A Truth Beyond, Chapter IX: The Giveaway

Nearly four years had passed since Mylo’s death when the federal trial was scheduled to start. Both sides spent much of the spring and summer of 2006 arguing motions to determine how their competing theories about Mylo’s death would be presented that November.

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez, a man with a reputation for being scrupulously fair, blazed a path through the lawyers’ arguments. The judge ruled that lawyers for Mylo’s family would not be able to argue that the city had somehow failed to provide timely medical assistance. Paramedics were at the scene from the outset and went right to work on the teen after he collapsed.

The judge also rejected the city’s contention that the physical force used by officers was above question.

Mylo never attacked police nor threatened them, Martinez reasoned. Instead, the naked, clearly confused young man had approached the first officer on the scene and said he needed a ride.

“At that point (the officer) had the opportunity to invite Mr. Harvey into the back seat of the car, where Mr. Harvey would have been locked inside with no way to get back out, thereby containing him without further force,” the judge wrote.

Mylo’s family decided to prepare for the trial by embracing tribal traditions. On a warm evening in August 2006, Mylo’s grandmother, Donna Cooper, and her children invited tribal members, the lawyers handling Mylo’s case and others to the gym at tribal headquarters.

I was invited too.

Part of the gathering felt like a pep rally, with Mylo’s aunt Nilah Devaney and other speakers talking about the upcoming trial and the fight ahead. Cindy Flynn, one of the family’s lawyers, received a standing ovation when she spoke briefly, promising to do her best.

The rest of the evening was a tribal giveaway. It is Tulalip custom to remember a lost loved one and also show appreciation for assistance during a time of grieving, Nilah explained.

The meal featured sockeye salmon and venison hunted and prepared by tribal members. Elders and young children were served first. Girls in their early teens, dressed up as if for church, moved between the tables, filling glasses with water, bringing desserts and leaning in for hugs from doting relatives.

There was singing and storytelling.

Joe Henry, one of Mylo’s uncles, stood at the front of the room, slowly beating a rawhide drum and singing God’s name. Uncle Joe walks what he and others call the Red Road, embracing the spiritual practices of the Native American Church. For five years in a row, I was told, he pierced his flesh and suspended himself from a tree in the Sun Dance, a rite that transforms pain and suffering into faith and strength. Joe wears his hair in a long braid down his back. He rides a Harley, and dresses in a biker’s leathers. He often can be spotted drumming and singing along the roads in Tulalip. The prayer, he said, is always the same: asking for spiritual assistance in keeping drugs off the reservation.

Mylo was everywhere at the giveaway, in photographs large and small.

He was in the rap song about him performed by his cousins Nick and Chris, buddies from the days when they were the Four Amigos.

He was in the tortured words of his younger brother, James, who stood in front of the room and spoke of the hole in his life that was once occupied by his brother. Nearby was a large photograph of the Four Amigos when they were small: Mylo, James, Nick and Chris.

“This is how it was,” James said. “And this is how it is always going to be.”

Not long after he was done speaking, James began to weep. He sobbed aloud, the grief rising slowly as a tide. Tribal members — old and young, men and women — came to his side. They prayed over him, arms upraised, asking for the healing to come.

When I arrived at the gym, I was greeted at the door by Mylo’s family. An aunt handed me a tiny rose made from twisted cedar bark. It was a symbol of two vital elements in the lives of the first people to call Tulalip home, she said. Love for family and the life-giving cedar tree, useful for shelter, canoes, baskets and clothing.

Donna welcomed me with a smile. She sat for a time, making introductions as family and friends wandered by. As always, there were moments of silence, comfortable now because they were familiar.

Around her neck Donna wore a medicine pouch stitched together from a soft piece of tanned deerskin and a swatch of woolen blanket. Her daughters had made these, she said, just for tonight. The pouch was for carrying the things that give strength. Donna said she’d worn a new medicine pouch that night because it needed to go to somebody. That person was me, she said, placing it around my neck.

Journalists usually don’t accept gifts, but The Herald’s policy also is clear. Culture trumps code; the purpose of having ethics is to do the right thing. I was honored.

Nilah joined us and asked me to follow her. There were some people she wanted me to spend time with.

In a corner of the gym I found Ralph Lowery and his wife, Carol. Rachel Burkheimer’s mom, Denise Webber, also was there.

We all gasped in surprise and joy. I’d met each at a dark time, telling their stories. We were connected by trust and truth, court trials and shared history.

The people who loved Mylo told me in the ways that matter most that they valued me, too.

At one point, they asked me to speak to the gathering. I told them that I planned to tell the truth, and one of those truths was that Mylo was treasured.

Nilah spoke at the giveaway about the nature of community; how people fit together in myriad ways. She thanked tribal members for sharing the common loss of family. She recognized Ralph, thanking him for standing by her loved ones during the long days waiting for the trial, preparing them for what was ahead. Mylo’s family was touched that Ralph carried the dead teen’s photograph in his wallet. Nilah thanked Denise Webber for Mylo’s friend Rachel, and for caring enough at a time of her own grief to reach out to the dead boy’s family.

Stan Jones, the tribes’ longest-serving chairman, was welcomed to the front of the room with warm applause and genuine affection. He again promised the tribes would stand with Mylo’s family for as long as it took.

The Rev. Patrick Twohy was another honored guest. A Catholic priest, Twohy spent nearly 35 years ministering to American Indians at Tulalip and other reservations in the Northwest.

He told Mylo’s family he was proud of them for standing strong. The ability to endure, to hold fast like great cedars, is the reason tribes remain, in spite of all the change over the past 150 years, he told the gathering.

The tribes are a people long blessed by God’s love, he said.

<< Chapter VIII Chapter X >>

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