals.  

“I just hope the more I bead, the more kids around me will want to pick it up,” she said. “Sometimes it does show. Louie’s three little kids were over here last summer, watching me bead. They kept saying they wanted to learn how to bead. They were persistent, so I made them each a beading packet with all the tools and showed them how to do it. They sat here for over two hours with me and they picked it up really fast. They each made something that day. When they were done, I told them they couldn’t keep it and they looked at me kind of sad because it was their first piece. I explained that since it was the first thing they ever made, they had to give it away in order to get good vibes back. They decided to gift them to their mom and grandpa so their very first pieces could stay in the family.”

Donna hopes that by sharing her story and her passion for beadwork, she can garner enough attention to reach the representatives of one Ellen DeGeneres, stating “I have an Ellen DeGeneres piece. My dad was really into Ellen, he faithfully watched her show. When he passed, I felt like I needed to bead her name on a medallion. I have not yet been able to gift it to her because I don’t know how to go about giving it to her or getting it there.”

With a new and fully-restored love for beadwork, there is no project that Donna is afraid to tackle. In fact, she is happily welcoming any challenge that comes her way because, as she said, all she needs is her beads and her beats. All of Donna’s work comes with a guarantee, as she tells all of her customers that if anything happens to a piece you purchase from her, she will fix it for free. If you are interested in purchasing any of Donna’s work, please contact her via Facebook for more information. 

“There’re things that I make to sell, but there are a lot of things I make simply because my heart tells me to do it,” Donna said. “I gift them to all types of different people because it feels like something I need to do. But I do enjoy selling items when I can because it does put extra money into my funds so I can continue to bead more. It gives me good energy, that’s why I like to put good energy back into it. It makes you feel good that you’ve accomplished something for the day. All I can say is if you’re interested in beading, try it out, pick it up. I bet you’ll like it because I definitely do.”

Tulalip Transit: Getting you where you need to go

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Need a lift in a pinch? Did your ride bail on you at the last second? Too young for a license but you need transportation to a local Tulalip event or family gathering? Or are you in need of the vaccine but have no wheels to the scene? Tulalip Transit has your back! From 8:50 a.m. to 4:33 p.m., Monday through Friday, you can catch the transit at any one of their various stops throughout the village including the neighborhoods of Silver Village and Mission Highlands as well as at the Admin building and the Tulalip Health Clinic. 

“Tulalip Transit has been operating since January 2011 and we have provided nearly 69,000 rides,” explained Tulalip Transit Supervisor Mary Hargrove.

Celebrating a decades-worth of providing rides to the Tulalip citizenship this year, the Transit department has been an important facet of the Tribe, helping elders, youth, and everyone in-between reach the destination of their choosing around the reservation. 

“The Transit is public transportation, meaning it’s for everybody in the community,” Mary stated. “There’s only one route. It’s primarily in the Tulalip Bay area, and it circulates the main human services; the Administration building, Health Clinic, the Boys & Girls club, the gym, Family Services, beda?chelh.”

After nearly ten years in service, the two transit buses that are known throughout the community, with the blue and white tribal graphics, are getting a well-deserved rest with the introduction of a brand-spanking new bus that is loaded with features to accommodate the needs of the local populous. 

“We have three buses total including the new bus,” Mary stated. “They’re called cutaways, or 12+2’s, seating twelve ambulatory passengers and two wheelchairs. We were trying for about five years for a new bus. When we finally got it, it was ready to be picked up right as we got the stay-at-home order. So, it didn’t actually get delivered to us until August. It took me a good length of time to get all of the protective equipment installed, and we started operating at the end of October.”

She continued, “The new bus features front boarding and seating for wheelchair passengers, destination signs, pull cord stop requests, onboard cameras, StabiliTrak system, Telma transmission retarder, and engine fire suppression system. 80% of the money came from a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) competitive grant opportunity. Everybody that has seen it loves it. Even people who aren’t getting on to ride; people driving about the community have actually stopped the driver to take a look at the bus.”

Lead Transit Operator Darlene Pittman, a driver for Tulalip Transit from the very start, is at the helm of the new bus, navigating the streets of Tulalip while also connecting with her riders on a personal level, learning each person’s first name and their story, upon entry to the bus. Darlene admitted her excitement for the new vehicle, stating the bus’s new toys have already come in handy. 

“I haven’t had a rider that is in a wheelchair yet, but I have had people who are handicapped who needed to use the ramp,” Darlene stated. “The seatbelts strap in and we have these little black bags on the side by the wheelchair spaces, those are wheelchair tie-downs. They tie down at four points, so you don’t put any stress on it or break it if you stop suddenly. Another new feature that we didn’t have before, and I think people will really like, is the bike rack located at the front of the bus. I also have the marquee board up in the front and on the side, it says ‘Tulalip Bay’ and ‘Masks Required’. When I have to go get fuel, it will read ‘Out of Service’ and if there is an emergency on the bus and I don’t want somebody to know I’m calling 9-1-1, I can change the marquee board to flash ‘Emergency, call 9-1-1’.”

Initially, when the pandemic hit, the transit services came to a complete halt. But as months went by and more information was learned about the virus, the department was able to open operations, with a great amount of emphasis on safety for the driver and the rider alike. The Transit department took several precautions and set forth new rules to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. The department also received access to funding through the CARES Act, funding granted to help the Tribe withstand the global outbreak. 

Said Mary, “The buses are equipped with a protective driver shield, sanitation supplies, reduced seating with availability to socially-distance, and we are requiring that masks be worn. All of this is for us to do everything we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19. I would also like to mention that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that if you have COVID-19 to avoid public transportation, ride-sharing or taxis. Our driver is masked, the passengers are required to wear masks, we have signage posted on the bus, we disinfect the bus, and we have masks on board in the event somebody wants to board but doesn’t have a mask.”

Mary explained that the Transit adheres to a strict, set route but the driver is able to deviate from the route up to 3/4 of a mile, depending on the drivers schedule and if proper arrangements are made at least one day in advance. 

“We have a fixed route but we also provide route deviation for registered passengers,” she stated. “We will do deviation upon request. We’re making efforts to provide more personalized services to the community. For instance, we had an elder who was at her friend’s house and she needed to get home. Her friend didn’t want her to walk down to the bus stop. The bus stop was just down the street from where she was, so we picked her up at her friend’s door and took her directly to her home. But like I mentioned, we can only deviate up to 3/4 of a mile off the route.”

The Tulalip Transit is currently running on a reduced schedule due to COVID-19, operating with one driver throughout the business week. The Transit does not offer services on the major holidays, so please keep that in mind when planning your travels.  Please refer to their current schedule and the map provided to determine the closest bus stop in your area. For more information please visit their webpage at TulalipTransit.aspx or dial 360-716-4206.

Darlene reflected, “I’ve been here for eleven years and it’s exciting to see how we grew in everything that we do, and how we can make it better. I’m glad we finally got a new bus. The Tulalip Transit is important because what if you were stuck at home and needed to get to the Tulalip pharmacy but you didn’t drive, how would you get there? We’re here to serve the public and I think we’re hitting it on the mark pretty well. We just want to continue to let people know we’re here and we’d be happy to get them where they need to go.”