When tragedy struck, Washington state boy found healing in a canoe

Hamilton Seymour, 15, of Bellingham, Wash., introduced first lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2015.ROB HOTAKAINEN — McClatchy

Hamilton Seymour, 15, of Bellingham, Wash., introduced first lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2015.
ROB HOTAKAINEN — McClatchy

 

BY ROB HOTAKAINEN, News Tribune

 

WASHINGTON — After losing his father to suicide in 2012, teenager Hamilton Seymour said he wanted to find something positive in his life: He found healing by paddling his canoe.

“It’s my personal outlet,” said Seymour, a 15-year-old member of the  Nooksack Indian Tribe from Bellingham, Wash. “It’s where I can get away, even if I’m with people.”

Convinced that exercise is “a stress reliever” and the key to improving mental health, Seymour now is pushing other members of his tribe to deal with grief and celebrate their culture by carving canoes and singing traditional Native songs as they paddle their way to fitness. His efforts are gaining attention.

After Seymour won a national award earlier this year from the  Center for Native American Youth, he found the spotlight on Thursday at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering, when he was picked to introduce  first lady Michelle Obama before her speech to the group.

“It was just surreal,” said Seymour.

 

 

 

An official in the first lady’s office said Seymour was chosen because his story served as a “source of inspiration” for other Indian youths. But Seymour speculated that there was another reason.

“I’ve been told they did a background check and they looked at our social media,” he said. “And I luckily only have Facebook and I don’t post anything vulgar, inappropriate or like just stupid stuff people post these days.”

Seymour was one of five Indian youths from across the nation cited as a 2015 “champion for change” by the Center for Native American Youth, an award that recognizes youths who are making a difference in their communities. Center officials noted that while most adults are uncomfortable talking about such issues as sexual abuse and suicide, Indian youth leaders are tackling the issues head on.

Seymour, whose parents divorced when he was 6 years old, said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of his father’s suicide. But he said the act of violence leaves survivors suffering.

Growing up, he said, he has learned that “you only get out of this world what you put in,” but he said he doesn’t want to judge others who struggle. He said many Indian kids are growing up in homes where parents are fighting and the children aren’t getting enough sleep or food.

“High school’s tricky,” he said. “You never really know what someone’s going through.”

 

Seymour said his application for the award focused on keeping culture alive through traditional sports. As part of his project, he has lined up 11 other teens to help him paddle canoes in races.

“What paddling is doing for us is getting us stronger – obviously physically, but also mentally, spiritually and emotionally,” he said. “It’s just beautiful.”

Seymour said paddling comes naturally to him, with the tradition strong on both sides of his family.

He said his father, a Canadian Indian who was in his early 30s when he committed suicide, was a champion paddler.

“He was a phenomenal man, and I’d like to carry out his name and his spirit through paddling. . . . I feel like paddling is only one of the few things that I have left of him,” Seymour said.

Some of Seymour’s friends from Bellingham, who are also in the nation’s capital this week as part of various tribal youth events, said Seymour has come a long way.

“I’ve known Hammi my whole life – he’s our baby,” said Sarah Scott, 21, a mentor for the Lummi Nation’s tribal youth recreation program. “In the last year, he’s just blossomed into this natural leader on a national platform, and to me that is just so inspiring.”

 

William Lucero, 18, another member of the Lummi Nation, said it was remarkable to watch Seymour get a hug from the first lady.

“I was jealous,” he said. “It’s so cool.”

Seymour, who will be a junior at Mount Baker High School in Deming, Wash., this fall, said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” to share the stage with Michelle Obama.

“I didn’t know she was that tall,” he said.

When an announcer called his name, saying it was time to introduce the first lady of the United States, Seymour said he temporarily lost his breath.

“I took one step and I felt all the oxygen just leave my body,” he said. “I got told to take three deep breaths. I did that, but my heart was pumping. It was just so great.”

Seymour figures his life is looking pretty bright, too.

“I can’t tell the future, but I’m really hoping, and I really feel like it’s going to be great,” he said.

 

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/07/10/3910390_when-tragedy-struck-washington.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Cherokee Teen Will Carry Torch at Special Olympics

Courtesy Amy ByrdSway-Anne Byrd, Cherokee, is a 14-year-old competitor in the Special Olympics.

Courtesy Amy Byrd
Sway-Anne Byrd, Cherokee, is a 14-year-old competitor in the Special Olympics.

Sam Laskaris, Indian Country Today

For the third consecutive year, Sway-Anne Byrd will compete in the Area Special Olympic Games in her hometown. But for the 14-year-old Cherokee girl, who lives in Havre, Montana, this year’s games will have some added significance. That’s because the teenager, who was born with Down syndrome, will carry the torch during the opening ceremonies of the Games, which will be staged on Wednesday.

The opening ceremonies will feature Byrd running a lap of the school’s track with the ceremonial lit torch. Besides carrying the torch, Byrd will also be leading all of the other participants in the games as they too will follow her and run a lap as well. “I’ve only seen adults carry the torch,” Byrd’s mother Amy told ICTMN. “Since she’s only 14, this is pretty cool.”

The coaches of athletes participating in the games as well as some of the volunteers choose one athlete to be the torchbearer at the opening ceremonies. Officials contacted the family a few weeks ago to see if Sway-Anne would be interested in the position. Byrd’s family considers it a huge honor that Sway-Anne was chosen to have a key role in the Games’ opening ceremonies. “It’s like if you were playing football or if you were playing basketball and you win an award,” Amy Byrd said of her daughter’s torchbearer selection. “This is at that level for her.”

 

Sway-Anne Byrd (Courtesy Amy Byrd)
Sway-Anne Byrd (Courtesy Amy Byrd)

 

And the excitement is building as the games approach. Byrd’s mother said her daughter was rather elated on Monday night as she practiced for her lap with the torch. “She was jumping up and down,” she said. “She was so excited.”

The Area Special Olympic Games are held each year in Havre. Should they choose to do so, participants can also take part in the annual Montana Special Olympics. At the state level in Montana there are annual summer and winter Special Olympics. “We haven’t gone to the state games as of yet,” Amy said. “She’s very independent, but it’s a very large atmosphere there. I don’t think she’s quite ready for that yet.”

As she did a year ago, Byrd will participate in four track and field events at Wednesday’s games. She will run in the girls’ 50-metre and 100-metre races in her age group. And she will also take part in the standing long jump event and the softball throw (the shot put equivalent for Special Olympians). At the 2014 games, Byrd captured gold medals in her 50-metre race and standing long jump. And she won silver and bronze medals in her 100-metre and softball throw events, respectively.

“She really enjoys it,” said Byrd’s mother.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/04/28/cherokee-teen-will-carry-torch-special-olympics-160170